By - Jim Vess

DOE launches programs for new coal markets and to enhance oil and gas recovery

Energize Weekly, January 23, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched programs to find new markets for coal and boost oil recovery from shale plays.

Under the Maximizing the Coal Value Chain program, $9.5 million in federal cost-sharing funds will be available for developing ways to improve coal as a fuel, as a feedstock or material for manufacturing.

A second cost-sharing program will provide $88 million in research and development projects for enhancing technologies for oil and natural gas recovery.

“We know we have massive unconventional oil and gas plays across the U.S., but there are still challenges when it comes to characterizing them and improving resource recovery efficiency,” Steven Winberg, DOE assistant secretary for fossil energy, said in a statement. “This funding will support the enabling R&D that can lead to breakthroughs in those areas.” 

Both programs are being overseen by the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.

The Trump administrative has tried to bolster the coal industry and coal production. Nevertheless, demand continues to dwindle with coal consumption hitting a 39-year low in 2018.

More than 90 percent of coal is used by coal-fired power plants. In the last decade, there has been a 40 percent decline coal-fired generation. In 2018, 14 gigawatts of coal-fired plants were shut, the largest for closures after 2015.

The DOE said it is seeking “to develop innovative uses of domestic coal for upgraded coal-based feedstocks used to produce power, make steel, and make high-value products—ultimately creating new market opportunities for coal.”

The program will test technologies that can enhance the fuel value to power plants and steel mills of “run-of-mine” domestic coal and try to develop coal-based feedstocks for manufacturing.

The three-pronged project will test technologies to upgrade coal as fuel, technologies using coal or coal-based products such as coal tar, coal char or coal fines to produce feedstocks or composites and alternative technologies such as microwaves or low-temperature plasma to convert domestic coal into high-performance carbon materials.

The oil and gas recovery program aims to boost oil production for while the U.S. now is producing a record 12 million barrels of oil a day, 90 percent of the oil is not being recovered by current technology, the DOE said.

The funding has been divided into two pools with $44 million for projects to reduce the risks associated with enhanced oil recovery and to expand the use of enhanced recovery in both conventional and unconventional plays, such as shale and tight sands.

Another $44 million will be used for projects to enhance the ability to characterize emerging unconventional plans, and to improve oil and gas recovery from them.

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