WASHINGTON – A new technology may provide an alternative for Maryland’s coal-fired energy plants as they’re under the gun to reduce pollutants in their emissions.
While energy companies can choose from a “suite of technologies” to meet emission reduction goals, said Bob Beck, executive vice president of the National Coal Council, the new product, called Chem-Mod has the backing of former U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Abraham unveiled Chem-Mod earlier this month. It’s a coal treatment that can reduce mercury by up to 98 percent and sulfur dioxide by 75 percent for a one-time cost of less than $10 million, he said.
“This is the kind of technology we’ve long been looking for,” Abraham said. Field tests, he said, have been “consistent and successful.”
Chem-Mod is a chemical solution sprayed on coal before, during or even after it’s burned to reduce the pollutants produced. Company officials declined to detail the ingredients in Chem-Mod.
Company officials approached Abraham after he left his secretary post, Chem-Mod Vice President Doug Comrie said. Abraham was impressed with the product and said it would change the energy industry, Comrie said.
The owners of Maryland’s largest coal-fired plants, Constellation Energy Corp. and Mirant Corp., have said they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on emission reduction.
A typical scrubber can cost about $80 million and cover acres, whereas Chem-Mod equipment uses about 100 by 100 feet of land, Comrie said.
Spokesmen for Constellation Energy and Mirant said they have not heard of Chem-Mod, but the companies are open to any new technologies.
Constellation Energy installed catalytic reduction equipment for roughly $120 million at its Brandon Shores power plants and has plans to install a scrubber by 2010, spokesman Kevin Thornton said.
Mirant, which owns Maryland’s Chalk Point, Morgantown and Dickerson coal-fired plants, is using low-sulfur coal and is testing trona at its Potomac River Station in Alexandria, Va., said Dave Thompson, a company spokesman. Trona is a natural substance similar to baking soda that reduces emissions.
Tests can take years and include numerous factors such as temperature, coal types and government regulations, Thompson said.
“What’s important to us is to get it right and to make sure it’s feasible in reducing emissions and doing so in a cost effective way,” he said.
The plants are under increasing pressure to reduce pollutants, including an initiative from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which, if approved by the General Assembly, would require 70 percent reductions in mercury and 85 percent reductions in sulfur emissions by 2010.
The Maryland Public Interest Research Group wants the state’s coal-fired plants to upgrade by installing scrubbers, the industry standard, or another proven method, said Brad Heavner, state director of MaryPIRG. The group believes upgrades are economically feasible for energy companies.
“We have looked into it quite a bit,” he said. “These companies are cash cows and they’re very cheap to operate.”
MaryPIRG supports Maryland’s Healthy Air Act. The group wants emissions reduced, but the group is flexible on how companies do it, Heavner said.
“The bill that we’re supporting doesn’t specify any specific technology,” he said. “If they can find a way to do it that costs less, then great.”