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Understanding the clean-coal technology of Japan


Elinando B. Cinco

Elinando B. Cinco

By Elinando B. Cinco


Japan leads countries in developing coal plants, and many countries can learn from that country and its vast experience in clean-coal technology.

The ASEAN region, including the Philippines, whose need for power continues to grow in order to fuel its ambitious economic plans in the next decade, can learn a thing or two from Japan.

I learned in my latest visit to the land of the rising sun that in the last two years, Japan has fired up eight new coal plants and plans to add another 36 to its energy mix over the next decade, making it the largest proposed coal expansions after China and India.

Japan has some 95 coal-fired plants that combine to supply 41,273 megawatts (MW). Last month, the country committed to produce 26 percent of its energy mix from coal by 2030 as contained in its national energy plan. The move represents a significant shift away from its former reliance on nuclear power. Makes sense considering what happened to Fukushima when a nuclear fall out affected the country.

Interestingly, this total capacity,  supplied by more than half of Japan’s plants which run on USC (Ultra Super Critical) technology – which makes them more efficient than conventional power plants – would be enough to supply a big chunk of our country’s total energy requirements until 2040.

We can actually learn more from advanced power technologies in the country, as we continue the call for the President’s “Build, Build, Build” program and as such support it with additional plants to meet the country’s growing demand.

The Department of Energy said the country will need 43,765 MW of additional power-generation capacity by 2040 to meet increasing power demand, as the economy continues to expand and grow.

It is worth noting that Japan’s decision to use coal as crucial part of its energy mix comes following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which saw all 54 of its nuclear reactors shutting down as they awaited new extensive safety standards. To date only seven of these have been reopened.

Japan has turned to coal as its preferred source of energy due to the economic benefits it presents over importing expensive liquefied gas.

Growing demand in Japan and the continued reliance on the commodity by India and China, supported by the US Trump administration, means coal is set to continue playing a significant role in the global energy mix.

This comes after an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, published in December, 2017, predicted an increased in demand for coal through to 2022, with continued growth in India and other Asian countries.

Japan’s decision to make coal play a significant role in its national energy plan is punctuated by committed efforts by the country to introduce Clean Coal Technology (CCT) in their coal-fired power plants

Japan already had its first USC coal-fired power plants in the early 1990s. What is more interesting is the fact that Japan still has coal plants that are around 50 years old. But most of these plants have been upgraded to more efficient clean-coal technologies in recent years.

Last week, it was announced that the Japanese Ministry of Environment has agreed to allow the Japanese Coal Energy Center and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to use its facilities to conduct carbon capture technology testing in the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, which will include an investment of $7.3 million to $9.1 million.

Japan Coal Energy Center (JCOAL), an organization in Japan advocating the use of CCT, is willing to work with neighboring countries in ASEAN to build more efficient coal-fired power plants. It is also keen in sharing best practices in terms of both technology/technique, regulatory framework, and environmental responsibility.

Power supply generation experts predict coal to remain as a key player in the energy mix of many countries. This is why economically developing regions, including Southeast Asia, are now gearing up into next-generation clean-coal equipment installations such as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) and Integrated Gasification Fuelcell Cycle (IGFC), both under the High-Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) technologies category.

IGCC and the other HELE technologies combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as well as Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) are viable options to meet long-term energy needs.

Japan’s feat in IGCC technology deployment is a viable proof-of-concept that it can be done on a commercial scale. First, it would benefit consumers with viable cost-competitive option, and secondly, it allows power generation companies to address environment concerns of green organizations.

Undeniably, coal remains important in the energy mix; it is the most available, affordable, and accessible energy source both in terms of supply and economy.

The Philippines needs more capacity as its economy continues to grow at a rapid pace and this is perhaps the reason Japan can be an example of how coal technology can be harnessed together with other renewable, gas, and other energy resources to provide cheap power for the country’s growth.

It takes time to build big baseload power plants and we laud efforts by government and the private sector to try and find a way to ensure that the country will have enough capacity and power to rely on. It is really time to build, build, and build.

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