King Coal Eats Its Vegetables

Blending in biomass makes coal-fired generators seem a little cleaner

2 min read

Capturing carbon-dioxide emissions and sequestering them deep underground is often presented as the sole means of significantly cutting the carbon emissions from a coal-fired power plant. In fact, this as-yet-unproven scheme is being beaten to the punch by a comparatively simple alternative: blending biomass into the plant’s coal feed.

Adding agricultural leftovers, wood chips, or even dried sewage replaces some of the power plant’s fossil carbon with renewable carbon. Such ”cofiring” of coal and biomass is beginning to boom, thanks to preferential pricing and tax incentives supporting renewable energy, standards mandating utilities to obtain more of their power from renewable resources, and carbon caps that make utilities pay for CO2 emissions. Europe, which already employs all three of these policies, is leading the way.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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