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Review of Doe’s Vision 21 Research and Development Program—Phase I
out the readiness to sequester greenhouse gases. This comprehensive scope was adopted at the outset in order to involve a broad constituency in the definition of Vision 21 goals and activities. Over the past 2 years, the Vision 21 Program has begun to narrow its scope and focus on coal relative to other energy sources, on electricity relative to other secondary products, and on gasification and gas turbine cycles relative to direct combustion and steam cycles. The committee strongly endorses these developments. The performance, cost, and environmental goals that have now been established for Vision 21 plants argue strongly for a focus on gasification-based systems, as discussed in the committee’s previous report (NRC, 2000) and elaborated in this report, in Chapter 3. A primary focus on coal-based technologies and electric power generation is also appropriate given the importance of domestic coal resources now and in the foreseeable future. A primary focus on electricity production is also warranted, given the dominant role of electricity in domestic uses of coal, and given the competition from petroleum and natural gas as sources of synthetic fuels and chemicals. However, the opportunities for coproduction of chemicals, fuels, and electricity from coal via advanced technologies should continue to be included in Vision 21.
The committee believes that the Vision 21 Program will be strengthened substantially by continuing to sharpen its focus. In particular, the committee believes the program should focus on large-scale facilities—200-500 megawatts (MW)—and on designs that produce sequestration-ready CO2 as well as near-zero emissions of conventional pollutants. This sharper focus will allow the Vision 21 Program to concentrate on the most cost-competitive coal-based options, to achieve tight program management, to plan for phased commercialization, to monitor progress closely, and to optimize its use of limited financial and human resources. Systems that capture carbon (in the sense that they produce sequestration-ready CO2) are important as well, given the widely recognized importance of reducing greenhouse gases and the R&D challenges in achieving the long-term Vision 21 goals for CO2 emissions. DOE already plays a leading role in the U.S. carbon sequestration program, and Vision 21 is the logical home for the separation and capture dimensions of this research, given its long time horizon and globally significant consequences.
Finally, as elaborated in the next section of this report, the committee emphasizes that a more sharply focused Vision 21 Program requires strong complementary programs outside Vision 21, several of which have long histories and considerable momentum. Indeed, Vision 21 cannot succeed without continued support for the many excellent programs elsewhere in DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, with which Vision 21 interacts.
Recommendation. The Vision 21 Program should continue to sharpen its focus. It should focus on the development of cost-competitive, coal-fueled systems for electricity production on a large scale (200-500 MW) using gasification-based technologies that produce sequestration-ready carbon dioxide and near-zero emissions of conventional pollutants.