High efficiency low emission coal

Moving the current average global efficiency rate of coal-fired power plants from 33% to 40% by deploying more advanced off-the-shelf technology could cut two gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.

Isogo coal-fired power station in Japan

Deploying high efficiency, low emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants is a key first step along a pathway to near-zero emissions from coal with carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS). HELE technologies are commercially available now and, if deployed, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the entire power sector by around 20%.

What does improving efficiency mean?

Improving efficiency increases the amount of energy that can be extracted from a single unit of coal. A one percentage point improvement in the efficiency of a conventional pulverised coal combustion plant results in a 2-3% reduction in CO2 emissions.

What can be achieved?

Moving the current average global efficiency rate of coal-fired power plants from 33% to 40% by deploying more advanced off-the-shelf technology could cut two gigatonnes of CO2 emissions now, while allowing affordable energy for economic development and poverty reduction. Two gigatonnes of CO2 is equivalent to:

  • India's annual CO2 emissions
  • Running the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme for 53 years at its current rate, or
  • Running the Kyoto Protocol three times over.

In addition to significant benefits from reduced CO2 emissions, these modern high efficiency plants have significantly reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2 ) and particulate matter (PM). Beyond the climate benefits of reduced CO2 emissions, reduction in these pollutants is of additional importance at the local and regional level to address air quality and related health concerns. 

  • HELE technologies
  • Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency
  • Resources

Photo is provided by J-POWER (EPDC)

HELE technologies

Improvements in the efficiency of coal-fired power plants can be achieved with technologies including:

Supercritical & Ultrasupercritical Technology

New pulverised coal combustion systems – utilising supercritical and ultra-supercritical technology – operate at increasingly higher temperatures and pressures and therefore achieve higher efficiencies than conventional PCC units and significant CO2 reductions. Supercritical steam cycle technology has been used for decades and is becoming the system of choice for new commercial coal-fired plants in many countries.

Research and development is under way for ultra-supercritical units operating at even higher efficiencies, potentially up to around 50%. The introduction of ultra-supercritical technology has been driven over recent years in countries such as Denmark, Germany and Japan, in order to achieve improved plant efficiencies and reduce fuel costs.

Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)

An alternative to achieving efficiency improvements in conventional pulverised coal-fired power stations is through the use of gasification technology. IGCC plants use a gasifier to convert coal (or other carbon-based materials) to syngas, which drives a combined cycle turbine. More information can be found on the Gasification page of the WCA website.

Fluidised Bed Combustion

Fluidised Bed Combustion (FBC) is a very flexible method of electricity production – most combustible material can be burnt including coal, biomass and general waste. FBC systems improve the environmental impact of coal-based electricity, reducing SOx and NOx emissions by 90%.

A database of cleaner coal technologies – which includes detailed descriptions of each technology – is available on the IEA Clean Coal Technologies website.



*Annual emissions are cumulative emissions divided by the relevant period.
The estimate for the current emissions avoided under the Montreal protocol is eight billion tonnes of C02e
The annual figure for the collapse of the USSR refers to the years 1992-1998.
☨ Cars and light trucks


Sources: The Economist 2014 and IEA 2013

Emission reductions by policies / actions, bn tonnes CO2 equivalent

Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency


Given the huge potential offered by improving efficiencies, the World Coal Association has published a concept paper on a global Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency (PACE). The vision of PACE would be that for countries choosing to use coal, the most efficient power plant technology possible is deployed. The overriding objective would be to raise the global average efficiency of coal-fired power plants and so minimise CO2 emissions which will otherwise be emitted while maintaining legitimate economic development and poverty alleviation efforts.

PACE would be an international public/private partnership. In addition to governments and corporations, it would also partner with other non-state actors, such as non-governmental organisations, think tanks and research institutes, who can contribute knowledge and support in achieving PACE's vision and objectives. It would work at both local and international levels.


PACE Concept Paper

Alstom - Environmental Initiatives Reducing Emissions

Cornerstone, Vol 3, Issue 1

Warsaw Communique

WCA Climate Policy Statement