A pathway towards zero emissions from coal

The pathway towards zero emissions from coal includes high efficiency low emission (HELE) coal technology and carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).


As the world moves forward implementing the Paris Agreement, it is vitally important that it integrates environmental imperatives with the aims of universal access to energy, energy security and social and economic development.

Only by balancing these elements can we achieve emissions reductions consistent with the vision of the Paris Agreement and with broader development objectives.

Many countries around the world are looking to coal to fuel their growing economies. This is especially true for the rapidly urbanising and industrialising economies of Asia where coal is forecast to be an integral fuel source and vital to economic growth.  We need to help these countries use coal the cleanest way possible and ensure that globally we are on a pathway towards zero emissions.

There is a pathway towards zero emissions from coal, which starts with HELE and progresses to CCUS. We need greater action to accelerate the deployment of CCUS globally to ensure we meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. Solutions to climate change will come through technological change and action on all low emission technologies, and it’s vital that this includes CCUS.

  • Introduction
  • HELE – a first step to zero emissions
  • CCUS development vital to meeting climate goals
  • CCUS - the need for policy parity
  • Supporting the deployment of all low emission technologies

HELE – a first step towards zero emissions

HELE technology represents significant progress on the pathway towards carbon capture, use and storage, which is vital to meeting global climate objectives.  

A pathway towards zero emissions from coal begins with deployment of HELE power generation, using technology that is available today. HELE technologies are in existence and available ‘off-the-shelf’; they have proved to provide efficiency gains and are financially viable. HELE coal-fired power stations, with modern emissions control systems, emit by up to 35% less COand significantly reduce or eliminate pollutant emissions, such as oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, and particulates compared to older, less efficient subcritical technology.

There is a correlation between plant efficiency and the potential for CCS. According to the International Energy Agency, compared to subcritical plants, HELE facilities of the same size require about 25% less CO2 capture (which reduces operating costs).

CCUS development vital to meeting climate goals

Given societies' ongoing reliance on fossil fuels, CCUS is vital to achieve the required level of emissions reduction to meet global emissions targets. 

It is one of the few technologies able to adequately capture CO2 from both coal and gas-fired power stations and across industrial sources.

Today, the following CCUS projects are operating on a global scale:

  • Boundary Dam power station in Canada, the world’s first application of CCUS at large scale in the power sector, has been operating since October 2014 (capturing 1 million tonnes of CO2 per annum)
  • Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project is the world's largest post-combustion CCS facility installed on an existing coal-fuelled power plant (saving 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 per annum) and came online in January 2017.
  • The Abu Dhabi CCS Project (capturing 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum) came online in 2016 and is the world’s first commercial CCUS facility for the steel industry.
  • The unsubsidised, fully commercial CCUS project from Carbon Clean Solutions in India has been able to significantly reduce the costs associated with capturing CO2.

CCUS will be required not only for coal, but also natural gas and industrial sources to ensure global temperature increases are kept below 2°C.

CCUS - the need for policy parity

Consistent, supportive policy and investments lead to improvements in deployment and decreases in costs, something we saw with the development of renewables. 

The current rate of CCUS deployment is too slow to allow necessary emissions reductions goals to be achieved. 

Consistent policy support has been lacking for CCUS and instead we’ve seen fluctuations in support and therefore in progress.

Supporting the deployment of all low emission technologies

Over coming decades, developing countries will have to balance environmental imperatives with the aims of universal access to energy, energy security and social and economic development. Without international financial, technological and other kinds of support to accelerate deployment of HELE technology and CCUS, it is possible that the transition away from older technologies, such as subcritical coal, will stall.

The international community needs to focus on three key areas to support the wider deployment of CCUS:

1. Policy parity

Strong policy drives strong action. Growth in renewable energy technology has been driven by policy that provides $100 billion in subsidies every year. The cumulative value of government policy support provided to CCUS to date is approximately 1% of the cumulative value of policy support provided to renewable technologies (WEO 2014 and GCCSI 2013).

Policy tools available for renewables are not generally made available for CCUS, which has a dampening effect on investment. Strong policy support for CCUS will make further strides possible in the wider demonstration and deployment of CCUS, which will in turn drive down costs.

2. International financing for CCUS

One of the key barriers to the increased deployment of CCUS is the availability of commercial finance. CCUS is currently highly capital intensive and has associated risks that tend to restrict sources of private finance. International financing can provide much needed support and ambitious funding is required by multilateral schemes to improve the financial viability of CCUS projects.

3. CCUS deployment requires international incentives

Climate solutions require international action. It is imperative that lessons learnt in CCUS projects are shared in international fora. In addition, development banks and donors should develop funding mechanisms for CCUS research and development.