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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Breathing new life into old coal plants


4 min read

Head and shoulders photos of Kirsty Gogan and Eric Ingersoll Photo: TerraPraxis
Kirsty Gogan FEI, Founder and Managing Partner (left), and Eric Ingersoll, Co-Founder (right), TerraPraxis

Photo: TerraPraxis

As the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, ending the use of coal-fired power stations is imperative for achieving net zero. Kirsty Gogan FEI, Founder and Managing Partner, and Eric Ingersoll, Co-Founder, of TerraPraxis, believe they have a solution to accelerate this process whilst meeting energy needs.

As of 2022, the world has more than 2 TWe of coal-fired electric power plants, contributing almost one-third of global net annual CO2 emissions. Despite the international agreement reached at COP26 in Glasgow last year – to ‘phase down’ coal use – global coal consumption is booming and continues to hit record highs.


Coal plants are the single largest source of carbon emissions on the planet, but simply shutting them down is not a viable worldwide solution because it would be devastating to local economies and is unrealistic practically, economically and politically – especially during the current global energy crisis.


Repowering coal
At TerraPraxis, we are designing a system to replace coal boilers with a new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs). The new SMR ‘heat island’ will be co-located next to the existing coal plant and connected to the coal plant turbines via a heat transfer and storage system. This heat transfer and storage system de-links the nuclear heat island safety case from the existing power plant, reducing the regulatory requirements across the overall plant. The energy storage also enables flexible generation.


The SMR sits in a licensed, secure, standardised and seismically isolated building. The new heat island is designed and manufactured to meet regulatory requirements, such as being able to withstand large earthquakes, without the existing coal plants also needing to be upgraded to meet these standards.


What will it cost? 
The target cost for the complete upgrade to emissions-free operation is $2,000/kWe. Key design and delivery innovations to make this achievable include reuse of the existing power island; a standardised completed design, which eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars of design engineering each time; standardised licensing applications; a ‘kit of parts’ (like Lego® blocks) approach which radically lowers construction complexity, duration and supervision requirements; and a high productivity manufacturing-based supply chain with multiple suppliers for all components.


What is the schedule? 
Converting 5,000–7,000 coal plant units globally between 2030 and 2050 (almost 300/y) will require a redesigned delivery model to meet this rate of deployment. Our architect-engineering partner, Bryden Wood, specialises in algorithmic design tools for commercial architectural design. Repower customers will have access to automated design tools to eliminate the years of design engineering work in a typical project.


Site licensing and permitting is reduced by template-based standardised applications. The construction schedule is greatly reduced and simplified by the ‘kit of parts’ approach, which is designed for rapid onsite assembly. Mechanical and electrical systems will arrive at the site in relatively complete modules and pre-commissioned. These best practices – proven and demonstrated in other complex and high-performance industries, such as data centres – could eliminate more than seven years from a conventional power plant project schedule.


In addition to the highly automated building system design, Microsoft and Schneider Electric are helping us to leverage the power of standardised designs, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to further accelerate the cost-effective upgrading of this old fossil infrastructure for the 21st century. A new digital platform will automate the whole customer journey, from feasibility, design, permitting and delivery through to operation of the repowered plant.


How it’s progressing
At the 27th UN Conference of the Parties on climate (COP27) in Egypt, together with our partners at Microsoft, we will launch our first tool in the forthcoming digital platform – the ‘EVALUATE’ application. This free app is designed to help every coal plant owner in the world, as well as potential investors, to quickly evaluate the feasibility, cost and time to repower their coal plant.


We have 27 years to 2050. We need to be able to look back and feel confident that the decisions we made during this critical decade brought the climate crisis under control. For that to be the case, it is essential that we mobilise all our technological, financial, governmental and industrial capabilities to meet the task. By leveraging product-based licensing strategies and state-of-the-art digital tools, we hope to play our part in accelerating emissions-free heat source deployment into the multi-trillion-dollar energy market.


Let’s transform these polluting liabilities into valuable assets that will continue to operate for the benefit of society for decades more. 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the authors only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.