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Vastly Improved Modern Coal-Fired Power Plants

January 24, 2017

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants deserve clarity.

Recently, an editor dismissed ultra-supercritical coal-fired as jargon, and asked: Is there really something called an “ultra-supercritical” power plant?

Yes, there is: And everyone, engineers and average people, deserve an explanation about why they are such a great improvement over the coal-fired power plants built in the past.

They are called ultra-supercritical because they operate at very high temperatures and pressures that have been made possible by recent advances in metallurgy.

They operate at 4,350 psi, and 1,112°F, with efficiencies of 44% HHV (high heating value).

Ultra-supercritical (USC) steam generally refers to supercritical steam at more than 1,100 degrees F. Supercritical refers to when the steam undergoes a transition from a mixture of water and steam, to vapor with corresponding changes in physical properties.

While engineers are interested in the technical details, everyone should be interested in the increased efficiency.

Virtually all of the existing coal-fired power plants in the United States operate at an efficiency of 32% HHV.

USC plants with an efficiency of 44% are, therefore, nearly 40% more efficient than all but one of the existing coal-fired power plants in the United States.

This means they use roughly 40% less coal and emit approximately 40% fewer emissions, including CO2.

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants are an important improvement over existing coal-fired units. While they are more costly than traditional supercritical plants, they cost half as much as nuclear or integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

The only USC plant built in the United States is the John W. Turk, 600 MW plant in Fulton, Arkansas.

Currently, no new coal-fired power plants can be built in the United States because of EPA regulations limiting CO2 emissions. USC plant CO2 emissions are slightly above the 1,400 pounds per MWh limitation imposed by the EPA.

Coal is an important resource, with the United States having reserves that could last 400 years.

Coal, together with natural gas, can provide inexpensive baseload power for all Americans.

Ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants are a significant improvement over existing coal-fired power plants.

Additional improvements are on the way with USC plants that can operate at even higher temperatures and pressures, and with corresponding additional ,improvements in efficiency.

USC plants that can operate at 1,300 and 1,400 degrees F, are referred to as advanced ultra-supercritical (AUSC) power plants.

The new administration should move quickly to clear the way for these new, and more efficient, coal-fired power plants.


Nothing to Fear, Part 2, explores the problems of using wind and solar for generating electricity.

Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.

Link to Amazon:


Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear



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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew Cox permalink
    January 24, 2017 11:02 am

    In your article you say the Ultra-supercritical (USC) coal-fired plant operate at 44% thermal efficiency HHV – in fact they can operate at up to 48% on a HHV basis (depending on design and operating conditions).

    R&D is taking place throughout the world to develop the next generation of plant.- the Advanced Ultra-supercritical plant (A-USC). These will have a thermal efficiency on HHV basis of at least 50%. But the R&D needs state-supported programme funding – particularly in the USA. So please keep the pressure on the new Thump administration to continue this research and support the commercialisation of A-USC technology – otherwise it will be dominated by China (and possibly Japan and the European Union).

    • January 24, 2017 11:08 am

      Thanks for the updated information.
      Yes, we need to get these units built, and do the necessary research.
      Many thanks.

  2. Neil Jones permalink
    January 24, 2017 2:52 pm


    You do important work. Without your articles, how else would we ever know? Many thanks.


  3. Don Shaw permalink
    January 25, 2017 9:22 am

    Donn, Thanks for this interesting article

  4. 4345Markham# permalink
    January 26, 2017 12:08 pm

    Note in the picture of the power plant, you cannot see any visible emissions from the stack. You must look at the moisture plume from the cooling tower to tell the power plant is operating. Huge advancement in emissions control technology.

    • January 26, 2017 2:40 pm

      Thanks for the observation.

      • Lucas permalink
        January 26, 2017 9:57 pm

        vsandovall . Two L.

  5. January 27, 2017 8:55 am

    Lucas: I’m sorry, but am not in a position to send you a copy of my book. Thanks for asking, and I understand your predicament.

    • lucas permalink
      June 26, 2017 2:48 pm

      ok. thanks. please can you delete the comentary? it has my e-mail address


  2. Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #256 | Watts Up With That?

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