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Rising Global Coal Demand by 2050 Unavoidable, DOE Official Says

June 4, 2020, 7:52 PM

The U.S. and other nations will need to mount a massive effort to capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants because coal will remain a dominant source of global energy use through 2050, a Trump administration official said Thursday.

“Fossil fuels are here to stay. They are not to going to be a transition fuel,” with global consumption slated to increase globally by 2050, largely due to increased demand from developing nations, Lou Hrkman, a Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy.

Global coal demand will translate into a 1 billion ton increase in coal produced and burned in 2050, from the 9 billion total in 2019, Hrkman said on a webinar held by the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. He cited projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The DOE official touted a total of $3 billion the U.S. has invested in recent decades researching and developing carbon capture and storage—from injecting carbon dioxide underground to produce hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits, to storing emissions produced by power plants.

‘False Narrative’

“There is a false narrative out there that you can’t have a clean environment and fossil fuels,” he said. “This is simply false.”

Many environmental groups argue that coal’s future is in doubt, given increasing concern over climate change and the declining costs of renewable energy including wind and solar.

While the EIA, a statistical arm of the Energy Department, has produced relatively rosy projections for global coal use by 2050, the same agency also projects that renewable energy—including wind, solar, and hydropower—will produce 49% of global electricity by 2050.

But Hrkman said many of the breakthroughs in renewable energy are likely to arrive more slowly over time, pointing to battery storage technologies that could store excess electricity produced by wind and solar energy for times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

By 2025, only 0.69% of the U.S. electrical grid capacity will have any type of battery storage, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Anna Yukhananov at