Enlarge / Heavy equipment works in the lignite coal mine adjacent to Southern Co.’s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Mississippi, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Photographer: Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)
Southern Company and Mississippi Power announced Wednesday afternoon that they would suspend all coal gasification operations at a Kemper County plant and simply use natural gas instead.

The decision comes after the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) recommended that the plant burn only natural gas, which is cheaper at the moment.
The plant was supposed to be a cutting-edge demonstration of the power of “clean coal,” and despite running five years late and more than $4 billion over budget, Kemper was able to start testing its coal gasification operations late last year.

The plant used a chemical process to break down lignite coal into synthesis gas, or “syngas,” which was then fed into a generator.

The syngas burns cleaner than pulverized lignite coal does.
In addition, emissions were caught by a carbon capture system and delivered to a nearby oil field to help with oil extraction.

That, Southern and Mississippi Power said, would reduce the greenhouse emissions of burning lignite by up to 65 percent.
But with only 200 days of gasification operations under its belt, Kemper identified more issues with its technology, including design flaws that caused leaks and ash buildup. Last week, the MSPC indicated that it would refuse to allow Southern to raise rates to cover Kemper’s continued construction and maintenance for gasification.
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