LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — University of Kentucky researchers landed a $3 million federal grant on Monday to work on developing technology to sharply reduce the costs generated by preventing carbon pollution from spewing into the air from coal-burning power plants.
UK researchers hope their work eventually yields commercial applications that boost coal-based electricity — benefiting miners, utility companies and ratepayers.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will help back a project at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research to promote cleaner emissions from power plants. It comes at a time when the eastern Kentucky coalfields are struggling from continued weak coal markets.
"Obviously coal-fired power generation is facing some very big challenges," Rodney Andrews, the UK center's director, said during the event in Lexington. "These are the sorts of projects we need to be doing if we're going to continue to use coal to generate base-load power."
Kentucky is traditionally one of the nation's top coal producers. But production has been hurt by weak demand, lower natural gas prices and stricter federal regulations. The Obama administration recently announced tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, a decision harshly criticized by Kentucky politicians.
The slowdown has forced companies to idle mines and lay off workers by the hundreds in eastern Kentucky. The region lost about 4,000 mining jobs in 2012, according to data compiled by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. James River Coal recently said it was laying off 525 full-time workers at mines in five eastern Kentucky counties.