Raise your hand if you're heard about clean coal. Now keep your hand up if you know what the hell it is. Still up? You're better off than I was before I started digging into this.
It's been all over the news, and in countless political speeches, so we know clean coal is popular. It's in the new economic stimulus package to the tune of $2.4 billion. And its first pilot project was canceled last year after costs accelerated out of control, so we know clean coal is expensive. But what else is it, really...?
After the jump, a short primer in comic form.
Yes, carbon dioxide sequestering is expensive. What most people don't know is that the U.S. has the largest coal reserves in the world by far. If we're willing to throw trillions of dollars at bailing out Wall Street and automakers why can't we invest in an environmentally friendly energy source that can power electric cars or be turned into gasoline and jet-fuel through the Fischer-Tropsch process like SASOL in South Africa and now China. There are coal reserves in Alaska and the upper great plains that make the Middle-East's oil supplies look like child's play. If we embrace Coal to Liquids technology we will have more than enough money to support carbon sequestering of the by-products and create many American jobs, increase our GDP and decrease our dependence on foreign oil while providing our nation with domestic gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. How does that not make sense? Almost zero emissions, a stronger economy, and a safer America...
Synfuels from coal would still put huge amounts of excess CO2 into the atmosphere.
The best way to produce carbon neutral synfuels is through the nuclear electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen combined with the extraction of CO2 from air in order to synthesize gasoline, methanol, dimethyl ether, diesel fuel, and jet fuel. A single 1000 MWe nuclear electric power could produce 18,000 bbl of gasoline daily or 5000 tonnes of methanol.
Marcel F. Williams
One school of thought is that "Clean Coal" can be thought of as just a marketing ploy by the coal industry. Not only is every proposed scheme inherently limited in scope but no one has figured out how to do this economically.
That we as a nation are willing to pay up $$ for a potential marketing ploy shows how potentially dysfunctional our centrally managed science programs are.
I am not however opposed to coal usage and for that matter new coal plants. The technology is low risk, very efficient economically and something we can deploy at will. These features make coal compelling.
Our environmental future lies elsewhere. Lower usage it appears would require government intervention by increasing taxes. Increased production from solar or wind has the potential one day to supplant some coal resources. However it appears from the viewpoint of our economic system widespread adoption will only occur when these industries can stand toe-to-toe economically with coal without subsidies.
The only resource shown in the last 30 years to compete with coal is nuclear power. That we are starting to permit and possibly build new nuclear plants is in my view a great story for our environment.
Does anyone else see a problem with hiding our CO2 under the rug. Its just going to come back and bite later generations. This is the same as the article I read a while back about dumping our CO2 in the bottom of the ocean.
We have decided that we are polluting the atmosphere too much so the solution is to instead pollute the oceans and the bedrock. Brilliant!
"The Future" will likely be a mixture of renewable sources (hydro, solar, wind, tidal/current, waste burning/gassification,) and microgeneration (lots of private rooftop in the world going to waste).
Coal and Nuclear are really just medrange stop-gaps as the renewable resources (which are usually high-investment/low yield deals) come on line over the next century.
Coal does not have a long range clean future. It is too costly, too ecologically damaging to harvest safely, and is a non-renewable resource that cannot be a lasting solution. "Saudi Arabia of Coal" only means that we, with our climbing consumption, would burn through our coal (literally) like we burned through Arabia's oil (likely at or approaching peak oil in less than a century's full explotation).
If you have carbon seqesting under wraps, why use coal at all? Grow pulpwood, harvest, burn, sequester carbon, grow more pulpwood. Carbon from air into trees, trees into energy, carbon into ground (forever?). After all, isn't this how all that carbon got out of the air in the first place (the subsequent growth and burial of carbon based life)?
Oh come on. I know theres better technology that this concerning coal. Honestly. They can filter the CO2 through algae pools/pipes/cylinders and grow tons of algae. They then then use it to burn again(nudge nudge) or feed to animals or humans...maybe and just keep the cycle going. You dont ALL the energy but still. Its cleaner isnt it. They could also filter it through green houses and enhance the growth of some plants. Hell, its just a matter of extending the process.
Yes, synfuel will put "huge" amounts of C02 into the atmosphere where it will be a fine atmospheric fertilizer for trees and ocean algae. The "huge" increase will rise the concentration of this trace greenhouse gas in the air from .000385% to maybe .000400% by 2050.
I know serious people take this seriously, which proves why there should be such a thing as scientific malpractice and a recall program on green college degrees that have been driven from the start by a program that is partly quasi-religious dogmatism and part naked self-interest careerism.
Your or my "carbon footprint" doesn't count for squat. The big dogs in climate change are effective solar output and ocean currents. Antarctica is warming only in the minds of researchers who manipulate the statistics with great artfulness.
The idea of clean coal is a boondoggle and a waste of money...Lets continue along that line:
- Wind Turbines are currently ineffective, and costly (initial cost and maintenance)
- Solar Cells are currently ineffective, and costly (initial cost and maintenance)
- Biofuels are currently ineffective, and costly
- Nuclear is a good choice except for BANANA and NIMBY
Bottom line - additional research and development is required before these things (except nuclear) are worthwhile. So this article is arguing that we shouldn't continue investigating "Clean" coal as a possibility? Why the prejudice against coal?
Currently there is research in the area of growing algae for harvest into bio-fuels, duh. One interesting project involves taking the green house gases emitted from a natural gas power plant, pumping them through the chamber with the algae accelatering its growth, loves the stuff. Algae eats Co2 and as a waste gas emits oxygen, duh again. But why not build a coal to liquid plant next to the ocean, just like the plant in South Africa. Salt water doesnt have an affect on the process. Costs about $25 to produce a barrel of oil which is cleaner and easier to refine. But the kicker is to pump the purified pure Co2 gas into the ocean water. Let the algae consume and thrive on it. Hopefully increase the fish populations, got to study that one. So instead of sequestering the Co2 let it be part of the ecosystem that has thrived for billions of years. If you don't think that one work look back to when the earth was a red planet and the atmosphere was mainly Co2 and how algae transformed the red planet to our blue and green one.
Why is no one talking about the front end of coal? Even if you make the use of coal pristine (which you can't), the act of mining it is tremendously destructive (See MTR practices as a good example) to the environment, not to mention extremely detrimental to those who mine it.
And CO2 is not the most dangerous byproduct of burning coal. How about the radiation that is released from burning coal? 100 times the level produced by a comparable nuke power plant (don't think for a second that I support those either).
And the lovely slurry left over? Well, don't plan any fishing trips to the Tennessee River anytime soon. If you live downstream from one of the wonderful spills and that's where you get your water (as millions do), umm, oops? What's a little concentrated mercury and other radioactive toxins among friends?
Clean coal is a joke, a farce, and any investment in it is a waste of time, money and resources. Period.
I'd rather invest in thorium fueled molten salt reactors and avoid generating the CO2 in the first place.
Thorium unlike fusion can be cheap and plentiful energy now vs 20 to 50 years in the future.
Clean Coal is an Oxymoron.
Unless u wash it very vigorously...
CO2 capture and storage is hideously expensive as is any effort to liquify or gassify coal. What does work is removing the impuritied before the coal is burned. The American Coal Council is tracking a suite of emerging technologies. www.clean-coal.info/drupal/pubs/PreCombustion_Fact_Sheet.pdf
We must face the fact that 40% of the world's electricity is generated from coal and we will not begin to make a dent in that for the next 40-50 years - ask the International Energy Agency, www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2008/key_stats_2008.pdf So we must learn to burn solid fuel (coal and biomass) efficiently to minimize the damage while we find the technology to harness nature's alternatives - increase photosynthesis in a CO2 rich environment (like Algae), convert waste to hydrogen - burning hydrogen makes water vapor, no CO2.
"Clean coal is a joke, a farce, and any investment in it is a waste of time, money and resources. Period."
I wonder how many things we take for granted today had the same thing said about them 100, 50, or 25 years ago. Does clean coal exist today? Obviously not. How many million more people can possibly say "Clean coal is an oxymoron" and still think they are contributing to the discussion (not to mention a solution).
Realistically I think the goal here is not clean coal, but cleaner coal. Like it or not coal will be around a long time, and every step towards clean coal = .....wait for it....CLEANER COAL. People go crazy because the words "clean coal" appear in commercials. Since when did we start taking commercials literally? Is the Shamwow really as amazing as it looks and are you really spending your life savings on paper towels? Have you ever felt confined because your blanket didn't armholes like a Snuggie?
I think it's progress that the coal industry is running ads saying "hey we know its dirty, and we're working on it". They could be running ads that say "F you. You don't have a viable alternative except living in the stone age".
Stop worrying about how 'clean' new coal will be! EVERYTHING is cleaner than what we've built over the past 50-60 years, including all energy from coal. Sit back and think where your electricity comes from and if like most in the U.S., it comes from burning coal. Now start thinking about how to best to clean this energy source over the next 20-30 years as a climate change strategy (that's about how much time CC scientist give us) and you are on the road to GHG recovery. Oh yeah, keep pumping up renewables and the distributive generation/transmission system needed, but not at the expense of cleaning up existing coal or other fossil fuel sources. Renewables and cleaner burning fossil fuels are both essential parts of a clean strategy; however, one without the other is a recipe for failure. Not building any new 'clean' coal in the U.S. is leading us down a path where there isn't any new cleaner units coming online to replace the old ones. This is tantamount to stopping any production of new 'clean' cars and then trying to survive strictly on old dirty cars and an inadequate mass transit system. As I tell my kids, it is easier to smash something than it is to build something - let's build something good! I believe in the often neglected adage: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.....
we can always grow a lot of trees, then each time when the leaves fall we just bury it deep in some cavern so no fire can get to it, then we can store carbon in the form of leaves :)
There! one solution to locking up carbon :P
One thing many Americans don’t realize is how important domestic energy is to our country’s economic recovery and overall security. Currently, half of our electricity comes from coal—which happens to be our most abundant fuel resource. In fact, we recently kicked off the America’s Power Factuality Tour (www.factuality.org)—a country-wide road trip in search of the people, places and technologies involved in producing cleaner, domestic electricity from coal. We started in Wright, Wyo., at the Powder River Basin, which produces more coal than any other site in the U.S. Take the tour for yourself and see our most abundant domestic fuel at work.
There's nothing clean about "clean coal". Cleaning it is not clean, and disposing of the created waste is not clean (yes there is waste when doing the so-called "clean coal")