All coal is dirty

There is no such thing as clean coal, but Gordon Brown does not seem to know that. He talked about clean coal in his recent speech to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, as though it existed and the conference members cheered and applauded him. It is a bit like the Government’s zero Carbon Homes policy – it is something that just is not possible, with the state of knowledge and technology today.

The way that energy works, and the thermodynamics of it mean that if we use coal to burn in a way that is more environmentally friendly than now we will probably find that we need to use more dirty coal burnt in a way to create fewer emissions to produce the same energy that we get from the present use of coal, so overall the emissions savings may not be too much.

This week the head of the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency, Chris Smith, said that new coal fired power stations should not be built unless they can capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions that they produce. He also felt that new coal fired stations might be adapted to fit this so far un-invented cleaning technology, but they should not be built unless and until the technology exists.

E.on are building a new coal fired power station at Kingsnorth and they describe that it will be “carbon capture ready” as though they were selling a computer where the next range of microchip is were invented, but not yet in mass production. That phrase is deceptive, because so far the technology does not exist and if it did we would simply bolt it on to all our power stations that burn coal, saving large doses of emissions at a stroke.

E.on also point out that they need the carbon capture and storage technology not only to be invented but also to be commercially viable – in other words cheap. It is looking to the Government to come up with some money to pave the way for this, as though the several billions of free carbon credits that all the energy companies will receive from the European Emissions Trading Scheme will not be enough taxpayers’ largesse.

The existing proposal for Kingsnorth claims that the plant will be 20% less dirty than other coal generating power stations. Perhaps it will be, but that remains to be seen. Eeven with a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions the Kingsnorth project will emit more carbon per kWh than electricity generated from gas.

However with the present world wide scramble for fuel of all kinds, it will take a brave Prime Minister and one capable of making a genuinely hard decision, to leave dirty coal where it belongs – in the ground.

One Response

  1. Obviously you are not aware of a new technology from a couple of companies here in the U.S.

    First, the new “clean” coal technology actually DOES NOT burn the coal, but “cracks” it to obtain most of the carbon in an “activated” carbon form and releases the Natural Gas to be used to fire the boilers in a Natural Gas turbine powered Power Plant, thus reducing the emissions by some 61%.

    Second, a company out of Colorado is tweeking new technology that will “clean” toxins such as sulfur, mercury, etc. out of the coal before it gets “cracked” in the first process mentioned.

    So there is NO fly ash, and all toxins are removed from the coal.

    With 56% of electricity coming from coal fired power plants in the U.S., we can now start converting each of these plants to this new process and eliminating millions of tons of CO2.

    It was just a matter of time, but don’t give up on coal, in the U.S. alone, we have well over 300 YEARS of usable deposits at current energy needs.

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