The by-products of burning coal

I have written about the copious amounts of carbon dioxide that coal fired power stations push into the air – far greater amounts per unit of electrical energy than any other form of electrical generation. However, the coal pollution is not limited to carbon dioxide, which warms up our planet. There are other dangerous by products of coal burning.

Of course the actual types of by product depend on the nature and quality of the coal that is burnt, and its energy content.

Most coal burning releases nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Both chemicals help make rain acidic, which in turn is making the oceans more acidic. It is indicative of the energy companies’ attitude to pollution that although it has been possible to reduce the emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal by 90% for many years, it has taken a European Union Directive about air quality to force the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurisation at Aberthaw Power Station in South Wales.

All coal burning releases soot. Many people die from inhaling soot each year – the United Nations place the figure at 40,000.

All coal burning creates ash and clinker. The ash often contains traces of heavy metals such as cadmium, lead mercury and arsenic. The electricity generators simply dump the ash and clinker, burying it in landfill. The ash and clinker has about as much use as those slag heaps, now largely grassed over, that surrounded coal mines – both ugly and dangerous. It has no use, so it is dumped.

Again it may astonish you to learn that the operators of Didcot Power Station want to dump ash from their coal burners in local lakes, through a pipeline. One small community, Radley, fears the consequences and has explained in detail the proposal at .

Most coal burning release mercury into the atmosphere. Some species of fish are very good at absorbing mercury and that makes eating those species dangerous for the very young and for pregnant women, as I have explained elsewhere on these posts.

Of course in release these and other by products, the power station operators are simply trying to maximise their profits from power generation because environmentally friendly expenses stand in their way of profits. They sell their electricity to us, and virtually all of us are more interested in buying the product as cheaply as we can, regardless of the environmental consequences.

14 Responses

  1. […] Continue here: The by-products of burning coal […]

  2. What exactly do you and other like minded people want? Will you be satisfied when we are a third world country, living in mud huts and burning sticks!
    Alternatively, will you be happy to increase what you now pay for your energy by a factor of four to produce clear energy.
    This is a global issue. Clean energy in the U.K. will be nice but we are unable to legislate for other countries.Especially the likes of China and India who intend to increase their energy use ten fold. What disadvantage will this be to the U.K. when we are paying so much more for our energy than other countries.
    Wake up

    • We are not pay the real price of our energy when other people, like the people in third world countries have to suffer drought and deprivation that burning our coal helps bring to them.

      We have to start paying more for our energy because coal, oil, uranium and natural gas are all finite resources and probably will not be around in fifty years time. Of course it is a global issue but global issues affect every nation and every nation has to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. The sacrifices that the UK will have to make will not mean living in mud huts, but will include measures such having every home fully insulated, with solar panels, restricting car engine sizes and lowering speed limits, proper recycling, planting more trees and other similar measures which will hardly be life changing.

      China and India will increase their energy usage inevitably and that will cause fossil fuels to run out much sooner than anyone imagines. We can address this problem by refusing to buy goods made with dirty energy. The stakes are very high. The thing that will drive us into life threatening and changing scenarios is climate change, not the cost of fuel.

  3. Just a minor comment on the ash disposal at Didcot Power Station, the plant has been disposing of ash at Radley for most of the plants life (early 1970’s) and the scheme mentioned in the piece is to extend the capacity of the existing site rather than a completely new scheme.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. Of course, the ash has to go somewhere. The least environmentally adverse place would be to bury the ash in disused coal mines, but that would be more expensive, I guess.

  4. I live in Central Asia. We use coal burning stoves to heat our homes. What should we do with the ash and clinker when we are done? We have a pile of it in our yard.

  5. نواتج عن الفحم

  6. This is a great piece, could I get permission to post this on my blog with a link back to your site?

  7. The products of fractional distillation of coal are coke, ammonial lique,coulter and coul gas.

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