Recently there has been a lot of talk in the media about different ways to create electricity, and the impact it has on our planet. People keep talking about "Clean Coal," what is it? I thought what better person to discuss this topic then my husband! He has been in the power industry (Civilian & Navy) for over 18 years and is quite an authority on the subject. Let me give you a heads up... this is a LONG post, but I promise if you make it to the end you will learn a heck of a lot. You might even be surprised by which form of power generation is the cleanest!
“Clean Coal”, it doesn’t exist at this time. Maybe they really mean “cleaner coal”.
Clean coal is a term loosely used and not really understood. All that is needed is an internet search for “clean coal” or maybe even “carbon capture”, and all the information that you will need appears.
“Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. When burned, it produces emissions that contribute to global warming, create acid rain and pollute water. Clean coal is an umbrella term used to promote the use of coal as an energy source by emphasizing methods being developed to reduce its environmental impact. These efforts include chemically washing minerals and impurities from the coal, gasification, treating the flue gases (gases released by the burning of coal) with steam to remove sulfur dioxide, and carbon capture and storage technologies to capture the carbon dioxide from the flue gas. These methods and the technology used are described as clean coal technology. Major politicians and the coal industry use the term "clean coal" to describe technologies designed to enhance both the efficiency and the environmental acceptability of coal extraction, preparation and use, with no specific quantitative limits on any emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.”
So, based on the information above, which part of it came directly from the Department of Energy (DOE) website, you can see that the term “clean coal” can mean a variety of things. Some coal burning facilities have taking steps that can be considered cleaning coal, but by cleaning it they are just removing unwanted impurities to prevent burning them. This has reduced the release of items such as sulfur and mercury to the environment which does reduce air pollution, but really does nothing for the “Global Warming” issue that so many people are concerned about. Global warming is the result of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) released from the burning of fossil fuels. It doesn’t matter how many times the coal is “cleaned”, it is still a carbon based fuel, and it will release CO2 when burned.
The only way to reduce emission of CO2 is by using a method of carbon capture. This technology is based on stripping the CO2 from the exhaust of plants that burn fossil fuels (by the way burning natural gas also produces CO2, just not as much as coal), and storing it in a designated location. Below is some information on carbon capture. Part of this info is also from the DOE.
“Existing capture technologies, however, are not cost-effective when considered in the context of sequestering CO2 from power plants. Most power plants and other large point sources use air-fired combustors, a process that exhausts CO2 diluted with nitrogen. Flue gas from coal-fired power plants contains 10-12 percent CO2 by volume, while flue gas from natural gas combined cycle plants contains only 3-6 percent CO2. For effective carbon sequestration, the CO2 in these exhaust gases must be separated and concentrated.
CO2 is currently recovered from combustion exhaust by using amine absorbers and cryogenic coolers. The cost of CO2 capture using current technology, however, is on the order of $150 per ton of carbon - much too high for carbon emissions reduction applications. Analysis performed by SFA Pacific, Inc. indicates that adding existing technologies for CO2 capture to an electricity generation process could increase the cost of electricity by 2.5 cents to 4 cents/kWh depending on the type of process.”
FACT: The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook estimates that the world’s primary energy needs will grow by 55% by 2030, with fossil fuels remaining a significant source of global energy supply. This IEA report also predicts a remarkable 73% increase in global demand for coal, driven largely by China and India’s growing economies.
FACT: In 2007, the U.S. consumed 1.1 billion tons of coal. By 2030, U.S. demand for coal is expected to grow by 48 percent, thus increasing to an estimated 1.7 billion tons, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration.
FACT: Since 2001, the Bush Administration has invested more than $2.5 billion on clean coal research and development (R&D) technology. (What? The republican’s came up with this?)
FACT: On February 27, 2003, the federal government announced FutureGen, a $1 billion initiative to create a coal-based power plant focused on demonstrating a revolutionary clean coal technology that produces hydrogen and electricity and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.
• Limits taxpayer financial exposure. Under the restructured approach, DOE will join industry in its efforts to build IGCC plants by providing funding for the addition of CCS technology to multiple plants. Under the concept announced in 2003, taxpayers would have funded 74% of the total project cost, as well as potentially 74%of all cost escalations.
• Provides demonstration of IGCC-CCS technology, enabling the FutureGen initiative to test the technology integration and clear hurdles associated with early technology demonstration to allow rapid commercial deployment after 2015.
• Leverages the Administration’s investment of more than $2.5 billion in clean coal technology since 2001.
• Establishes commercial feasibility and formulates a model that industry could use to deploy commercial-scale plants that each sequesters at least one million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually
The key points from facts above are that the use of coal as an energy source is going to increase dramatically. Carbon capture is very expensive. We do not currently have the technology available to perform carbon capture on large coal burning plants. 2015 is the earliest date when the technology may be available. And we the taxpayers are paying for at least 74% of the research.
So, I believe that I have provided enough info. In summary, the term “clean coal” should really be “cleaner coal”. The release of CO2 is not reduced by our current methods. Therefore, using current terms, “clean coal” is not the immediate solution for the reduction of greenhouse gases or global warming. And, now that you are armed with this knowledge, is it logical for the government’s energy plan to base billions of dollars in spending on technology that doesn’t even exist?
Maybe we should consider solar power? Solar power is a very clean source of electricity. Unless you take into account the batteries that are needed to store the energy. The last time I checked, batteries were still full of acid and lead. Nowhere near as bad as burning coal, but not perfect. The real question is how realistic is it to power cities using solar power.
An area of 3 to 3.5 acres was required to generate 1 MW (megawatt or 1 million watts) of electricity, while the life span of a solar plant is roughly thirty years. The life span is very good assuming that a solar panel can really last 30 years. I do not have any information to disprove that claim, so I must believe it to be accurate (even though the source of the information works for a solar panel production company… and salesmen never lie).
It takes approximately 3.5 acres of solar panels (not including any building or battery storage area involved) to produce 1 MW of power. Let’s put that in perspective. Palo Verde Nuclear Plant produces around 4200 MW of electricity. How many acres of solar panels would it take to equal that? 14,700 acres of solar panels would be needed. That’s a lot of land. I believe this fact alone will prevent solar power from ever becoming a major source of commercial electricity production.
I do believe that smaller applications of solar power, such as panels placed on building and houses, would be beneficial supplementing the production of electricity. If you live in Seattle, solar panels may not be a wise investment. But, in other, sunnier, parts of the country, businesses and homes can reduce their monthly electric bill by supplementing their use with solar panels.
Take my advice and read about things you don't understand, check the facts the government gives you. We live in a time where most just nod their heads along with the news reporters. Be free thinking, and decide for yourself what is or isn't true, not just because some politician, or anchor man said so.
Ta Ta for now