clean coal evaluation

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The controversy about coal has raged for a long time, both economically and environmentally. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and it generates 40% of the world’s energy. Up to eight billion tons of coal are burned each year, with increasing consequences: carbon dioxide emissions as a result of coal use are at 39 percent; an all-time high in global carbon emissions; and increasing cases of death in mine pits every year, as well as the ever-increasing challenge of controlling carbon pollution. Naturally, coal is not a clean source of energy. Other than releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, coal is a large contributor to global warming, the combustion of coal releases soot particles that respiratory complications and can cause cancer, burning coal emits nitrogen and sulfur which cause acidic rains and formation of further toxic chemicals (Franco et al, 348). Ultimately, clean coal is still a debatable issue since ways of capturing and storing carbon or further use to avoid pollution is still unachievable on large scale basis.

What is clean coal?

The word ‘clean coal’ has no decisive description, the energy industry popularized the term to define the diverse forms of technology that involve the carbon capture, utilization, and storage of emissions also known as (CCUS). Basically, this technology, capture carbon emitted by power plants and store or utilize it to ensure it does not enter the atmosphere. Advocates in the coal industry use the phrase ‘clean coal’ to define two distinct technologies: highly efficient, lower emissions coal-fired power stations; and carbon capture and storage. Ultimately, ‘clean coal’ has been the objective of the fossil fuel companies for ages: the idea of inventing a commercially viable means of reducing or stopping carbon emissions released from coal fired electricity plants thus responsible for global warming (Cuéllar-Franca et al 80).

The concept behind CCUS technology is to force the emissions from a coal-run power plant through a liquid solution that absorbs the carbon dioxide, it heats the solution to release the gas, then compresses it and sends it away for underground storage. The principle behind these technology is great but faces challenges in making it practical, the biggest huddle is the financial cost of transporting the captured carbon dioxide for storage underground. It comes with a logistical challenge of constructing a pipeline network and storage points (Boot-Handford et al, 133).

Cleaner coal has often been mistaken for ‘clean coal’ because of electricity power plants that are highly efficient and are low carbon emitting stations also referred to as supercritical or ultra-critical coal fired plants, this are indefinitely called ‘clean coal’. These supercritical power stations operate by combusting thermal coal at temperatures that are ultra-high to increase their effectiveness and decrease the rate of carbon emission. The technology advancement has seen modern breed electricity plants minimize emissions by up to 40 percent as compared to the traditional coal run power stations, as per the report of International Energy Agency (Markewitz et al, 7282).

Finally, though the modern generation power plants cause less degradation to the environment, they are still not clean thus to call clean them clean coal is still misleading. It has been observed that the current high efficiency, low emission plants release far much more carbon in the environment than gas run power stations. Thus clean coal is still a complicated topic to advocates in the energy industry since all plans to make it viable have come up short.

Will clean coal ever work?

Experts in the energy industry insist that clean coal must be achieved, advocates from Clean Air Task Force, Oxford University and International Energy Agency anticipate that by 2040 the consumption of coal will rise by 18 percent; since coal is the cheapest and most readily accessible fossil fuel in most developing countries, it is unlikely that the use of coal will reduce. Without the right technology in place to capture all that carbon, the level of pollution is likely to surpass the 2 degree warming threshold that was signed in the Paris Climate Agreement (Knutti et al, 17).

The international Energy Agency (IEA) observes that it would require the world to capture at least 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2040 in order to keep global warming to 2 degrees the rate above pre-industrial levels. The current capacity of carbon capture for operational projects is measured at approximately 40 million tonnes annually. Scientists are convinced that there are areas which are geologically stable that can keep carbon stored underground for a long period but argue that they still pose a risk of escaping into the atmosphere. To date the storage technology is not economically viable (Leung et al 430).

In addition, energy experts argue that building modern coal power stations will raise the cost of electricity drastically, though developing coal-fired power plants that are less polluting and more efficient prove to be a worthy objective going forward; that alone will not allow the world to attain the set climate change goals. The financial cost of retrofitting traditional power stations as low-emitting power plants will be huge and the cost is likely to be shouldered by the taxpayers eventually (Franco et al, 353). In conclusion, though clean coal does not have a proven record of success it is too early to write it off, there are promising projects in the works and with financial support still coming in a breakthrough is likely to happen in the near future.

Reference

Nijhuis, Michelle, and R. Kendrick. “Can coal ever be clean?” Retrieved October 7 (2014): 2015.

Franco, Alessandro, and Ana R. Diaz. “The future challenges for “clean coal technologies”: joining efficiency increase and pollutant emission control.” Energy 34.3 (2009): 348-354.

Cuéllar-Franca, Rosa M., and Adisa Azapagic. “Carbon capture, storage and utilisation technologies: A critical analysis and comparison of their life cycle environmental impacts.” Journal of CO2 Utilization 9 (2015): 82-102.

Boot-Handford, Matthew E., et al. “Carbon capture and storage update.” Energy & Environmental Science 7.1 (2014): 130-189.

Markewitz, Peter, et al. “Worldwide innovations in the development of carbon capture technologies and the utilization of CO 2.” Energy & environmental science 5.6 (2012): 7281-7305.

Zhang, Da, et al. “Emissions trading in China: Progress and prospects.” Energy policy 75 (2014): 9-16.

Knutti, Reto, et al. “A scientific critique of the two-degree climate change target.” Nature Geoscience 9.1 (2016): 13-18.

Leung, Dennis YC, Giorgio Caramanna, and M. Mercedes Maroto-Valer. “An overview of current status of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 39 (2014): 426-443.

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