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Debate: "Clean coal"

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 +<seo title="Debate on whether Clean Coal is worth pursuing" metak="Clean coal, coal, energy, environment, CO2 emissions, finding clean energy, climate change, carbon capture, fuel, pickens, electricity, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions, alternative energy, renewable" metad="Clean coal" is a term used to describe methods and technologies intended to reduce the environmental impact of using coal as an energy source. These efforts can include chemically washing minerals and impurities from the coal, gasification, treating the flue gases with steam to remove sulfur dioxide, and other proposed technologies to capture the carbon dioxide from the flue gas.The burning of coal, a fossil fuel, has been shown to be one of the principal causes of anthropogenic climate change and global warming, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Clean coal" is believed by some to be a solution to climate change, while many environmental groups disagree." />
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Revision as of 05:58, 8 November 2008

Should "clean coal" be a major part of plans to fight global warming?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

"Clean coal" is a term used to describe methods and technologies intended to reduce the environmental impact of using coal as an energy source. These efforts can include chemically washing minerals and impurities from the coal, gasification, treating the flue gases with steam to remove sulfur dioxide, and other proposed technologies to capture the carbon dioxide from the flue gas. The main "clean coal" approaches under consideration in this debate are:

The burning of coal, a fossil fuel, has been shown to be one of the principal causes of anthropogenic climate change and global warming, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Clean coal" is believed by some to be a solution to climate change, while many environmental groups disagree.

The "clean coal" debate regards whether governments should prioritize "clean coal" in plans to combat global warming. A number of additional questions frame the debate: Is "clean coal" really "clean"? Is it inherently dirty and will it always be a major contributor to global warming? Or, can "clean coal" significantly reduce coal emissions and the contributions it makes to global warming? Is "clean coal" technology a long way away?
Will it take too long, in the context of global warming's time-line, for "clean coal" to become commercially viable and widely used? Will it take multiple decades? Is this intolerable? Do we have a choice? Or, are we entirely dependent on coal for the foreseeable future, giving us only one option: make coal "cleaner"? Can renewable 0-emission sources of electricity, such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, hyroelectric, and even nuclear power, replace coal power, and quickly? Should we focus all of our attention on these alternatives over "clean coal"? What about coal mining? How does this contribute to global warming and what does "clean coal" offer in this regard? What do we do with "clean coal" waste byproducts? What about mine safety issues? Does "clean coal" do anything about that?

See Wikipedia's clean coal technology article for more background.

Global warming: Does "clean coal" effectively cut emissions, combat global warming?

Yes

In other words, "clean coal" can potentially cut coal's unfortunate contribution to global warming by almost 90%. This should be embraced.
  • Coal is indispensable and here to stay; it should be "clean" With electricity demand growing globally, and with abundant supply for multiple centuries to come in many countries around the world[1], coal-use is here to stay. In the United States, for instance, coal supplied 44% of US power in 1975. By the year 2000, it supplied 54%. Coal-use is an increasingly important long-term component of many energy economies. Therefore, the choice confronting the world is, in reality, "clean coal" or unclean coal. In the face of global warming, "clean coal" is obviously the better choice.
  • The many approaches to "cleaning" coal is an advantage There are many ways to make coal cleaner, many of which have been available for decades. This is an advantage. The list includes coal cleaning by washing, electrostatic precipitators and fabric filters, flue gas desulfurisation, Low-NOx burners, increasing the efficiency of coal plants, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), Ultra-clean coal, and CO2 sequestration. "Clean coal" is not just one thing. It is a broader effort to make coal clean. Such a broad approach is a sure way to cut emissions from coal at a constant rate in the coming decades. It should be mentioned that coal has been made cleaner and cleaner in recent decades. The process should continue.
  • A "can do" attitude can enable "clean coal" to meet its challenges. "A challenge for American Leadership". Coal Can Do That.com: "President Kennedy said that conquering the frontiers of space was a challenge that we, as nation, were willing to accept and were unwilling to postpone. We must embrace that same “can do” attitude in seeking solutions to the world’s energy and environmental challenges."
  • All clean energy should be pursued, including clean coal. In the broader fight against global warming, it is important to push all forms of alternative, "greener" energy forward. There is no silver bullet. Any technology that can even modestly aid in the fight against global warming should be pursued. Clean coal can make a significant contribution to this fight, and so should be pursued.


No

  • "Clean coal" will come too late to help fight global warming It is has been estimated that it will be 2020 to 2025 before commercial-scale clean coal power stations (coal-burning power stations with carbon capture and sequestration) are commercially viable and widely adopted. This time frame is of concern to environmentalists because of their belief that there is an urgent need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  • "Clean coal" is too expensive to significantly cut emissions There are reasons to believe that CO2 sequestration would be unviable on a large scale, due to the massive quantities of CO2 that would have to be sequestered, separated, and stored. Indeed, they have only been tested on a very small scale in small coal plants. It is unclear, and a risk, whether "clean coal" can actually scale to have any impact on global warming.
  • "Clean coal" distracts from better, cleaner alternatives While "clean coal" may have some potential in the future, the main cost of pursuing it is that it will cause resources to be diverted from other, better forms of alternative clean energy. Wind, solar, nuclear (more controversial), and other renewable energy sources are superior alternatives to clean coal for two primary reasons: 1. they are technologically available and price competitive now, 2. because they emit no greenhouse gases and are available now, they are able to respond immediately to the global warming crisis.
  • Coal must be phased out immediately to combat global warming Coal is the main contributor to global warming in the twenty-first century. Efforts toward "clean coal" will take many decades to implement, and will fail to come into effect fast enough to combat global warming. For this reason, coal needs to be phased out immediately.
  • Coal carbon sequestration consumes too much energy (emissions) Coal carbon capture and sequestration involves a significant amount of energy. Much of this energy is derived from the burning of fossil fuels. The process, therefore, actually contributes to global warming, negating much of the supposed benefits of "clean coal".
  • "Clean coal" mining and transportation releases many greenhouse gases. "Clean coal" perpetuates the mining and transportation of coal. Because coal is rock, mining it takes a substantial amount of energy derived from fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. Transporting it also takes a substantial amount of fossil fuel energy because it is so heavy, and is often located at a distance from generators. "Clean coal" would do nothing to prevent these significant contributions to global warming.


Waste: Can "clean coal" waste be dealt with appropriately?

Yes

  • Clean coal waste is a better alternative to coal emissions. Opponents of clean coal argue that clean coal merely transfers coal emissions into a different kind of solid waste that must be disposed of. Yet, this should be seen as a superior alternative. The primary concern is coal's massive carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming (the principal environmental threat in the twenty first century). Coal solid waste is not a significant concern in regards to global warming because it does not emit any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is, therefore, less of a concern.
  • Environmental hazards of clean coal waste can be contained. The environmental risks of clean coal waste are entirely "theoretical". There is no reason to believe that solid coal waste cannot be effectively regulated and the risks entirely contained. If there are any unreasonable risks, they would be due to poor human management of such waste. These problems can be solved by stricter regulation.
  • By-products of coal can be captured and used for many purposes. "The Pollution Solution". Clean Coal Technologies Inc.: "By-products of the process, are captured and can be sold on the secondary chemical market as an additional value-add. One by-product, methane gas, is re-introduced into CCTI's plant as a fuel source to reduce dependency on external energy resources."
  • Sequestered CO2 form coal can be used to grow algae for biofuel. Because algae, like other plant matter, uses CO2 in photosynthesis, sequestered CO2 can be use to fertilize and grow algae. In turn, that algae can be used as the organic matter in creating biofuel. Companies in the US like Green Fuel, and the Canadian Global Green Solutions have built photobioreactors (PBR), which quickly turn CO2 into algae that can be then synthesized into a biofuel.[2] This is a solution to dealing with sequestered CO2 and other waste from burnt coal.

No

  • Clean coal merely changes waste into a solid form (it's still waste). Clean coal merely changes coal pollution from CO2 emissions to a solid form of waste. Yet, this is still pollution and bad for the environment. It merely transfers one problem into another.
  • There is too much debate over how to capture and store C02. Even when CO2 emissions can be caught, there is considerable debate over the necessary carbon capture and storage that should follow. These uncertainties make it unwise to move forward aggressively with "clean coal" at this stage.
  • Clean coal wastes more water than ordinary coal factories. James Risbey. "'Clean' coal fraud — renewables now!". Green Left. 26 April 2008 - "The US Department of Energy has estimated that any new coal plants built with CCS would use about twice the water for operation as existing plants. Water is already a limiting factor in the operation of coal plants in Australia. With increasing stress on our water supplies due to climate change and population growth, we can ill afford a technology that guzzles far more water for power. By contrast, renewables and efficiency require little or no water and will free up water supply as they displace coal plants."
  • Capturing mercury emissions from coal is prohibitively costly.' "The Promise of Clean Coal". Green Living. 8 Jan. 2008: "Claim #2: no more mercury emissions The next impracticality is the idea of capturing mercury emissions, which is said to cost about $750,000 per one kilogram. This is a steep price for any utility to pay, especially when they are now releasing tons of mercury, but they all claim it will be part of clean coal."
  • "Clean coal" would still release radioactive materials when burned. "The promise of clean coal". Green Living. 18 Jan 2008 - "Despite the carbon dioxide and mercury being taken care of, clean coal remains a dirty fuel source. Radioactive thorium and uranium-235 is released from burning coal. In fact, enough uranium-235 is released annually to run a dozen or more nuclear power plants, What doesn’t waft away into the atmosphere is stored as ash outside, which then gets rained on and washed away."


Economics: Is "clean coal" economical?

Yes

  • Coal is too abundant and cheap to phase out; make it clean. America's Power.org. "Factoids": "Using coal to generate electricity is less than 1/3 of the cost of other fuels."
  • The energy crisis makes cheap coal necessary; make it clean. Stanford L. Levin. "Op-Ed: Taxpayers should support clean coal." GateHouse News Service. 16 Aug. 2008: "Sky-high oil prices. Painfully high gasoline prices. Potentially horrendous home heating bills this coming winter. Energy shortages. Dependence on foreign oil...There's lots of bad news about energy these days. It's fashionable to refer to an energy crisis, and everyone is looking for a solution...Let's look underground. We have vast quantities of coal in this country. This could give us energy security and would ease worries about running out of oil and gas, not to mention pushing down oil and gas prices as we use more coal and less oil. What we need to make this happen is more research on clean coal technology. We need improved technology to burn coal more cleanly and efficiently and to capture and store the carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that results, so as not to contribute to global warming."
  • Cost of "clean coal" is a necessary energy/environment investment. Stanford L. Levin. "Op-Ed: Taxpayers should support clean coal." GateHouse News Service. 16 Aug. 2008: "the next administration should restore funding for FutureGen in Mattoon. This public-private project, a joint effort between the Department of Energy and a consortium of coal companies, would, among other things, develop and demonstrate carbon capture and storage technology so that coal can be burned in an environmentally friendly manner. Would this be expensive? Yes, but we have little choice. Such clean coal technology must be central to a realistic, achievable policy of energy security and independence."
  • Coal provides constant "base-load" energy unlike renewables. America's Power.org. "Factoids": "Intermittent energy resources like wind and solar are used for meeting peak energy demand because they are not always available. That is different from coal, which is used to provide “baseload” power — the constant, steady supply of electricity we depend upon throughout the day."



No

  • Making "clean coal" a global warming solution will cost too much. Clean coal is significantly underdeveloped currently. Some forecast it will be twenty to forty years before it can make any kind of substantive contribution to fighting global warming (which some say is too late). Therefore, if "clean coal" is to become a tool in fighting global warming, as is intended by its advocates, it would have to be heavily subsidized by governments. This would be very costly. While environmental and economic gains can justify just investments, it is not at all clear that "clean coal" is worthy of such an investment, particularly in the face of the many, superior 0-emission alternatives to "clean coal".
Thus, coal plants fitted with CCS [carbon capture and sequestration] would require more fossil fuel inputs, and the prices of these inputs can only increase as time goes on and carbon is more fully costed.
Therefore, CCS works to make our energy supply more expensive and more wasteful as we go on and commits us to further dependance on coal.
By contrast, renewable energy will get cheaper as time goes on, and likely would long have outcompeted CCS by the time CCS could be implemented on a commercial scale. Those countries that choose CCS will be locking themselves into expensive energy futures. They will have missed the renewables boat and face rising costs in coal plant commitments. Their economies will suffer because they invested in old energy and it would take further decades to turn them around."
  • Resistance to "clean coal" damages credit for new plants Because "clean coal" is a political hot potato, it is receiving poor credit from banks. This is a financial liability that raises the costs of building new "clean coal" plants. Such risks should be accounted for when considering investing government or private funding in "clean coal"; there is the possibility that political will will shift suddenly, pulling the rug from beneath "clean coal" and all investments into it.


Mining/environment: Does "clean coal" do anything about impacts of coal mining?

Yes

  • "Clean coal" helps global warming, a greater priority than mining. "Clean coal" does not need to be perfect environmentally. Almost all sources of energy have some negative environmental impacts. It is sufficient that "clean coal" helps in the fight against global warming. It need not also solve the problem of the damage created by mining. While this damage can be significant, it is not a global, societal priority, like global warming is.
  • Rejecting "clean coal" will not get rid of coal mining. Rejecting "clean coal" will not reduce coal mining in general. It will simply prevent "clean coal" from moving forward. Coal production and mining would continue as usual. "Clean coal", therefore, is a superior option because it is cleaner overall. In general, faced with a choice between the two evils, the lesser evil should be selected. "Clean coal" is that lesser evil.


No

  • Coal mining destroys mountains and natural areas Strip mining destroys whole mountains and strips hillsides of their ecosystems and natural beauty. Unlike renewable energy, these forms of destruction are highly invasive and permanent. For some, the sheer violent force of it symbolizes the "rape of nature" more than any other source of energy.
  • Coal mining can lead to various forms of geological instability. Coal mining can lead to various forms of geological instability, particularly threatening landslides and run-off.
  • Coal mining can lead to water contamination. Coal strip mining often causes run-off from hillsides. This run-off can contaminate local drinking water supplies.


Mining/safety: Is "clean coal" safe?

Yes

  • Denying "clean coal" will not improve coal mine safety. Coal mining is here to stay in the 21st century. Coal consumption and coal mining, therefore, will occur regardless of whether we choose to develop "clean coal". The hazards of mining, therefore, will exist even if societies choose to avoid "clean coal". For this reason, mine safety is a moot point and should not affect our considerations in this debate.


No

  • Coal mining is too dangerous and deadly Coal mining is one of the world's most deadly occupations. Working conditions for miners are miserable and back-breaking. Coal miners frequently contract lung diseases from the particles in mines. And coal mining is a leader in work-related fatalities. "Clean coal" perpetuates this deadly industry.


Enhanced Oil Recovery: Is pumping sequestered gases into oil reserves a solution?

Yes

  • Coal plant waste gases can be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery In oil-producing regions, coal plant gases have been trapped and injected into flagging oil wells as a means to increase pressure in the reserve chamber and drive more oil out. This is called Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). This is a useful way to utilize sequestered gases from "clean coal".


No

  • Excess CO2 in oil and gas reserves will have to be burned off. There are concerns that plans to possibly pump some of the sequestered CO2 into certain oil and gas reserves to help make the fuels easier to pump out of the ground will lead to increased concentrations of CO2 in potential fuel supplies which would have to be burned off during the refining process, thus adding to global warming and defeating the main point of "clean coal".
  • Enhanced Oil Recovery has only been done on a small scale. "G8 WANTS ‘CLEAN’ COAL TRIALS BUT THERE IS A CATCH". 16 June 2008: "EOR has only been done on small scales. Estimates suggest that CCS for present U.S. coal plants would require new infrastructure equal to the entire present oil and gas system. That’s a lot of gases to be moved and buried in geologic structures. And, if a "clean" coal dependent infrastructure is created, there would be more gases to be moved and buried next year. And more the year after that."

Hydrogen-based: Is the production of hydrogen fuel from coal promising?

Yes

  • Making hydrogen fuel from water is a promising form of "clean coal". "Clean Coal" Technologies. World Nuclear Institute: "The most promising "clean coal" technology involves using the coal to make hydrogen from water, then burying the resultant carbon dioxide by-product and burning the hydrogen."

No

  • "Clean coal" hydrogen gasification is in early development. "Clean coal" hydrogen gasification is a process that is in its earliest stages of development. It should not be relied upon in the face of renewable alternatives that are currently available.


Vs. Nuclear: How does "clean coal" compare with nuclear?

Yes

  • Coal supplies much more energy than nuclear in the modern world. Similar to other arguments above, coal's comparison with nuclear is largely determined by the fact that the world depends much more heavily on coal than on nuclear. In the United States, for instance, coal provides over twice as much electric energy as nuclear. The shear massiveness of coal's role is something that cannot be adequately "replaced" by nuclear energy. Again, coal is here to stay. The only option is to make it as clean as possible.




No

  • "Clean coal" is not as clean as zero-emissions nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is inherently clean, emitting no carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It is better to exploit these existing clean technologies, using them to replace dirty ones such as coal, than it is to attempt to make coal cleaner.
  • "Clean coal" is not as competitive as clean nuclear. The main advantage of nuclear power is that it is already highly price competitive in the electricity supply market. Clean coal is not yet price competitive, and is not certain to become so relative to nuclear technology.




Futuregen: What does Futuregen demonstrate regarding "clean coal" technology?

Yes

Clean coal technology refers not to any one project but to an entire suite of advanced technologies. For example, there are more than 300 research projects around the country where several billion dollars are being devoted to clean coal technology, each one breaking new ground and helping pave the way for an energy independent future.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced last month that it plans to fund the addition of carbon controls for integrated gasification combined cycle power plants being planned. In addition, the agency will begin concentrating on several new carbon capture and sequestration projects."


No

  • FutureGen's failure shows the failure of "clean coal" policies. A clean coal carbon dioxide sequestering plant called Futuregen was planned to be built in Mattoon, Illinois (USA) to go online by 2013 as a demonstration and to add to United States energy production. However, after the Illinois site was announced, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman reversed the decision and the US Federal government withdrew funding. This was largely due to chronically increasing cost projections. This is what is to be expected from "clean coal" in the future if it is pursued: a failure to meet expectations and constantly increasing costs to the public and to the fight against global warming.


Commitment: Is the coal industry serious about "clean coal" or just "greenwashing"?

Yes

Commitment is more than a word – it requires action. That is why over the past 30 years, America’s coal-based electricity providers have invested over $50 billion in technologies to reduce emissions – while at the same time providing affordable, reliable electricity to meet growing energy needs.
As a result of that commitment, today’s coal-based generating fleet is 70% cleaner on the basis of regulated emissions per unit of energy produced. Some say that is a real accomplishment. We say it is a great start."


No

  • The term "clean coal" is a misnomer and greenwashing tactic It is a public relations tactic that misrepresents coal as having the potential to be an environmentally acceptable option. The function of this tactic is to dampen the case against coal and buy time so that the coal industry can continue business and large profits as usual.


Foreign oil: Can "clean coal" help reduce foreign oil dependencies?

Yes


No

  • Renewables can cut foreign oil dependencies AND fight global warming. Renewables are capable of fully replacing coal by the middle of the century. If all of our energies are put into expanding renewable electric generation, instead of into clean coal, it is possible to fully replace coal. As such, renewables have the potential to cut foreign dependencies on oil AND, at the same time, fight global warming.


Pro/con sources:

Yes


No


Pro/con videos

Yes

Rep. Terry makes compelling case for clean coal technology[3]

No

"Clean Coal" doesn't exist.[4]


See also

External links


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