New Developments in Clean Coal


Finding Value in Alternative Fuels and Energy Sources

clean coal plant

Coal is considered a cheaper energy option from a financial perspective, but it has an enormous cost to the environment. According to Science Daily, between 2003 and 2007, the use of coal as an energy source worldwide increased by approximately 22%. During the same time period, there was a direct correlation between this increased coal consumption, and a consistent annual rise of 3% in global C02 emissions.

The use of coal by the US and the European Union, in addition to long-term coal consumers China and Russia, has increased due to the rising prices of natural gas. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, if this trend continues, C02 emissions will increase by 90% – in part due to this shift towards coal as an energy producer.

Fossil Fuel and Chemical Looping

Fortunately, research is being conducted to reduce coal’s environmental toll so that it can be a major energy producer, offered to consumers affordably through online hubs like Ohio State University has created a combustion system that they believe will trap 99% of C02 so it is not released into the environment.

The combustion system created by Ohio State was initially a research-sized version, but positive results have encouraged them to create a full-scale model. Effectively, what this combustion system does is prevents the coal from ever truly burning, and therefore it can prevent the release in a process referred to as chemical looping.

Ohio State ran their research program for 9 days, which is said to be the longest testing period during the development of this type of technology. The program was only stopped after 9 days as it was deemed successful. Competitors that have attempted a similar approach have cut their research off too soon – either because of a lack of success, or because of budget restrictions. In either scenario, previous research programs did not produce sufficient enough results to justify further development.

Other Environmental Issues With Coal

While the issue with C02 production is not the only environmental issue associated with the use of coal to produce heat, it is one of the biggest problems. It needs to be addressed first and foremost before fossil fuel plants will ever progress towards a “green” classification, and this progress could truly change the world’s power sources for the better. However, The United States Environmental Protection Agency does outline the following additional issues with coal which must also be taken into consideration for energy reform:

• The use of coal for energy production requires substantial water use – the current way that coal is used in power plants relies upon water to produce steam. When coal is mined, a substantial amount of water is also used in order to remove any impurities and toxins from the minerals.

• Discharge of polluted water into bodies of water – toxins that end up being produced during the traditional fossil fuel burning process has to be discharged. New technology will still need to find an environmentally safe way to dispose of their pollutants.

• Production of other emissions – in addition to C02, using coal as an energy source also produces sulfur dioxide, mercury compounds, and nitrogen oxides.

Ultimately, the advancements already made could play an integral role in the reduction of energy production’s environmental toll. Progress will certainly continue as the leading energy producers in the world focus on the sustainability of the planet.

[Photo Via: DDMCDN]

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