Friday, November 14, 2008

Clean Coal - Do I Look Stupid?

Rain, cold bbbrrrrr. Finally November.

Who came up with the term clean coal? It's laughable really. Does the coal industry think we are that stupid?

I thought I knew the basics of coal - it's basically dirty, really dirty, has been and will be. Then the presidential elections brought the term clean coal to the surface as one of the viable solutions to our energy needs. As I repeatedly heard this term, I figured a new breakthrough had occurred that missed my radar despite being fairly tuned in. I guessed some new technology was about to take over that I just hadn't come across it yet. It sounded pretty good.

Finally, a headlines caught my eye, and my time, and I was able to get updated, which then lead to more articles and some more googling. And what a disappointment it was. It showed me the power of marketing, well chosen words, and of course ... money.

My uncle was in the coal industry, and I remember him working on a way to filter the burning of coal. He worked on it for years. He had many other patents under his belt but he really wanted to find a way to have coal burn cleanly. He knew this was important, that it would solve the pollution problems and it wouldn't hurt his wallet either. That was early 1970's.

Not a whole lot has changed. Coal is still very dirty. The burning of coal for electricity is responsible for 40% of CO2 released in the U.S. The CO2 is bundled with lots of other really bad stuff too: mercury, lead, heavy metals and the longest list of pollutants compared to any other form of energy production. It's dirty, dirty, dirty.

There are lots of ideas about "cleaning" or "washing" coal, or pumping into the ground (with no proof of long term safety) but not a lot in practice and seems to be a waste in and of itself compared to putting that technological effort and money into something else more clean, more efficient and renewable. What happened to our push for renewables????

There are 100 coal plants in the works for the US right now. In China, about 2 plants PER week are being built. That was not a misprint. I just can't get my head around that idea. This is totally counter to the efforts needed to curb CO2 emissions to reduce climate change. This scenario offers little hope.

So if you have been scratching your head about "clean coal", join the club. It's sort of like artificial grass, compassionate narcissist, painless torture, victimless crime or... healthy cigarette. You have to admit, clean coal is in the top 10 for oxymorons. Seems like anyone can call anything what they want, wrap it in some pretty words and voila, life is okay. Boy was I duped for awhile, but not stupid. Beware those words that sound too good, they probably are.

1 comment:

wirehead said...

Every time somebody talks about pumping the CO2 from coal plants underground to make it "clean coal" I think of Lake Nyos.

The potential there makes Chernobyl look like pink fuzzy bunnies.