Clean Coal Technology: A Green Solution for the Coal Industry?

Coal is a form of fossil fuel that is commonly used for generating electricity. In fact, close to 40% of the electricity that is produced in the world is generated with the use of coal. Although it is a very beneficial resource, its usage releases high amounts of carbon dioxide, which can be detrimental to the environment. New technology is currently being researched and implemented in efforts to reduce the environmental impact of burning coal. However, many people and groups question the effectiveness of clean coal technology.

Coal Facts and History

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock that is mostly made up of carbon and hydrocarbons. It is black or brownish black in color, and is usually found in rock strata called coal beds. Coal is created over million of years by pressure and heat from the top layers. The energy that is present in coal is actually stored energy from plants that existed millions of years ago. Coal is a non-renewable source of energy and known as the most widely available fossil fuel in the world today. It comes in several different forms, including bituminous, sub-bituminous, anthracite, and lignite.

The first known use of coal as a form of fuel dates back to about 3,000 BC. People in Britain used outcrop coal as fuel for burning dead bodies. Later on, the ancient Greeks also discovered the benefits of coal, and they used it mainly for metalworking. After the Romans invaded Britain in the 1st century, they exploited the main coalfields in Britain, and they began trading coal. By the 5th century, many coal cinders were established around Europe. In the Americas, the Aztecs were the first people to use coal, and they used it to produce heat and make ornaments. Coal mining began in the United States in the 18th century, and has grown to become a major industry today, producing more than one billion tons of coal every year.

  • Coal Basics: General information about coal, including uses and mining processes.
  • What is Coal?: Article that provides a comprehensive overview of coal.
  • Coal FAQ: Frequently asked questions about coal.
  • Facts about Coal: Document that reveals interesting facts about coal and coal mining in the United States.
  • Coal Statistics: Statistics on coal mining and coal use from the National Mining Association.
  • Types of Coal: Learn about the major types of coal in this article.

Coal and the Environment

Coal burning and mining have adverse affects on the environment. They generate millions of tons of waste materials, which include bottom ash, fly ash, and flue gas desulfurization sludge. These materials contain harmful chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, uranium, thorium, and other metals. The use of coal also increases the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and it can lead to acid rain. Furthermore, carbon dioxide released from coal burning contributes to global warming and climate change.

  • Coal is Dirty: This article reveals how coal burning can fuel global warming.

Clean Coal Technology

Clean coal technology refers to the application of advanced technology to reduce the negative effects of coal use on the environment. It involves the cleaning of coal and the reduction of harmful emissions. One effective coal cleaning method is called coal washing. This method removes harmful substances by using a liquid to separate impurities from the coal. Systems that are applied to minimize emissions include the flue gas desulfurization system, electrostatic precipitator, low nitrogen oxide burner, and gasification. Presently, the US Department of Energy is developing a coal-based power plant that is 90% emission-free, and the project is expected to be completed in the year 2012.

  • Clean Coal Production: Article that relates how clean coal production can reduce the levels of greenhouse gasses.

Clean Coal Criticism

Nonetheless, some experts believe that clean coal technology does not do much to reduce the detrimental effects of coal-based power plants on the environment. One argument is that that the application of clean coal technology does not solve the environmental problems that are caused by waste products from mining activities. Also, the capturing of carbon is very costly, and there is no safe way to store captured carbon. Furthermore, certain clean coal technologies are actually only effective in reducing sulfur emission, and they do not control the emission of greenhouse gases that can cause global warming.

  • Is Clean Coal Viable?: Discussion on the viability of clean coal technology as an energy alternative. 

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