Friday, June 22, 2012

Coal Under Attack on All Fronts . . . Plots Comeback

Coal is the second-most plentiful hydrocarbon resources on the planet, second only to gas hydrates. Yet, increasingly, coal is being displaced by natural gas power plants across North America, and is being threatened with replacement by new generations of safe, clean, affordable, small modular nuclear fission reactors.

Is coal taking all of this lying down? No. In fact, in many ways, coal is the rising star of global energy production.
image via GWPF

BP’s annual statistical review reports that global coal production increased 6 per cent last year, twice the celebrated rate of increase in global natural gas production. This most notorious of fuels now accounts for 30 per cent of global energy consumption – the highest percentage since 1969. It will almost certainly account for more in the years ahead. It is, after all, one of the cheapest primary sources of energy in the world. And its reserves are, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible.

...Americans themselves are consuming less coal – 5 per cent less in the past decade. As U.S. electrical producers shift from cheap coal to cheap natural gas, more coal will be released for export to other countries (where demand for coal increased by almost 50 per cent in the same decade, the energy equivalent of 23 million barrels of oil a day). Already the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter, after Australia, Indonesia and Russia, the U.S. could plausibly become the world’s largest exporter in coming years. The United States possesses more coal reserves, after all, than any other country.

How much more? Energy analyst Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says U.S. coal reserves contain nearly as much energy as the proven oil reserves of all 12 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries combined. U.S. coal deposits, he says, hold the energy equivalent of 900 billion barrels of oil. The OPEC countries have proven oil reserves of one trillion barrels. _Globe&Mail
We know that new, super-clean coal plants using IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) and CHP (combined heat and power) technologies, are both very efficient and very environmentally responsible. But science and engineering have just begun to start cleaning up coal's act:
One of the new technologies, which involves pressurizing the oxygen, is being developed by a partnership between ThermoEnergy, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the major Italian engineering firm Itea. A version of it has been demonstrated at a small plant in Singapore that can generate about 15 megawatts of heat (enough for about five megawatts of electricity).

The technology simplifies the clean-up of flue gases; for example, some pollutants are captured in a glass form that results from high-temperature combustion. It also has the ability to quickly change power output, going from 10 percent to 100 percent of its generating capacity in 30 minutes, says Robert Marrs, ThermoEnergy's VP of business development. Conventional coal plants take several hours to do that. _TechnologyReview

Coal is a massive and affordable source of energy that is begging to be produced and utilised in a clean and responsible manner.

While everyone from gas advocates to nuclear advocates to green dieoff.orgiasts rail against coal as the mineral from hell, more responsible energy analysts understand that we will need to learn to utilise all sources of energy in clean and responsible ways, if we are to transition smoothly into the age of advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.

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