“Clean Coal”???

Two important stories about ‘clean coal’ over the past couple of days in the NEW YORK TIMES …. ‘Clean coal’ of course refers to a set of technologies that 1.) reduce the amount of pollutants emitted from coal-generated electricity, 2.) substantially raise the amount of electricity that can be squeezed from a ton of coal, and 3.) makes it easier to capture and ‘sequester’ the inevitable CO2 by-product.

Lots of environmental purists argue that ‘clean coal’ is a lie. And, in fact, they’re right – even the best of coal technologies will be far from clean. From mining to transport to usage and disposal, it’s a nasty business. But, unfortunately, it’s a nasty business we’re going to be stuck with for the next couple of decades. Over half of US electricity today comes from coal, and – like it or not – the cheapest and easiest new large-scale generating capacity (technology-wise and regulatory-wise) comes from coal or natural gas.

The point is that there is a cleaner, better way to turn coal into electricity today – controlled gasification, then combustion of the coal gases in a huge jet engine sort of affair followed by a steam turbine generator. IGCC, as the technology’s called, works, is proven, and – with a hint of regulatory encouragement – is ready to go today.

Gregg Easterbrook, in “The Dirty War Against Clean Coal” (NYTimes, 28June, 2009) argues that a combination of inertia, special interests, economics and Federal vacillation is stalling the adoption of this new coal technology that offers real, large improvements over the best current coal technologies. A misguided effort to hold out for perfectly clean coal technology, according to Easterbrook, is dooming us to years more of nothing but the dirtiest. And according to the TIMES’ Matthew Wald, some major utilities have given up on the Federal FutureGen project in favor of pursuing their own cleaner coal programs.

No matter how much you might dream of combustion-free energy sources powering our increasingly electric future, the uncomfortable reality is that coal will continue to play a huge role in your economy and mine. It’s utter foolishness to stand in the way of the cleanest coal alternatives today, while you dream of a wind and solar future that’s 10-20 years down the road.

The Dirty War Against Clean Coal
By GREGG EASTERBROOK
NYTimes – Published: June 28, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/opinion/29easterbrook.html?ref=opinion
Advanced-technology coal power exists, but regulators are waiting to see what happens with FutureGen, a project that may be just an expensive boondoggle.

Two Utilities Are Leaving Clean Coal Initiative
By MATTHEW L. WALD
NYTimes – 29Jun09
The departure of Southern Company and American Electric Power is a blow to a consortium seeking to build a carbon-capture coal plant in Illinois.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/26/business/energy-environment/26coal.html?ref=energy-environment

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