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Earth Power News

The World Falls Back In Love With Coal 341

Hugh Pickens writes "Richard Anderson reports on BBC that despite stringent carbon emissions targets in Europe designed to slow global warming and massive investment in renewable energy in China, coal, the dirtiest and most polluting of all the major fossil fuels, is making a comeback with production up 6% over 2010, twice the rate of increase of gas and more than four times that of oil. 'What is going on is a shift from nuclear power to coal and from gas to coal; this is the worst thing you could do, from a climate change perspective,' says Dieter Helm. Why the shift back to coal? Because coal is cheap, and getting cheaper all the time. Due to the economic downturn, there has been a 'collapse in industrial demand for energy,' leading to an oversupply of coal, pushing the price down. Meanwhile China leads the world in coal production and consumption. It mines over 3 billion tons of coal a year, three times more than the next-biggest producer (America), and last year overtook Japan to become the world's biggest coal importer. Although China is spending massive amounts of money on a renewable energy but even this will not be able to keep up with demand, meaning fossil fuels will continue to make up the majority of the overall energy mix for the foreseeable future and when it comes to fossil fuels, coal is the easy winner — it is generally easier and cheaper to mine, and easier to transport using existing infrastructure such as roads and rail, than oil or gas. While China is currently running half a dozen carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects — which aim to capture CO2 emissions from coal plants and bury it underground — the technology is nowhere near commercial viability. 'Renewed urgency in developing CCS globally, alongside greater strides in increasing renewable energy capacity, is desperately needed,' writes Anderson, 'but Europe's increasing reliance on coal without capturing emissions is undermining its status as a leader in clean energy, and therefore global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.'"
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The World Falls Back In Love With Coal

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  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:08PM (#42074731)

    We are also the only country going full speed ahead on fracking, giving us lots of natural gas to use which burns without emitting CO2.

    Um, no. Burning natual gas emits lots of CO2. Less than coal or oil, because so much more of it is hydrogen, but there's still a good amount of carbon there and it emits CO2 when burned.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:14PM (#42074783)

    I misspoke in saying it burnt without emitting CO2, but as you say it burns cleaner than coal which is what as the article says, they are turning to in Europe.

    So switching to a much heavier use of natural gas can significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:19PM (#42074839)

    Our leaders have mostly lost faith in the doctrine of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming caused by our emissions of CO2 as we burn fossil fuels.

    If our fearless leaders actually believed that we are in danger of runaway catastrophic global warming, they would never allow new coal power. Instead, they pay lip service to CO2 reduction while implementing policies that fly in the face of CO2 reduction.

    It's much like the boy who cried wolf. People like Al Gore and James Hanson have been crying their alarmist warming for so long that influential people have stopped believing them. The downside is that those people have also stopped listening to the real scientists.

  • by Sperbels ( 1008585 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:24PM (#42074869)
    No it's not. North America and South America are two continents. America is an accepted name for the United States of America.
  • by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:34PM (#42074965)

    Since China is the world's largest IMPORTER of coal, there is no cheap Chinese coal on the world market. I didn't even have to RTFA to get that from the summary. The coal industry in the US is hurting because cheap natural gas is displacing it (free market at work, but Murray Energy blames it on Obama). Natural gas outside of the North American market is not (yet) so cheap so it is not pressuring coal outside N. America.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:44PM (#42075081)
    "America" is an entirely common short name for United States of America, and has been for longer than any of us have been on this planet. We all know the geography, it's just convention, and there's no reason to get all pedantic about it when the context is obvious enough.
  • by proslack ( 797189 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:45PM (#42075095) Journal

    China and the US have similar reserves of coal (about a quarter of the world's supply each.) Coal is a PITA to transport compared to natural gas (weight vs. energy). There's lot's of natural gas in the Arctic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_exploration_in_the_Arctic [wikipedia.org], which is probably why China is building icebreakers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Xue_Long [wikipedia.org]. When their second one is built, they will have as many active as the U.S., which *is* an Arctic nation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_Council [wikipedia.org] with corresponding mineral rights http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Convention_on_the_Law_of_the_Sea [wikipedia.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:53PM (#42075155)

    In English, America is a synonym for USA. In other languages however, especially Spanish, "America" is the word you use when talking about South + Central + North America.

  • Zeta Power (Score:5, Informative)

    by Penurious Penguin ( 2687307 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:16PM (#42075329) Journal
    This should be great for the zeta cartels - it seems they've expanded from drugs and mass-murder to the coal industry. [allgov.com]

    Now when we do such things as turn on a light, we can relish more than our collective carbon boot-print on the Earth's bemired face -- we can smile as we bask in the sanguineous luminosity of torture and intoxication too!
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:20PM (#42075355)

    Coal spews more radiation than a nuclear meltdown, and kills many more people in it's extraction and mining. How's that for some things not to love?

  • by Nova77 ( 613150 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:30PM (#42075479)

    The nuclear accident of Fukushima has yet to kill *a single person* due to radiation. I don't know where you get your data, but surely it's not factual.

  • by beltsbear ( 2489652 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:41PM (#42075577)
    The words CLEAN and the word COAL should not be allowed next to each other until at least 10% of the coal plants are actually clean.
  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:46PM (#42075613) Journal

    It's not so much PR as reality. Germany is one of the greenest countries in Europe, yet they're building new coal plants. Why? Because they're decommissioning old nuclear plants, and they have to replace them with some suitable base-load source. Since Fukushima, new nuclear plants are practically off the cards, so coal is about it. It's cheap, it's not nuclear, and we don't have to buy it from the Arabs; what's not to love?

    Emphasizes mine.
    Thats wrong.
    The new plants are planned and commissioned since a decade, long before the final step to abandone nuclear was done.
    On top of that the new plants replace older plants that will get decommissioned. Because the new plants are cleaner and more efficient and integrated into "community heating networks".
    And the final error: we don't need more coal plants for "base load", we have by far enough wind power for base load.
    What you miss: wind power can not be used to follow the load and adapt to changing load/demand.
    Coal can, so coal plants are used for load following, not for base load.

  • Re:Greenpeace (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:58PM (#42075707)

    Patrick Moore [wikipedia.org] understood this but of course to the ignorants at Greenpeace this makes him a corporate shill. Environmental protection should be all about setting global priorities straight NOW.

  • Re:Predictable (Score:4, Informative)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @03:03PM (#42075743) Journal

    Fusion reactors we are currently working on will produce more radioactive waste than current fission reactors.
    After we have those successful we still need to move/scale them to fuels that don't produce strong neutron fluxes.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Friday November 23, 2012 @03:07PM (#42075771)

    The words CLEAN and the word COAL should not be allowed next to each other until at least 10% of the coal plants are actually clean.

    They are all Clean, Especially in the US and Western European countries. Even China is building new clean coal plants.

    In the US, All coal plants have scrubbers, all new plants used fluidized bed boilers [energy.gov], and many are starting on CO2 sequestration. In most cases, they are as clean as gas plants, and some are ahead of gas plants on sequestration projects.

    You can continue to demonize clean coal [energy.gov] all you want. It makes you trendy. But it doesn't make you right. Just makes you look uninformed.

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @04:06PM (#42076225) Journal

    America is the only country it would seem, still building clean nuclear plants

    What do you mean "still"? We had a ~40 year hiatus, while other countries (eg. France) were going full-bore on nuclear power, and we were just hoping our existing plants wouldn't fall apart.

    natural gas to use which burns without emitting CO2.

    Completely wrong! Less than coal, sure, but it emits plenty of CO2.

    Also where are realistic electric cars like the Telsa being designed? America.

    This is the "No true Scotsman" logical fallacy. Plenty of electric cars and hybrids are coming from Japan... Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Toyota Prius plug-in, etc. You have to completely contrive your idea of "realistic", going out of your way to make it fit only US-built vehicles.

    Other EVs include: Peugeot iOn, Citroen C-ZERO, Smart Fortwo electric, Tata Vista, Vauxhall Ampera, Renault Fluence ZE, Mia electric, Azure Transit Connect Electric; Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell; Faam Ecomile; Faam Jolly 2000; Mia U; Smith Electric Edison, BYD Auto's F3DM, Fisker Karma, Ford C-Max Energi.

    If Europe had been at all serious about CO2 reduction they would have leaned on Germany not to close down nuclear plants.

    It might have been a short-sighted and politically motivated move, OR MAYBE the Germans know something about the safety of their existing nuclear power plants that the rest of us do not... Waiting until there's an accident and then shutting them down is the worst of both worlds.

    Meanwhile, Germany has been incredibly aggressive in developing solar and wind power, something we can't say about the US, even after Obama's campaign promises.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @04:48PM (#42076513)
    Funny that the data doesnt shows a "dismantling [of] our manufacturing industry."

    Our manufacturing industry simply evolved towards automation. We make more than we ever did before, its just that we use fewer man hours than we used to. Even small machine shops that used to employ a few dozen people now employ only a couple of people total who monitor CNC machines, but these small machine shops now output more product than they ever did using manual labor, and its made to tighter specifications than ever before too.

    I worked in a shop where many employees were grinding some carbide cutting tools that needed to be within a spec of +/- 2 ten thousandths of an inch destined for Pratt and Whitney's jet engine manufacturing facility. There was lots of waste because it was exceedingly difficult to consistently make parts with such a tight specification. That same shop now uses a single CNC machine to make the same part, has almost no waste at all, and only needs a single person to oversee the machine periodically (the person can oversee dozens of machines.)

    That, my friend, is what happened to American manufacturing. We didn't stop making stuff. We just stopped using people to do it.
  • by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:22PM (#42076755) Journal

    Multiply that by 1000x and you get the estimated yearly deaths due to outdoor air pollution, mostly created through burning of fossil fuels. Indoor air pollution (i.e. cigarette smoke) kills about 2 million yearly. I don't know how many deaths occur through uranium mining, but I'm sure it is far outstripped by deaths due to coal mining, as they need an awful lot more coal to make the same amount of power as nuclear.

  • by ahabswhale ( 1189519 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @05:37PM (#42076873)

    They don't all have this new technology you're referring to. Saying coal is clean with the amount of CO2 it dumps out is pretty ridiculous. Coal pits also completely destroy the environment in which they are dug.

    Clean? Not even close.

  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @06:46PM (#42077449)

    We all hate moronic talking points - how about we agree to drop them? Chernobyl is an example of radiation problems. 3 Mile Island was a tamer example. And, now, Fukushima. The Greenies talk about all that radiation from coal, but they can't point to one example of a population center depopulated due to radiation from coal.

    Try sticking to the REAL drawbacks of using coal.

    The reason you have depopulated population centers around the nuclear plants where things have gone wrong is to prevent deaths that we are already seeing in the coal industry and coal power plants but are used to. Is your goal cheap energy, saving lives, or being green? The only one coal comes out better than nuclear is being cheap. All that mercury that we get warned about in fish, guess what percentage of that came from coal mines and power plants.

  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @08:22PM (#42078187)

    The difference is that the residual radioactive materials in coal power station exhaust and fly ash tend to be long-lived ones from natural decay processes -- U238's half-life is 4.5 billion years so a tonne of uranium metal isn't actually very radioactive and in a lump nearly all of the decays that happen every second occur deep inside the lump and never make it to the outside where they can have an effect on the environment. In the case of power station fly ash radioactive contaminants like U238 and Th232 are diluted in lagoons under water and the perceived problem is the chemical toxicity of the sludge (toxic metals, dioxins, sulfur compounds etc.) rather than its radioactivity.

    Conversely fission products from a reactor fuel rod that's been run for any length of time have a wide range of half-lifes from milliseconds to millenia. Some are long-lived enough to be an ongoing problem for disposal while also having short enough half-lives that they emit noticeable and possibly dangerous amounts of radioactivity. For example cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life so a kilogram or two spread as fine particles over a wide area due to an accidental release such as in the Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents will emit significant amounts of radioactivity for a time measured in human lifespans. Coal power station waste has virtually no radioactive contaminants with such a short half-life, but there is a very large amount of it produced every year. The exception is radon which is released in both coal mining and combustion -- all of the radon isotopes are quite short-lived and highly active.

    Enough radioactive material escapes coal station chimneys even with 99%-plus filtration and precipitation in the stacks that it can be trivially detected downwind for long distances, especially if rain washes it down onto population centres nearby. I've seen a report of radioactive material attributed to the Fukushima releases being detected with simple radiation monitoring instruments in rainwater samples in the middle of St. Louis MO not long after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. One of the biggest coal-fired power station complexes in the US (Labadie, burning over 8 million tonnes of coal each year to produce 2.3GW of electricity) is about 20 miles to the west from where the measurements were taken.

Forty two.