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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 Anonymous Coward on Friday November 23, 2012 @12:48PM (#42074599)

    The fact is that today's children are terrible. The increase in coal production is purely for Santa to leave lumps of it in stockings for these children.

  • Granted the CO2 is not good if we want the climate to stay as is but if coal is too cheap then we MUST figure a way to use it without the drawbacks.

    There has been talk about talking CO2 from the air and making diesel out of it. Why not get straight from a coal burning plant? (BTW: sequestration of CO2 in the ground was proven to cause Earth quakes.)

    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:03PM (#42074701)

      Because right now, it's cheaper to pull oil out the ground and refine it into diesel.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      this reminds of the recycling kick, which was reduce, reuse, recycle. It has always been known the reduction was the key, and reuse and recycle were just short term kludges that we use to get to the reduction.

      In the US it seems that free energy is a right, or at a least such a sign of prosperity that no one is willing to give it up, the new chicken in every pot. Now we focus on cheap electricity, and cheap gas, not making efficient use of the resources we have.

      Take christmas. When I was a kid we would

      • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

        Oh, climb down off that soap box before you hurt yourself.

        We ARE making more efficient use of resources every day, and most of north America does recycle.

        Most waste management companies have invested heavily in the equipment. In fact recycling has gotten so efficient and pervasive that the recycling companies are running out of warehouse space to store recyclable paper because the paper mills can't handle the supply. The market price of recycled newspapers has crashed due to an over supply. The recycle m

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Friday November 23, 2012 @12:51PM (#42074623)

    Sources suggest [indexmundi.com] that apart from a brief blip during the economic downturn in 2009, worldwide coal consumption has been steadily increasing for the past 10 years or so, after plateauing in 1988-2000.

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      Right, but the rich countries (that pay the most) were reducing consumption in the 1988-2000 range, maybe a bit later than that even, while the poor countries were picking up consumption.

      And then they started to take off like a rocket.

      Coal had fallen out of favour as one of those 'we're not going to eliminate it over night' kind of things. And then china decided it liked being able to power factories and TVs.

      • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @02:48PM (#42075625)

        Coal had fallen out of favour as one of those 'we're not going to eliminate it over night' kind of things. And then china decided it liked being able to power factories and TVs.

        Actually what happened was that our corporate overlords decided that cheap Chinese labor was the way of the future so they dismantled our manufacturing industry and moved it to China. This caused a massive increase in demand for electricity in China so that they could build cheap TVs, mobile phones, laptops and other gadgets for us to buy with the top notch salaries we were all earning in the new 'service economy'. In order to keep their prices low and margins high the Chinese went for the cheapest most abundant fuel they could find, unfortunately that also happened to be the dirtiest most polluting one. Of course none of that is our fault, we just buy Chinese TVs, mobile phones, laptops and re-elect the puppets our corporate overlords finance with the money they earned exporting our manufacturing industry to China .... and besides, it's not as if the climate is changing or anything.

        • 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.
  • Predictable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @12:56PM (#42074665) Homepage

    That's what you get for knee-jerking and planning to shut down all of your nuclear reactors. The promise of replacing that power with clean renewable energy is proving a tad hard to follow up, right? I'm not exactly surprised.

    I expect Europe will eventually start driving coal down once more, but it'll take a while to do such a shift, during which time coal will be the stopgap measure. That, or they finally wake up and do nuclear right instead of writing it off entirely.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Europe doesn't have much good coal left. After centuries of mining, only crappy coal is left behind. Germany, the world leader in brown coal (the worse of the worse) production and consumption..

      http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/ [worldcoal.org]

      44% of Germany's power production is still coal. But environmentalists say that nuclear is the problem and shut it down. Because we all know that nuclear power causes global warming, destroyed the ozone layer and killed millions in Chernobyl and destroyed the enviro

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can we switch to burning Activists for fuel?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I'm very much pro nuclear, and against smelly hippie activists, but I wouldn't go so far as to call them complete whackos. They have a point: the old nuke plants were pretty bad and so were the old ideas around waste disposal. But that's improving; newer plants are far safer than the old crapholes at Fukushima and Chernobyl. Newer designs (thorium plants) can be made far safer still, and also bring the amount of time we need to store waste down to manageable levels (think a few decades). But I agree: we
        • Re:Predictable (Score:4, Interesting)

          by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @07:56PM (#42077975)

          There's a reason why the research into the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) has been dusted off and given serious consideration again.

          Unlike conventional nuclear reactors, LFTR's have a lot of advantages:

          1. It uses plentiful thorium-233 dissolved in molten sodium fluoride salts as fuel--cheap to make.
          2. You can use spent uranium fuel rods and even plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads dissolved in molten sodium fluoride salts as fuel--eliminating a huge nuclear waste disposal problem.
          3. It doesn't require an expensive pressurized reactor vessel.
          4. Shutting down the reactor quickly involves only dumping the liquid fuel from the reactor--no need for complicated reactor control rod procedures.
          5. Using closed-loop Brayton turbines, we eliminate the need for expensive cooling towers or locating the reactor near a big body of water.
          6. The radioactive waste generated is very small, and only has a half-life of under 300 years. That means very cheap disposal costs (if the nuclear medicine industry doesn't grab it first!).

          So what are we waiting for?

    • No kidding. You just have to look at Japan which is switching from nuclear to coal generation or Germany which is switching from nuclear to lignite coal to figure this out. In Germany it will certainly be interesting to see what will happen to their energy prices once they shut down their nuclear generators and they lose all that money they are charging nuclear producers of electricity in order to fund wind power generation.
    • Re:Predictable (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:26PM (#42074887) Homepage Journal

      It has nothing to do with nuclear. Keep in mind fukushima happened last year and there is no way new coal plants could have been built as a reaction by now.

      The growth has been coming for years due to rising costs in other areas and the falling cost of coal. Carbon capture has also made it more attractive.

      I'm sure nuclear will eventually make a difference, but not yet.

      • There are two ways I can think of this being a direct reaction within the timescale-- existing idled coal-fired plants / multi-source plants switching to coal, or the addition of coal fired boilers at existing plants.

        I have done work in CO2 distillation plant that took feed from a nearby refinery; it is pretty hard for me to imagine carbon sequestration ever being a commercially viable means to keep coal attractive. I would have thought that in-situ gasification would have happened by now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by xtal ( 49134 )

      Nobody complains about all the nuclear reactors mounted on thousands of kilograms of rocket fuel, pointed directly at the world's major population centers, locked and loaded, a few electrical impulses from going off.

      People are stupid, and the anti-nuke people are even stupider. We'll burn every last drop of commercially extractable energy profitable hydrocarbon before we look at nuclear. My only ray of light is nuclear is so clean, and there is so much of it, that it may be able to power a next generation o

      • Having fusion reactors would be a national miracle seeing as how all current reactors and weapons are of the fission type.

        • 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.

      • Hello,

        It's not clear to me that fusion can EVER be made practical. It's quite possible that a SMALL fusion plant just can't be made, which leaves you with investing in mega-plants. Then, if you pay more in capital to build a fusion plant than you can recover from selling the power than, say, wind power, no one will ever build a fusion plant.

        As an example of the stringent constraints on fusion, did you know that a thermal plasma of reasonable size with elements heavier than h

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:01PM (#42074699)

    America is the only country it would seem, still building clean nuclear plants (much less shutting them down as Germany has done!). 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. Also where are realistic electric cars like the Telsa being designed? America.

    Frankly I did not ever see Europe being a leader in CO2 reduction, they were all talk. It's one thing to sign a paper or give statements of support, it's quite another to carry through with real actions that will actually cause the reduction you seek. If Europe had been at all serious about CO2 reduction they would have leaned on Germany not to close down nuclear plants.

    • 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.

        • Meh. For certain values of "significantly". Compared to coal, yeah, you get a pretty good cut--about a 38% reduction. Compared to oil, you're not doing nearly as well: it's somewhere in the 4% to 15% range depending on exactly what kind of oil you're using.

        • by rbrander ( 73222 )

          Is the reduction not even 40% ? I'd thought it was 50% because gas turbines were also more efficient or something.

          Anyway, the poster is skipping that you can't really get gas out of the ground and to the plant without a few percent loss. And since methane has 20X the infrared "X-section" of CO2, every percent lost harms the atmosphere as much as 20% of the coal effect. So 2% methane + 60% of the CO2 = Just as Bad As Coal.

        • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

          Aye, but it's still a stopgap measure. We need to cut our emissions dramatically, not let them climb up at a lesser rate, which is what natural gas would afford us at best. Worse, it's not even a step in the right direction, since it's a dead end: there's no logical way of hopping from natural gas to clean energy.

    • by rtaylor ( 70602 )

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

      Canada (specifically Ontario) is too. Several reactors have recently been refurbished and more are underway. A tender to build 4 additional reactors is being prepared.

      Canada has very high energy usage on a per-capita basis but a fairly small population.

    • natural gas to use which burns without emitting CO2


      It's a fossil fuel, CO2 emissions from it are relatively low but still present. And the extraction process is highly questionable at best...

    • 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.

      • Plenty of electric cars and hybrids are coming from Japan... Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Toyota Prius plug-in, etc.

        Funny that you should mention Toyota.. whose EV engine design do you think is in the second generation Toyota RAV4 EV?

        Toyota went to Tesla for their EV engine. Thats whose engine is in the RAV4 EV.

  • by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:07PM (#42074723)

    Coal reserves are much higher than oil and gas reserves, and it's dirt cheap to extract when strip mined. The only real question is whether we'll make coal plants cleaner by using all sorts of filters.

  • That way each one individually get to spend their current share without overloading the planet.

    I don't see another solution. It seems countries have better _actual_ results in convincing people to have less children than using green energy.
  • So we are already sliding back, and we haven't even had an Empire and a Foundation.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:39PM (#42075035) Homepage

    Fukushima killed 20,000 people! Think what a tsunami like that would do in central Europe!

    Besides, Europe is going to be 100% solar and wind powered in five years. I think hand-cranked generators are the way to go, though. Think of all the jobs that would be created.

    • 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.

  • Greenpeace (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doconnor ( 134648 ) on Friday November 23, 2012 @01:45PM (#42075087) Homepage

    It seems to me the Greenpeace's successful campaign against nuclear power and failure to campaign against coal power has been a major cause of global warming. No doubt Greenpeace knew or should have known since the 1980s how much worse coal is for the environment.

  • 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!

Nothing makes a person more productive than the last minute.