“Clean” Coal

Clean Coal
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Image: Linh Do / Flickr CC

Is there such a thing as “clean” coal?  Or is it just as bad as “regular” coal? Coal itself is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, composed mostly of carbons and hydrocarbons.  When you burn it, the emissions contribute to global warming, acid rain and water pollution.

There are many other cleaner sources of energy, such as solar, hydro, nuclear and biofuels.  Why, then, do we use so much of it?

For one, it is relatively cheap.  We also have lots of it.  Further, it generates almost half the electricity in the United States, and we are not alone in our gluttonous usage. China is the biggest coal importer followed by Japan, South Korea and India.  There seems to be no sign of slowing down either.  Demand is on the rise.

Yet, what of “clean” coal?  Is it really cleaner?

Clean coal technology basically tries to reduce environmental toxins by using different technologies to clean the coal and trap its emissions. Some ways of cleaning the coal are by coal washing, using nitrogen oxide burners, or gasification.

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama talked about “clean” coal while campaigning. But what is clean coal?
Image: Christopher Dilts / Obama for America

However, despite the various attempts to make coal a cleaner burning fossil fuel, it is still dirty.  There is no known process to make coal completely clean.  It is false hope to believe otherwise.

Barack Obama often mentioned clean coal while he was on the campaign trail, but he never really explained what it was.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether it is really better.  Here are some things that we do know:

Fact: There are still many questions about scale, safety and cost.

Fact: Current coal plant designs cannot cost-effectively capture carbon dioxide.

Fact: If stored underground, slow carbon leaks could still contaminate the environment.

Perhaps it is time to invest in cleaner sources of energy, for the sake of future generations and that of planet.

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