Is Clean Coal Really Clean?

Clean coal definitely sounds like it burns cleanly. Is this actually the case?

Clean coal refers to several methodologies designed to reduce the greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions that come from burning coal.

The most popular methodologies are:

  • Carbon Capture + Storage
  • Fluidized Bed Combustion
  • Integrated Gasification
  • Flue Gas Desulfurization
  • Low Nitrogen Oxide Burners
  • Electrocostatic Precipitators
  • Catalytic Reduction

Some of the clean coal methods focus on better combustion while others focus on preventing undesirable emissions from entering the atmosphere.

All of the methodologies work reasonably well, but there are still some greenhouse gases emitted along with other pollutants such as radionuclides. Furthermore, there are concerns with how large scale implementation of some of the methodologies (such as carbon capture and storage) may affect the environment.

Critics also point out that the money spent on building “clean coal” power plants may be better spent developing renewable energy plants.

In our humble opinion, no new clean coal power plants should be built. Instead, we should:

  • Concentrate on building new renewable energy plants (such as wind or solar).
  • Build new natural gas power plants if more peaking plants are required. Natural gas produces about 50% of the carbon dioxide coal does per unit of energy.
  • Use clean coal technology only to retrofit existing coal power plants.

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