Our oil dependency may be what fuels our cars, but it’s coal that provides half of U.S. electricity on a daily basis. Per unit of energy, coal blows oil away by emitting 29 percent more carbon emissions into the air. We know this. That’s why we’re starting to use clean coal, right?
For starters, each step involving coal is dirty and puts out emissions – mining, transporting, refining, etc. Clean Coal Technologies (CCT) only impacts the final stage once coal is used at power plants.
According to BusinessWeek earlier this summer, is that CCT is more of a buzzword than a reality. The concept of CCT is based on theoretical carbon capture and sequestration – separating carbon dioxide from the coal-burning process that would release it into the air, and instead, put it back into the ground where it came from as a liquid.
Hold on a sec. According to Rainforest Action Network, U.S. power plants produce 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. We want to bottle these emissions and put them into the ground? Large carbon concentrations are potentially fatal to humans – in 1986, a carbon dioxide leak killed almost instantly 1,800 people. Whether putting this much CO2 into the ground will affect ground stability or increase the number of earthquakes is uncertain.
Financial costs need to be taken into consideration as well. Journalist Ben Elgin wrote that the conservative cost estimate to turn this idea into a practical reality would cost several trillion dollars, which definitely won’t help our utility bills any time soon. How about we use that money to build transmission lines for wind turbines or solar panels for houses?
What about energy costs? In 2006, the EPA estimated that successfully capturing and sequestering 90 percent of coal emissions will increase the amount of energy we need to produce by 40 percent, which ultimately increases the number of pollutants in the air.
Recent studies have been done to show the effects of what happens when carbon dioxide is pumped into the oceans as another means of disposal. It increases the acidity of the water, and even mere absorption from the atmosphere caused sea urchin spines and mollusk shells to dissolve, giving the ocean what Discover Magazine calls a case of carbonized osteoporosis. Obviously, if we value our sea life, dumping carbon into the ocean isn’t a solution.
Granted, scrubbers and other technologies have made coal less dirty but clean coal will always be an oxymoron. Don’t buy into campaign promises of clean coal as a viable long-term energy plan. BusinessWeek compared clean coal to a healthy cigarette – it doesn’t exist.