What is (so-called) “clean coal”?

Coal is a highly polluting energy source.  It emits much more carbon per unit of energy than oil, and natural gas. CO2 represents the major portion of  greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, one of the leading contributors to climate change.  From mine to sky, from extraction to combustion -- coal pollutes every step of the way. The huge environmental and social costs associated with coal usage make it an expensive option for developing countries.  From acid drainage from coal mines, polluting rivers and streams, to the release of mercury and other toxins when it is burned, as well as climate-destroying gases and fine particulates that wreak havoc on human health, COAL is unquestionably, a DIRTY BUSINESS.  

It is a major contributor to climate change - the biggest environmental threat we face. It is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, emitting 29% more than oil, 80% more carbon dioxide (the main driver of climate change) per unit of energy than gas.

Mercury is a particular problem. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), mercury and its compounds are highly toxic and pose a 'global environmental threat to humans and wildlife.'  Coal-fired power and heat production are the largest single source of atmospheric mercury emissions.  There are no commercially available technologies to prevent mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"Clean coal" is the industry's attempt to "clean up" its dirty image - the industry's greenwash buzzword. It is not a new type of coal.  

"Clean coal" technology (CCT) refers to technologies intended to reduce pollution.  But no coal-fired power plants are truly 'clean'.

"Clean coal" methods only move pollutants from one waste stream to another which are then still released into the environment.  Any time coal is burnt, contaminants are released and they have to go somewhere.  They can be released via the fly ash, the gaseous air emissions, water outflow or the ash left at the bottom after burning.  Ultimately, they still end up polluting the environment.

"Clean coal" methods only move pollutants from one waste stream to another.

Communities after communities have lamented the hosting of coal-fired plants. They are often ignored due to governments' preference for polluting power plants yet they often bear the burden of adversely altered lives.

Despite over 10 years of research and $5.2 billion of investment in the US alone , scientists are still unable to make coal clean. The Australian government spends A$0.5 million annually to promote Australia's 'clean coal' to the Asia Pacific region.  "Clean coal" technologies are expensive and do nothing to mitigate the environmental effects of coal mining or the devastating effects of global warming.  Furthermore, clean coal research risks diverting investment away from renewable energy, which is available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.

The first CCT programs were set up in the late 1980s in response to concerns over acid rain. The programs focused on reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOX), the primary causes of acid rain.  Now the elusive promise of "clean coal" technology is being used to promote coal as an energy source.

A price worth paying?

Many of the 'clean coal' technologies being promoted by the coal industry are still in the development stage and will take hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars and many more years before they are commercially available.  "Clean coal" technologies are also extremely expensive in terms of day to day running costs.  The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the capital costs of a typical IGCC plant (an experimental low-emission coal power station) to be US$1,383/kW, $2,088/kW with carbon sequestration.  This compares with US$1,015/kW for a typical wind farm.

Summary

"Clean coal" is an attempt by the coal industry to try and make itself relevant in the age of renewables. Existing CCTs do nothing to mitigate the environmental effects of coal mining or the devastating effects of global warming. Coal is the dirtiest fuel there is and belongs in the past. Much higher emission cuts can be made using currently available natural gas, wind and modern biomass that are already in widespread use. Clean, inexpensive.  This is where investment should be directed, rather than squandering valuable resources on a dirty dinosaur.

The latest updates

 

Letter to BFAR on CNFIDP

Feature story | February 4, 2016 at 14:27

Greenpeace together with its network and various fishing communities has been campaigning to protect and preserve our oceans in order to change how we managed our oceans by engaging governments, industry players, and other ocean stakeholders.

Coal: A Public Health Crisis

Publication | February 2, 2016 at 19:55

Coal is a major public health hazard. Each stage of the coal life cycle – mining, transportation, washing, combustion, and disposing of post-combustion wastes – carries health risks that lead to lung, heart and brain diseases, as well as...

Greenpeace Southeast Asia appoints Yeb Saño as new Executive Director

Feature story | January 29, 2016 at 10:29

It’s not every day you get to welcome a veteran and high-profile climate activist to Greenpeace. That’s why we’re thrilled to appoint Yeb Saño as Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The time has come to get rid of PFCs for good

Blog entry by Chiara Milford | January 13, 2016

Who hasn't dreamt of being in the untouched wilderness of the Himalayas, the Andes or the Altai Mountains, hiking or climbing in these incredible natural landscapes? Nowhere else on earth is the snow purer or the water cleaner than in...

Year in Review: The Top 12 Facebook Posts

Blog entry by Jezreel Belleza | December 31, 2015

What an amazing year it’s been and we only have you to thank for keeping our social media realms active! Walk down memory lane with us as we look through our monthly posts that had many of you clicking the like, share, and comment...

2015: A Year in Pictures

Image gallery | December 24, 2015

2015: Greenpeace Year in Pictures

Blog entry by Jenny Tuazon | December 24, 2015

2015 has been historic for Greenpeace. Together with you and the rest of our countless supporters – we have stepped up our game towards building a planet which is ecologically sound, healthy and liveable. Thanks to our team of photo...

Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | December 22, 2015

Dear Friends,  As I look out my window here in Amsterdam, winter is nearly here, and with it comes the retreat of another year, and the passing of what has been to make way for the spring and the new. As the days get shorter and the...

The Paris Agreement: The end of fossil fuels is near. But where is justice?

Blog entry by Daniel Mittler | December 16, 2015

We at Greenpeace had  three key expectations  for the  Paris Agreement.  We wanted: a signal that the age of fossil fuels is over, a commitment to soon – and continuously – improve national climate action and ...

COP21: shows the end of fossil fuels is near, we must speed its coming

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | December 13, 2015

The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history. Parts of ...

1 - 10 of 4094 results.