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

 

Pedal Power for Clean Power

Image gallery | August 13, 2014

Why sharks are now more afraid of us

Blog entry by Diah Abida | August 12, 2014

Tell me the truth: are you afraid of sharks, like, deathly afraid of those big jaws? Well, the chances of you seeing sharks alive in open water are actually getting rarer nowadays.  In fact, it’s easier and more common to find...

True Cost of Coal in the Philippines (Volume 2)

Publication | July 25, 2014 at 12:00

Coal is the single greatest threat to our climate. Given the economic, social and environmental havoc that climate change has wrought in the Philippines, embracing coal is a dangerous policy. Short term benefits of coal to some elite players...

Inspired by History

Blog entry by Nikos Charalambides | July 10, 2014 1 comment

It was this day, 29 years ago, the Rainbow Warrior was touching rock bottom in the port of Auckland after the bombing by French secret service agents. She took Fernando with her. We will always remember both. I was young(er) that...

Reflections of a Water Bender

Blog entry by Rico Abayon | July 9, 2014

Three years ago, a community-based theatre group that I’m proudly part of joined the Water Patrol Caravan to facilitate an acting workshop to different barangays around our city, with participants producing short plays  focused on...

Greenpeace Philippines' Youth Camp 2014

Blog entry by Jacqueline Teer | July 9, 2014

Last weekend, on July 5- 6 2014, a few selected youth environmentalists, including myself, made their way into the beautiful scenery and accommodations of Ten Cents to Heaven in Tanay, Rizal alongside the Greenpeace youth camp...

Reducing our Plastic Footprint

Blog entry by Abigail Aguilar | July 3, 2014

Today, July 3, is International Plastic Bag Free Day. Globally, citizens and organizations are organizing activities highlighting the issue of plastic bag use and its effects, thereby strengthening the call to prohibit the use of...

Territorial fight is an ecological tragedy

Blog entry by Atty Zelda Soriano | July 1, 2014

It is hard to forget those graphic images of sea turtles and giant clams being poached to be traded illegally, their habitats being polluted and destroyed — in the backdrop of heightened territorial dispute in the South China Sea,...

It's time for LEGO to block Shell

Blog entry by Ian Duff | July 1, 2014

Imagine you're eight years old and picture the Arctic. There are no oil rigs, no industrial shipping and no politicians fighting over it. It's just an endless sparkling expanse of sea and ice, populated by brave scientific explorers...

A Radioactive Ruse

Blog entry by Von Hernandez | June 20, 2014

For several years now, I have been watching with growing interest developments surrounding the controversial Lynas rare earth processing plant in Kuantan, Malaysia. As an activist who has worked on numerous cases of toxic waste dumping...

1 - 10 of 3973 results.