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

 

Rainbow Warrior sparks hope in Manila

Blog entry by Amalie Obusan | February 20, 2018

I last sailed with the Rainbow Warrior in the Philippines in December 2010.  She arrived in the Philippines on the last leg of the “ Turn the Tide ” tour, where she challenged then President Benigno Aquino III to commit to a 50%...

Rainbow Warrior arrives in Manila

Image gallery | February 14, 2018

The Climate Impacted: It's Anyone and All of Us

Blog entry by Johanna Fernandez | February 10, 2018

Roughly five years ago, I had just started my job at Greenpeace, and everyone was hard at work preparing for this "ship tour." I was just learning that once every few years, a Greenpeace ship sails to the Philippines, visiting...

2017: A Year in Photos

Blog entry by Jenny Tuazon | December 22, 2017

We knew what we needed to do in 2017. We turned our sentiments into action. We resisted and persisted. Our campaigns gained ground and we were taught valuable lessons as we spoke truth to power. It's time now for us to take stock and...

True climate leadership still missing

Blog entry by Daniel Mittler | November 18, 2017

The world is moving ahead without Trump - but not as fast and decisively as needed.   Another round of climate negotiations is over. And, like last year, President Trump has failed to stop the  global climate talks from moving...

We have one year to create the largest ever protected area on Earth

Blog entry by Claire Leveson | October 25, 2017

In the words of David Attenborough, “ Our planet is a blue planet ”. With over 70% of our world covered by water, our oceans can be seen from across the solar system. It wasn’t long ago that the oceans were still believed to be...

Mga bayaning walang kapa

Blog entry by Janet B. Dela Cruz | September 25, 2017

Bilang supporter ng Greenpeace, ako’y nakatanggap nitong nakaraang Agosto ng isang email na pinamagatang ‘Janet, meet the volunteers you empower’. Nakapaloob dito ang paanyaya sa isang diskusyon tungkol sa volunteerism. Dahil Sa...

We speak for the trees

Blog entry by Ethan Gilbert | June 11, 2017

When Resolute Forest Products, Canada’s largest logging company, threw two multi-million dollar lawsuits at Greenpeace and Stand.Earth for speaking out for the protection of the Canadian boreal forest, people around the world did...

Summer in an NGO

Blog entry by Wednesday Dawn P. Abelgas | May 30, 2017

Summer 2017 is the time I get to start another chapter in my life and begin another journey to learn new things. It is also at this moment where I begin my internship in my chosen organization— Greenpeace. The reason is I’ve always...

1 - 10 of 4171 results.