Coal’s Death – Greatly Exaggerated

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Photo courtesy: Peabody Energy, Inc.
Photo courtesy: Peabody Energy, Inc.

Written by Congressman Morgan Griffith

Last week, I discussed mining as one of the ways to create wealth for a nation… the mining industry has faced challenges, and among those, the particularly burdensome regulations on the coal industry.

One third of the nation’s electricity is currently generated from coal, and future electric generation from coal is expected to remain at about 30% for Dominion Power and American Electric Power. Also, families depend on jobs in the coal industry. Therefore, maintaining and restoring coal production and jobs is crucial.

Emerging markets in Asia and other places in the world are increasing their use of coal, and accordingly carbon dioxide (CO2) output, at a rapid rate. It is senseless to bankrupt American coal and coal-related industries with regulations that will have little impact on CO2 emissions, since emerging economies are not likely to follow suit.

Instead of regulating American businesses to extinction, I believe scientific research into new ways to burn our fossil fuels is the better approach. This is a more practical way to move forward in attempting to be more efficient and cleaner. If we lead and discover the scientific breakthroughs that make clean fossil fuel technologies affordable, we not only preserve America’s manufacturing edge, but we can export those technologies to the rest of the world and make the world a better place to live in the future.

India has a lot of coal. India has a lot of poverty. India wants to have a clean environment for its people, but first they must have jobs. To have those jobs, India plans to be energy self-sufficient and to be energy self-sufficient, India must, and will, burn coal. Recognizing that the U.S is not alone on the planet, we should lead efforts to find ways to burn coal and other fossil fuels cleaner instead of continuing the war on coal that is damaging the U.S. economy and crippling much of the Ninth District.

Exciting news!

This month, it was reported in Popular Mechanics magazine that scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee discovered a new chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol. These results are particularly exciting because the testing used inexpensive materials and water at room temperature. These factors mean there is a good chance the small experiment can be replicated on a larger scale and used across the industry. If so, more energy could be available from new coal-fired power plants that could also produce ethanol.

In previous columns, I have also expressed my interest in chemical looping. In August, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced new funding for projects that “enable cost-competitive, fossil fuel–based power generation with near-zero emissions.” According to DOE, this funding included a $3.2 million investment in pre-project planning for a General Electric (GE) chemical looping combustion pilot plant. Another $3.3 million went to Babcock & Wilcox and The Ohio State University for a “front end engineering and design study” for their coal direct chemical looping pilot plant. I look forward to positive results from these investments.

In other clean coal technology developments, Scientific American reported on a carbon capture system in Texas, the W.A. Parish Generating Station. Scheduled to open before the end of the year, it is the largest coal power plant in the world with a carbon capture system that is retrofit. This project is noteworthy because it is on time and within budget, and 90 percent of carbon dioxide produced will be harvested. The project was still highly expensive; however some costs possibly can be recovered by utilizing the captured carbon. The carbon will be pumped over to Texas oil fields to be injected in old wells, recovering the remaining crude oil. This technology may only be helpful in limited areas because the expense can only be justified in and around mature oil fields.

Mastering these technologies will not happen overnight. In the meantime, funding for research and testing of ways to make fossil fuels cleaner and cheaper must not take a back seat to funding for renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

I will follow developments in chemical looping, CO2 ethanol conversion processes, and carbon capture methods, and I look forward to additional discoveries.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of coal’s death are greatly exaggerated. Technology breakthroughs will allow it to be burned more cleanly. The U.S. can either lead or follow.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great! Ever watched a human die from the effects that breathing coal dust for years ? Probably not, the companies try to blame it on everything else but coal. SMH

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