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Despite U.S. Coal Policies, World Use of Coal Continues to Grow

The International Energy Agency’s most recent report forecasts that coal will become the world’s dominant fuel, with global burning of the fossil fuel rising by 1.2 billion tons over the next four years.  While layoffs continue for coal-based jobs in the U.S., coal demand is growing in every other region in the world.  The irony is that the U.S. curbed its use due to worries of climate change, yet expects to increase its exports to foreign countries to use.  With one atmosphere for all of us, does that make any sense?  Domestic companies suffer for “feel good” policies while foreign companies gain an economic advantage.

 

Coal’s relative affordability and lack of price volatility make it an ideal energy source.  The U.S. has the largest proven recoverable coal resources in the world, with about 244 billion tonnes.  The World Energy Council (2007) reports that “Coal has consistently outperformed oil and gas on an equivalent-energy basis, and despite a potential cost of carbon, coal is likely to remain the most affordable fuel for power generation in many developing and industrialized countries for several decades.”

 

Coal is currently down under the current administration, but its future looks promising.

 

Coal to Liquids (CTL) can provide ultra-clean fuels for transport, domestic use, and power generation, while the use of carbon capture and storage can minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The CTL process has existed in South Africa since the 1950’s and is now a commercial, non-subsidized venture.

In Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) systems, the syngas is cleaned of its hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and particulate matter and is burned as fuel in a combustion turbine.  The combustion turbine drives an electric generator.  Exhaust heat is from the combustion turbine is recovered and used to boil water, creating steam for a steam turbine-generator.  The cost of the IGCC is similar to that of a supercritical plant, on a cost-of-electricity (COE) basis, once the cost of SO2, NO2, and mercury emission allowances are taken into account.  IGCC is significantly more competitive when you factor in the price of CO2.

A new process may just make coal the answer to our energy problems.  Coal, along with the vast resources of U.S. oil and gas, offers enough gas to last us hundreds of years.  Scientists at The Ohio State University discovered how to remove the energy from coal without burning it, while removing 99% of the pollution.  Liang-Shih Fan, a chemical engineer and director of OSU’s Clean Coal Research Laboratory, discovered a way to release the heat from coal without burning.

 

Fan’s process heats coal using iron-oxide pellets for an oxygen source and containing the reaction in a small, heated chamber from which pollutants cannot escape.  Water and coal ash are the only waste products, while the metal from the iron oxide can be recycled.

 

Fan proved his process of “coal-direct chemical looping” in a small-scale lab at OSU.  The next step is to duplicate the process in a larger 250-kilowatt site in Alabama.  Fen believes the technology will be commercially available to power plants within five to 10 years.

 

Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) allows access to more of the physical global coal resource than would be included in current economically recoverable reserve estimates.  Where mining is no longer taking place, for economic or geological reasons, UCG permits exploitation of deposits by the controlled gasification (reaction of coal to form a syngas) of coal seams in situ (underground).  Carbon dioxide from the process can safely be returned to the gasified seam, resulting in zero emissions and very little ground disturbance.

Gasification (a thermo-chemical process) breaks down coal into its basic chemical constituents without burning gas directly.  In modern gasifiers, coal is exposed to steam and carefully controlled amounts of air or oxygen under high temperatures and pressures.  Under these conditions, molecules in coal break apart, initiating chemical reactions that typically produce a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and other gaseous compounds.
Early studies suggest the use of UCG could potentially increase world reserves by as much as 600 billion tonnes.  This would increase recoverable resources by a little more than 70%.

Coal deposits are found in 38 states under about 13% of the total land area of the U.S.  Coal mining is especially critical to the economies of Montana, Wyoming, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvanian, and Ohio.

Coal is too valuable as an energy source to ignore.  It is our largest energy resource with the greatest potential long-term.  The man-made climate change agenda is standing in the way of U.S. energy independence, cheap fuel, and hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Even if the world adopted the goals for reducing carbon emissions, it would result in less than a fraction of 1% drop.  Man contributes less than 5% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere.  The other 95% is natural.  We are committing economic suicide for a man-made claim of impending disaster.