Clean Coal talking point: "Near Zero-Emission Free Electricity"

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (bought and paid for by the coal industry) was stumping its “clean coal” message in Huntington, West Virginia last week. If you aren't already skeptical about the notion of so-called clean coal, then check out this less-than-hopeful message from clean coal spindoctor Cathy Coffey:

We believe that technology within the next 10 to 15 years will be developed and tested so that we will be able to produce near-zero emission-free electricity from coal.” (My emphasis).

The message is carefully crafted and the “10 to 15 years will be developed and tested” message is subtle enough to be passed right over. The clean coal message might even leave you feeling a little hopeful.

The truth is that yes in the next 10 to 15 years there is the possibility that technology to capture greenhouse emissions could be “developed and tested.” The problem is most estimates find that it will take another 10 to 15 years on top of that to deploy carbon capture and sequestration on a commercial scale.

In other words, the earliest we might possibly see commercial-scale near-zero emission free electricity from coal will be around the year 2040. Way too little, way too late if we listen to the scientists at the world's top academies who are saying we require a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 25-30% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Given that the US coal industry is responsible for about 30% of the country's total emissions of greenhouse gas, a promise of “emissions-free” electricity by 2040 means we're in for a lot of trouble if we continue to swallow the coal-is-clean talking points.


Even if one presumes that clean coal could be made to work, the question is how much energy must be consumed to get rid of the sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide in the first place?

It’s not unlike E85 fuel which does burn cleaner but is about 20% less fuel efficient and produces way more carbon emissions in its production than what comes out at the end. Not to mention it contributing to the current worldwide food shortage.

As far as carbon capture and sequestration, I think there’re only five CCS pilot projects in the world right now and only one – in Weyburn, SK – involves coal. And that’s only demonstrated methane can be drawn from coal and that CCS is plausible, it hasn’t shown that coal can be made clean.

With all the mountains, West Virginia has a natural resource right at its fingertips, and a clean one at that: Wind. I know; I’ve driven through the state several times and you have to hang on to your steering wheel in the mountain passes and byways. Sadly, a network of wind turbines doesn’t mean much to people whose livelihoods depend on the mines, the companies who still exploit them, and media outlets who refuse to bite the hand that feeds them.

Little wonder then that Clinton did so well there this week: A state that should be the most environmental is actually one of the least.

==It’s not unlike E85 fuel which does burn cleaner==

Nope, it just burns different, not cleaner.
Or even more specifically, “not healthier”.


Anyways, I would more liken it to hydrogen. Hydrogen is one of two elements that make up oil and natural gas.

What hydrogen offers is the message of “have your hydrogen energy, without the carbon!”

Catch being, it’s extremely expensive and logistically near impossible to actually make that happen. And by the same measure isn’t expected to really make much of a dent for decades and decades to come (if at all). As mentioned, too little, too late. The flipside of course being that it allows the perception of doing something, while not actually doing anything but prolonging the status quo.


Also remind me, who’s livelyhoods rely on coal mines?
If anything coal is perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

I heard figure the other day that the coal industry employs around 55,000 people in West Virginia, about half the coal jobs in the country. It has the third lowest per-capita income in the US and the lowest median household income in the entire country.

As coal jobs continue to decline, it is clear that the coal industry is not the answer to West Virginia’s economic troubles. Imagine if West Virginia embraced the renewable energy sector like California, the jobs and the venture capital funds will follow. 

Renewables are at present a niche, even in California. Even if West Virginia chased renewables, coal would and will continue to supply the baseline power supply for a long time.

Just out of curiosity, what fraction of their revenues do coal companies spend on R&D?

Cock the gun and put it in their Mouth
The only way to make the coal and power generating industries stop their persistent foot-dragging and make them concentrate single-mindedly on developing workable Carbon Capture and Sequestration [CCS], is to prohibit construction of new coal power stations without operational CCS from day one and announce a complete phase-out of coal-fires stations without CCS.

Make your Demands, the only acceptable answer is yes
The freeze must also include any coal power stations without operational CCS that are currently under construction.

If they don’t come up with the goods, pull the trigger
To do this, government needs an alternative strategy, which is to get serious about encouraging investment in renewables. By getting serious, I mean preparing for the complete replacement of the coal-fired sector with renewables.

Without the figures it’s impossible to know, but I suspect that it may well be cheaper to develop renewables, than to develop CCS for cleanish coal.

Cock the gun and put it in their Mouth

LOL. A greenie with attitude.

Make your Demands, the only acceptable answer is yes

LMAO. Living your life based on Steven Segal movies you’ve watched is never a good idea.

If they don’t come up with the goods, pull the trigger.

You tell ‘em big guy.

“Cock the gun and put it in their Mouth”

You might as well just put it in your own mouth. It’ll beat slowly freezing in the dark, while you await starvation.

Paul S & Rob,

First, the Title was a quote from ‘the Godfather’, and AFAIK Steven Segal was not in any of the Godfather films.

Secondly, it seems abundantly clear that neither of you seem to read any real science, but consume ‘science-lite’ from junkscience and the gospel according to Exxon.

Thirdly, it seems pointless, but to point-out that my post was metaphorical. I suggest you google the big words, or use a dictionary, (that’s a big papery thing AKA a book).

Fourthly, If you actually had read my post properly, you would have noticed that there was a plan ‘B’, to provide power without coal. So your stupid comments were - well stupid. But to notice that you would need to read. Unfortunately the SMOG readability index for my post was 17.49, which was far too high. I’ll try harder to make it much lower in future, so that you can understand it.

Lastly, Your grasp of facts is tenuous, at best.

See? You should have stuck the gun in your mouth while you had the chance. Now look what you’ve done – you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Again.

The Zero Emission Coal Alliance (ZECA), an international collaboration of industrial, government, and research institutions which morphed into ZECA Corporation, which was headquartered in Calgary, appears to be in hiding. Their web site is down but they are still listed in the Calgary phone book.

Their process claimed to be “zero emission” but there were two glaring points of contention with their process.

Firstly, one of their key chemical reactions was claimed to be exothermic (i.e heat producing) when in fact (if my memory of thermodynamics is correct ) should be endothermic (i.e heat consuming).

Secondly, to get rid of the CO2 they developed a process in which the CO2 produced was reacted with a “readily mineable” mineral. Unfortunately, the process required 6 tons of the mineral for every 1 ton of coal consumed by the process. Not exactly an energy efficient process.

Anyone know what is happening with them? They got a lot of press 2 to 3 years ago.

Ian Forrester

“We believe that technology within the next 10 to 15 years will be developed and tested so that we will be able to produce near-zero emission-free electricity from coal.”

I think I am reading a double negative here. To wit, there will soon be ‘nearly zero’ quantities of ‘emission free’ electricity? IOW, electricity full of emissions!

The Future is Now!

Yup - good catch Sam-Hec. I wondered if anyone else would catch the irony there.

Another way to read that would be “free of near-zero emissions” - i.e. not possessing emissions that are near zero. Hmmmmm.

On a more substantive note, I too had previously read the ZECA website and it sounded intruguing. Dr. Klaus Lackner of Columbia Univ. put forward the idea. However it seems it never caught on, and the website about it has vanished - the domain now just goes to yet another domain-parking page full of ads.

The really prominent coal+CCS project that also didn’t take off was, of course, FutureGen (aka NeverGen). When that was unceremoniously cancelled recently, it made it clear how far we are from zero- or near-zero-emission coal. (Note I didn’t add “-free” after emission there!)

The coal you burn in the U.S. to power half your power demand is triply harmful: CO2, smog and mercury. Remember how tuna is full of mercury and not recommended for pregnant women? That’s coal. Here in Ontario we are working to close our last coal plants by 2014 (we slid from more ambitious goals of last year…) We still get lots of coal emissions blown northeast from the “smog belt” of midwestern coal-fired power plants.

The good news is that solar PV is getting ever closer to being cost-competitive, and there’s a huge ramp-up in capacity taking place. Expect module prices to start to fall substantially over then next few years. There’s also concentrating solar thermal (more real working CST plants today than there are coal+CCS).

Demand side is the first place we have to concentrate to allow reduction rather than growth in coal generation (since CCS for coal is still just a dream right now.) Ontario is banning incandescent bulbs by 2011 and other jurisdictions are looking at similar bans.

Back in the early 90s, they said an automobile that would be emissions-free would be available for the mass market within 10-15 years. That never happened.

Like hell there`ll be “clean coal” in 10-15 years! It`s a pipe dream being ingrained into the heads of the uneducated and feeble-minded folk who think Elvis still lives and that the attacks on 9-11 were an inside job (or a Jewish conspiracy). Complete BS.

Bush policy puts all the eggs in the fossil/nuclear basket and is a disaster.
But a plan which ignores those energy sources would risk bungling the transition to renewables. It would also lack the support to pass and the depth to ensure follow through. Does anyone believe that in Washington, support for green technologies won’t come without existing interests getting something too?
We need all the wedges we can find, even the distasteful ones.
Those that work well will spread in a carbon-cost world.
Those that don’t will fall by the wayside.

my company has patent pending technology that can clean all flue gases of ALL POLLUTANTS (solid, liquid, gas) and convert to heat energy!!! The input energy required is a few bucks worth of low voltage electricity to power the RF generator that is part of the equipment configuration employed. This was a lab curiosity for 40 years of a 85 year old genius who proved the technology works and his theory that MASS CAN BE CONVERTED TO RADIATION (HEAT)