Future with coal certain but carbon capture an idea

Good Associated Press article in Int Herald Tribune, on our use for coal, certainty of future demand (and supply), and tough issues re pollution, carbon dioxide. Includes:

Coal is big, and getting bigger. As oil and natural gas prices soar, the world is relying ever more on the cheap, black-burning mainstay of the Industrial Revolution. Mining companies are racing into Africa. Workers are laying miles of new railroad track to haul coal from the Powder River Basin in the U.S. states of Wyoming and Montana.

And nowhere is coal bigger than in China.

But the explosion of coal comes amid rising alarm over its dire consequences for workers and the environment. An average of 13 Chinese miners die every day in explosions, floods, fires and cave-ins. Toxic clouds of mercury and other chemicals from mining are poisoning the air and water far beyond China's borders and polluting the food chain.

So far, attempts to clean up coal have largely not worked. Technology to reduce or cut out carbon dioxide emissions is expensive and years away from widespread commercial use. ... The U.S. and Chinese governments are subsidizing the development of technology that converts coal to a clean-burning gas before it is burned. But such plants still emit ample amounts of carbon dioxide, notes Qian Jingjing, an expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York and co-author of the report "Coal in a Changing Climate."

She and many other experts believe coal can only be made environmentally sustainable through the more experimental technology of capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them underground.

A joint government-private project in the United States aims to build such a "zero emissions" plant by 2012. Separately, Xcel Corp. of Minneapolis, a major electric and natural gas utility, is studying building a carbon capture and storage power plant in Colorado.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union may require carbon capture and storage systems for all new coal-fired power plants, with a proposal expected by year end. The gas would be buried in aquifers, depleted coal mines or geological faults deep underground.

But the costs are daunting.

"It takes a lot of money since you have to go so deep," said Brock of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "There is not one commercial carbon capture and storage project yet. It's yet to be proven."

AP">http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/28/asia/AS-FEA-GEN-China-Coal-Res... Enterprise: World's addiction to coal growing, despite worries about global warming

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Another strong AP article on coal use - focusing on China's massive and growing demand for coal. Includes: [quote]Cheap and abundant, coal has become the fuel of choice in much of the world, powering economic booms in China and India that have lifted millions of people out of poverty. Worldwide demand is projected to rise by about 60 percent through 2030 to 6.9 billion tons a year, most of it going to electrical power plants. But the growth of coal-burning is also contributing to global warming, and is linked to environmental and health issues including acid rain and asthma. Air pollution kills more than 2 million people prematurely, according to the World Health Organization. "Hands down, coal is by far the dirtiest pollutant," said Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington who has detected pollutants from Asia at monitoring sites on Mount Bachelor in Oregon and Cheeka Peak in Washington state. "It is a pretty bad fuel on all scores." ...
With pressure to clean up major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, particularly in the run-up to next year's Beijing Olympics, the central government is turning increasingly to provinces such as Shanxi to meet the country's power demands. "They look at polluted places like Taiyuan and say it's so polluted there so it doesn't matter if they have another five power plants," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior fellow at Resources For the Future, an American think tank that found links between air pollution and rising hospital admissions in Taiyuan. "I visited these power plants and there is no concept of pollution control," he said. "They sort of had a laugh and asked, 'Why would you expect us to install pollution control equipment?'" China is home to 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, according to a World Bank report. Health costs related to air pollution total $68 billion a year, nearly 4 percent of the country's economic output, the report said. And acid rain has contaminated a third of the country, Sheng Huaren, a senior Chinese parliamentary official, said last year. It is said to destroy some $4 billion worth of crops every year. "What we are facing in China is enormous economic growth, and ... China is paying a price for it," said Henk Bekedam, the country representative for the World Health Organization. "Their growth is not sustainable from an environmental perspective. The good news is that they realize it. The bad news is they're dependent on coal as an energy source."
But the costs go far beyond China. The soot from power plants boosts global warming because coal emits almost twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. And researchers from Texas A&M University found that air pollution from China and India has increased in cloud cover and major Pacific Ocean storms by 20 percent to 50 percent over the past 20 years. ... "Everyone knows coal is dirty, but there is no way that China can get rid of coal," the World Bank's Zhao Jianping said in Beijing. "It must rely on it for years to come, until humans can find a new magic solution."[/quote] World's coal dependency hits environment
World's growing dependence on coal leaving a trail of environmental devastation across globe