Coal mining in an open pit - Worker is looking on the huge open pit
Coal mining in an open pit - Worker is looking on the huge open pit agnormark

SUNDAY SAY: Can coal be clean?

"CLEAN” coal is once again in the spotlight with the Federal Government promoting it as part of its new national energy mix.

So what is this remarkable commodity?

Some years ago Australian governments spent taxpayer funds researching preventing carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere (carbon capture and storage).

The aim was to catch the carbon dioxide from burning coal, compress it and store it underground in geologically stable areas.

There are enormous problems with this as a major solution to controlling emissions and limiting climate change.

For example there is the huge cost as well as the logistical challenge of transporting the carbon dioxide to storage sites. In addition there are concerns about whether it will actually remain underground even in geologically stable areas.

The latest "clean” coal suggestion from the government refers to new age power stations which are highly efficient and produce much lower emissions than those currently operating in Australia. Japan is one nation which has a number of these high efficiency low emissions coal-fired power stations in use.

To call these generators "clean” is a misnomer. As they can reduce emissions by up to 40% compared with some older-style coal-fired power stations, they are certainly cleaner but they still produce substantial carbon emissions.

However, carbon emissions are not the only pollutants from coal combustion. Others include sooty particulates that can cause cancer and respiratory problems as well as sulphur and nitrogen which contribute to acid rain.

The government is obviously anxious to see these cleaner coal power stations built in Australia. This is not at all surprising given its cosiness with fossil fuel industries and desire to see the coal-mining industry expand at a time when many in the community believe that it should be phased out.

However, the government's enthusiasm for this form of power generation is no guarantee it will eventuate.

The constraints include the cost and the reluctance of lenders to invest in what is both an outmoded and risky enterprise.

And the cost is likely to lead to steep increases in power prices - something the government claims it wants to avoid.

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