Monday, February 25, 2013

The Future of Coal

    “Clean Coal Finally a Reality?” is an article about a team of researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) that have developed a new method for harnessing the power of coal.  The newly discovered method is called Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL), and it utilizes iron oxide beads that will be used instead of traditional O2 oxygen.  The presence of iron oxides makes containing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the chamber much easier, and therefore less will leak into the environment.  This method exceeds all goals from the Department of Energy (DOE) and OSU has plans for constructing their large-scale pilot plant in Alabama that is set to begin operations in late 2013 using CDCL.
    The second article titled, “Economics of Coal Power Shifting” states that coal is losing its battle with other energy sources based mostly on its merits. The United States has decreased its dependency on coal.  Over the past six years, power generated from coal has dropped from 50% to 38%.  There are a few reasons for this according to David Schlissel, an energy economist. Schlissel states that the cost of constructing a new power plant has risen tremendously; from 1.8 billion to 4.9 billion in one example from last year.  Also the plummeting cost of natural gas has caused some plants to use their natural gas generators rather than their coal.  Due to the decreasing costs of natural gas, more money can be profited by the suppliers, and therefore natural gas is slowly becoming a supplier’s power source of choice.
    It makes perfect sense for power generating companies to prefer natural gas at this time due to its currently low price.  However, natural gas is not a permanent solution in my opinion. Fracking (method used for extracting natural gas) is just as harmful to the environment, if not more so, than mountain mining for coal.  Also, rural small mining cities (in West Virginia, for example) around the country would be devastated if their coal mines were closed. Natural gas may be a cleaner form of energy in regard to air pollution, but it is still a fossil fuel; therefore it is a limited natural resource. If the CDCL method is truly effective, and does not significantly raise the price of coal or combusting it, I believe it would be a better solution than increasing the demand for natural gas. I believe it would be cheaper to reconstruct the remaining coal plants to use the CDCL method rather than build completely new plants that surround natural gas combustion. Also if natural gas becomes just as popular as coal, humans will be destroying twice the land since coal and natural gas do not come from the same source typically.  Therefore, I believe developing a cleaner burning coal is a better option than increasing demand for natural gas.
--Stephanie Lowery

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