Clean coal technology has been held up as a solution to our current emissions problems, but it is perhaps the most short sighted plan aside from doing absolutely nothing. The technology is known as Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS for short. The idea is to capture carbon dioxide that is emitted from coal or other fossil fuel burning power stations. It is worth noting that not one version of this technology has been developed to the point where it is commercially viable. Also, none of the present technologies for CCS are 100% efficient, meaning that CO2 would still pass into the atmosphere.
CCS requires the captured Carbon to be stored. The most popular scenario at present is to extract the gas from power station exhaust fumes, then liquefy the gas and pump it underground into places such as empty oil wells.
That's all well and good, but we need to consider what may happen in the case of significant geological activity. An earthquake could open one of these underground storage reservoirs. That would produce an enormous CO2 burp. The scale of storage planned is truly enormous, and so these burps could pose a significant threat to the balance of gases in the atmosphere.
CCS does not remove the problem of Carbon Dioxide, it only buries it for a while and so leaves it as a gift for the future generations to deal with. The way things are going at present, our children and grandchildren are going to need all the help they can get, not an extra burden such as the ticking time bomb of billions of tonnes of buried CO2.
30 MW Of Carbon Free Coal?
The most advanced technology at present is represented by the 30 MW pilot power plant being run by Swedish company Vattenfal in east Germany. This power station produces only CO2 as its emissions gas. Because of the purity of the exhaust fumes, capturing the CO2 is much simpler than otherwise. That CO2 is then trucked to an underground storage site over 300 kilometers away and buried.
The pure exhaust fumes are obtained by burning the coal not in regular air, but in an environment of pure oxygen. Both the use of the pure oxygen and the effort needed to capture and store the emissions reduces the effectiveness of this type of energy generation, while doing nothing to remove the long term threat of the Carbon Dioxide escaping into the atmosphere at a later date.
Just As Long As I'm Alright
CCS does not stop carbon emissions. It just pushes the problem into the future so that we can continue to live an exorbitant lifestyle on time borrowed from future generations. It is this self centered "As long as I'm alright" attitude that has led to our present environmental difficulties. Carrying on with that attitude is not a valid solution. To build a cleaner world for our children we need to focus on developing proven renewable energy sources on a global scale, those being solar power and wind power.
Clean coal. It's just not possible. We may as well claim to have clean dirt.
Read more about Clean Coal and other current issues about energy production at the Fossil Fuels section of Roger Vanderlely's website. There is plenty more at the site, including tips on finding cheap solar panels to make your home more environmentally friendly.