Science, Tech & Environment

Cleaner coal experiment

It's reported that China fires up one new coal power plant every week, and India isn't far behind, but the U.S. also isn't far behind that. The good news is the U.S. believes coal might be the answer for energy independence. This analyst says a better word would be �cleaner coal,� instead of just clean coal. He says the coal itself isn't any cleaner, it's what you do with it. Within the trade they call it carbon capture and storage. The analyst says coal mostly today is burned when used for energy, which produces gas with about 10% carbon dioxide and 90% energy. And the CO2 is converted into a dense liquid state which can then be stored underground. To do this you need the right geology. This geologist has been taking rock samples throughout the Midwest looking for rocks with the right amount of pores which can be filled with liquid. The geologist says above that a dense rock is needed to make sure the CO2 doesn't leak back to the surface, and when you have both rockbeds you can store CO2 deep underground, theoretically, forever. That kind of geology is found by the Ohio River in West Virginia. This power plant here is among the largest coal power plants in the world. The plant manager says thousands of tons of coal are fired here every day. His plant is about to conduct an enormous experiment by sending their CO2 underground and he's not sure it can be done. It could take up to 30% of the energy produced here to send the CO2 underground. He says using this technique for clean coal is a nice idea, but it takes away a lot of energy from the rest of the population. The analyst from earlier says the facts are these: we know we're going to fire more coal so the U.S. government has an obligation to invest in cleaner coal. He says it's also a huge business opportunity because if the U.S. succeeds in discovering this technology, it'll be in demand around the world. But all this will require tons of money and political will and there are still plenty of skeptics. Even if coal can burn cleaner, we still have to dig it out of the ground, which adds to pollution. The earlier analyst questions whether burning coal even makes sense. In other words, why subsidize clean coal when the government could use that same money for wind and solar technologies? Back along the river, I put this to the coal plant manager. He says any way you slice it, coal�whether clean or not clean�has to be part of the world's energy mix.

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