A cheap, ubiquitous and flexible fuel, with just one problem
WHAT more could one want? It is cheap and simple to extract, ship and burn. It is abundant: proven reserves amount to 109 years of current consumption, reckons BP, a British energy giant. They are mostly in politically stable places. There is a wide choice of dependable sellers, such as BHP Billiton (Anglo-Australian), Glencore (Anglo-Swiss), Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (both American).
Other fuels are beset by state interference and cartels, but in this industry consumers—in heating, power generation and metallurgy—are firmly in charge, keeping prices low. Just as this wonder-fuel once powered the industrial revolution, it now offers the best chance for poor countries wanting to get rich.
Such arguments are the basis of a new PR campaign launched by Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company (which unlike some rivals is profitable, thanks to its low-cost Australian mines). And coal would indeed be a boon, were it not for one small problem: it is devastatingly dirty. Mining, transport, storage and burning are fraught with mess, as well as danger. Deep mines put workers in intolerably filthy and dangerous conditions. But opencast mining, now the source of much of the world’s coal, rips away topsoil and gobbles water. Transporting coal brings a host of environmental problems.
The increased emissions of carbon dioxide from soaring coal consumption threaten to fry the planet, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminded everyone in a new report this week (see article). The CO2makes the oceans acid; burning coal also produces sulphur dioxide, which makes buildings crumble and lungs sting, and other toxic chemicals. By some counts, coal-fired power stations emit more radioactivity than nuclear ones. They release tiny, lethal particulates. Per unit generated, coal-fired stations cause far more deaths than nuclear ones, and more even than oil-fired ones.
But poverty kills people too, and slow growth can cost politicians their jobs. Two decades of environmental worries are proving only a marginal constraint on the global coal industry. Some are trying to get out: in America Consol Energy is selling five mines in West Virginia to concentrate on shale gas. Big coal-burners such as American Electric Power and Duke Energy are shutting coal-fired plants. Yet despite America’s shale-gas boom, the federal Energy Information Administration reckons that by 2040 the country will still be generating 22% of its electricity from coal (compared with 26% now). The International Energy Agency has even predicted that, barring policy changes, coal may rival oil in importance by 2017. As countries get richer they tend to look for alternatives—China is scrambling to curb its rising consumption. But others, such as India and Africa, are set to take up the slack
The Latest on: Coal
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The Latest on: Coal
- Coal Continues as Key Part of Japan’s Energy Mixon February 29, 2024 at 11:11 pm
The 2011 Fukushima disaster upended the nation’s power generation, resulting in more reliance on coal and natural gas, both fuels needing to be imported at a substantial cost. The country is adding ...
- Biden admin. dedicates $74M to abandoned Kentucky coal mine cleanupon February 29, 2024 at 9:06 pm
The Interior Department has earmarked $74.2 million to clean up abandoned, polluting mines in Kentucky, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
- Billionaire Widjaja Family, Partner To Buy Australian Coal Mine For $1.65 Billionon February 29, 2024 at 7:55 pm
Billionaire Widjaja family's Golden Energy and Resources and partner M Resources will buy the coal business of Australia’s South32 for up to $1.65 billion.
- Will Utah take ownership of a Delta coal-fired power plant now serving California?on February 29, 2024 at 4:56 pm
Utah lawmakers passed a measure Thursday that allows the state to purchase a coal-fired power plant operating in Delta that now serves California customers and some local cities. The measure is not ...
- New US sanctions more likely to curb Indian imports of Russian coal, traders sayon February 29, 2024 at 2:30 pm
New U.S. sanctions on Moscow are more likely than previous ones to cut Indian imports of thermal coal from Russia because they specifically cite top exporters SUEK and Mechel, three major traders of ...
- Coal Minister emphasizes on augmentation of railway network capacity through First-Mile Connectivityon February 29, 2024 at 8:03 am
Addressing the event, Shri Pralhad Joshi underscored the imperative need for efficient logistics to meet the escalating energy demand projected to surge from 980 MT to 1.5 MT by 2030.
- Asia's Energy Dilemma: Can the Continent Kick Its Coal Habit?on February 28, 2024 at 10:59 pm
Despite global coal demand expected to decline due to renewable energy expansion, Asian countries like China and India continue to rely heavily on coal to meet their energy needs, with coal ...
- South32 to Sell Illawarra Metallurgical Coal for Up to $1.65 Billionon February 28, 2024 at 4:36 pm
South32 said Thursday it has agreed to sell its Illawarra Metallurgical Coal business in eastern Australia for up to $1.65 billion to an entity owned by Golden Energy and Resources and M Resources.The ...
- India amasses record seasonal coal stocks as mine output surgeson February 28, 2024 at 3:59 pm
India's coal-fired generators have managed to amass record stocks of fuel for the end of February, even as they produce record amounts of electricity to cover burgeoning demand and a drought that has ...
- Coal India, BHEL form JV to set up ammonium nitrate planton February 28, 2024 at 2:18 pm
Coal India and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) on February 28 announced the signing of a joint venture agreement for the setting up of an ammonium nitrate plant as part of the planned ...
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