With data and modelling from almost 8000 coal power plants, researchers from ETH Zurich present the most comprehensive global picture to date of climate and human health impacts from coal power generation.
Coal-fired power plants produce more than just the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. When burning coal, they also release particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury – thus damaging the health of many people around the world in various ways. To estimate where action is most urgently required, the research group led by Stefanie Hellweg from ETH Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering modelled and calculated the undesired side effects of coal power for each of the 7,861 power plant units in the world.
Uneven pollution levels
The results, which were recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability, show that China and the US are the two largest producers of coal power, but power plants in India take the highest toll in the world when it comes to health. Central Europe, North America and China all have modern power plants, but Eastern Europe, Russia and India still have many older power plants equipped with insufficient flue gas treatment. As a result, these power plants only remove a fraction of the pollutants – while also often burning coal of inferior quality. “More than half of the health effects can be traced back to just one tenth of the power plants. These power plants should be upgraded or shut down as quickly as possible,” says Christopher Oberschelp, the lead author of the study.
A question of quality
The global picture of coal power production shows that the gap between privileged and disadvantaged regions is widening. This is happening for two reasons. Firstly, wealthy countries – such as in Europe – import high-quality coal with a high calorific value and low emissions of harmful sulphur dioxide. The poorer coal-exporting countries (such as Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa) are left with low-quality coal, which they often burn in outdated power plants without modern flue gas treatment to remove the sulphur dioxide. Secondly, “In Europe, we contribute to global warming with our own power plants, which has a global impact. However, the local health damage caused by particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide occurs mainly in Asia, where coal power is used to manufacture a large proportion of our consumer products,” says Oberschelp.
Coal power threatens to grow worldwide
Global coal resources will last for several hundred years, so the harmful emissions need to be limited politically. “It is particularly important to leave coal that is high in mercury and sulphur content in the ground,” says Oberschelp. Reducing the negative health effects of coal power generation should be a global priority: “But further industrialisation, especially in China and India, poses the risk of aggravating the situation instead,” write the researchers led by Hellweg in their article.
The initial investment costs for the construction of a coal power plant are high, but the subsequent operating costs are low. Power plant operators thus have an economic interest in keeping their plants running for a long time. “The best option is therefore to not build any new coal power plants. From a health and environment perspective, we should move away from coal and towards natural gas – and in the long term, towards renewable energy sources,” says Oberschelp.
Learn more: The global impact of coal power
The Latest on: Coal power
via Google News
The Latest on: Coal power
- Court rejects easing cap on power plantson January 20, 2021 at 12:43 am
A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down the Trump administration's plan to relax restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, paving the way for President-elect Joe Biden to enact ...
- BHP slashes values of Australian thermal coal assetson January 19, 2021 at 11:51 pm
That country’s coal industry has been rocked by China’s decision to ban imports because of a row over coronavirus ...
- FROMA HARROP: Coal gets dug underon January 19, 2021 at 11:00 pm
As we stumble through the twilight of the Trump era, let us devote a moment to an actual issue. Let us briefly visit Donald Trump’s vow to save the coal ...
- Federal circuit court scraps Trump administration’s power plant ruleon January 19, 2021 at 8:27 pm
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a Trump administration rule on carbon dioxide emissions, effectively restoring President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which limited those pollutants from ...
- OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule | Green groups sue after Trump administration strips bird protections | Trump administration rushes to wrap ...on January 19, 2021 at 2:48 pm
HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at [email protected] Follow her on ...
- Coal-fired power plants on scheduleon January 19, 2021 at 2:37 pm
Construction of a combined 700 mW coal-fired power plant in Botum Sakor district, Koh Kong province, is on schedule.
- US court strikes down Trump’s pro-coal power sector ruleson January 19, 2021 at 10:30 am
A US court tossed out one of President Donald Trump’s signature efforts to roll back environmental regulations just one day before he leaves office, scrapping a rule meant to prop up the ailing coal ...
- Court strikes down Trump coal power plant ruleon January 19, 2021 at 7:55 am
A court has struck down the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era rule regarding pollution from coal-fired power plants.
- Power plant communities look toward a future beyond coalon January 18, 2021 at 3:21 am
As power companies shift to renewables, power plant communities will need to chart a new course to fill the void in jobs and tax revenue.
- 2020: The year that coal power took a hiton January 17, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Plans for expansion in South and Southeast Asia were finally re-evaluated, with little prospect for a revival this year ...
via Bing News