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Wolves in Green Fleece: Are “Clean Coal” Ads a Scam?

Coal Plany

Corporate image ads are scattered around political news. They’re often masked as green tech, but their pitch more often advances corporate self-interest. We might dismiss them as hype, but they often succeed in pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.

As the news reports a fly ash (burned coal) spill in Tennessee that may be the greatest environmental catastrophe, the coal industry continues to pitch “Clean Coal.” During the presidential campaigns, both Obama and McCain supported clean coal, as do most of the Democratic and Republican representatives.

At a campaign event, a voter asked Biden about clean coal. He replied, “We’re not supporting clean coal. Guess what? China’s building two every week. Two dirty coal plants. And it’s polluting the United States. It’s causing people to die.” In debates Biden awkwardly moved away from his previous statement and then indorsed clean coal.

The function of such corporate image ads is to embed concepts in viewers belief system so firmly that to question them is to question common sense. Biden’s experience demonstrates this.

The coal industry ads would have us believe that they are in the process of separating and pumping CO2 gas into the ground or at least conducting research on such carbon sequestration technology. But as the news demonstrates, they are unable or unwilling to confine and safely store a high toxic solid residue—fly ash.

Fly ash accounts for almost all the mercury in our environment. According to Scientific American. It introduces more that 100-time the radioactively into the environment as the nuclear industry.

Coal provides 50% of US electrical energy. It’s the cheapest source of energy, if we ignore externalities—environmental cost, including the cost of separating CO2 and pumping it into the ground.

When you consider safety, the prices of carbon sequestration goes through the roof. If CO2 were to leak out of the ground in a populous area, it could kill many people. To be safe, the CO2 would have to be pumped to unpopulated areas,

The coal industry is not doing any research on carbon sequestration in the US. They claim that they need indemnity against lawsuits and no state is eager to give it. There are two carbon sequestration experiments in Europe. The Norwegians are pumping CO2 into caverns under the North Sea. The German’s are trying to fix an extremely dirty plant that they inherited from Unification. Neither experiment has proved the economic feasibility of carbon sequestration.

In 2007 MIT formed a group to conduct an interdisciplinary study on the “The Future of Coal.” This group set-up a research unit under DOE (Department of Energy), but activity died as a result of lack of interest—including that of the coal industry.

We cannot replace coal tomorrow or even in the next few years. Coal generator are operated as base-load sources with constant near capacity reliable output. Present green sources are intermittent. R&D and especially the development of a smart grid will certainly better utilize present green sources and develop green base-load sources. Until then we need to have a realistic evaluation of coal energy cost.

The Senate investigation should go beyond the current fly ash spill. It should draft new regulations, access risks and benefits of carbon sequestration. Only then can we know the real cost of coal energy in relation to other sources such as nuclear and solar thermal. The truth will set us free from the hype of slick ads.

Photo Cedit: Photo Sharing at flicker

Also See:

Senate Democrats Call for Stricter Toxics Rules After Coal-Ash Disaster

MIT Provides Blueprint For Future Use of Coal

A New Energy Economy is Emerging in the USA

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Written by Fred Etcheverry

Fred Etcheverry lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife Elsa. He is a freelance high-tech B2B (Business-to-Business) copywriter usually for clients in the nearby Silicon Valley. He is also an engineering consultant and teaches courses in industry and college on computers and electronics. When he is doing none of the above, he swims in the Monterey Bay, hikes in the Santa Cruz redwood forests, visits his adult children, or goes to art galleries, plays and operas with Elsa and friends.

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