The last thing you would associate with coal is cleanliness: After all, this black sedimentary rock has been covered by dirt for hundreds of millions of years. Made up of a whole mess of carbons, nitrates, sulphur and other impurities, coal is all that is left of the plants that grew in a time before any human civilizations existed. It has an interesting history, but coal has never been described as ‘clean’ until now.
Energy Future Coalition agrees that there is a bright future for the coal industry with technologies in development that eliminate the environmental hazards associated with the fossil fuel: “Coal is a low-cost, domestically abundant fuel that is used for 56% of the electricity generated by U.S. power plants. Its high carbon content, however, is a contributor to the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With the right technology, it’s possible to capture those emissions and literally bury them – pump them into the same airtight formations that once held oil and gas underground for millions of years. Widespread use of this process would make the abundant coal resources in the U.S. (as well as China, India and Australia, among others) a low-carbon option.”
The history of using coal as a fuel dates back to as far as 1oo AD. Of course the 1700s is when it really took off to start the industrial revolution. For a brief history of coal and a more detailed description of its molecular components visit http://www.fossil.energy.gov/education/energylessons/coal/coal_history.html
Problems associated with burning coal include acid rain, sulfur dioxide and CO2 emissions. Even though the science of burning coal isn’t perfect, it is unrealistic to eliminate coal energy all-together since demand for energy is higher than it has ever been and coal is the largest source of electricity in the world. Not only that, but coal is affordable and a reliable source of energy right now. In fact, we’re told that the known supply of coal will last 200-300 more years.
One of the trend setters in turning the world’s most abundant energy source into a “clean coal” is Coaltek, headquartered in Tucker, Georgia. The process of making coal more eco-friendly by electrically separating its components was developed by Coaltek co-founder, Dr. Jerry Weinberg, and chief geologist Neil Ginther. Their technology, briefly described in their website, www.coaltek.com, involves “electromagnetic energy to reduce the moisture, ash, sulfur and mercury in coal and to make it burn more efficiently and cleanly. Coal processed with [this] technology is a stable, high-quality end product that allows power generators to optimize efficiency and increase yields.”
The benefits of transforming coal’s structure are not limited to reducing the negative effect it has on the environment; coal can be ‘designed’ to work with very specific boilers thereby improving a specific company’s efficiency.
It seems that in the future we won’t have to feel so dirty about using coal.