Coal strikes back… globally


I once wrote that peak oil might push countries to get back to coal. It is already the case as the International Herald Tribune states it in a recent article.

Indeed in Japan and the UK, old coal mines are reopening or see their activity increase. This albeit the fact that coal is by far the most emitting carbon dioxide emitting solution.

I sometimes wonder at how such solutions can be considered with all the fuss that is made on climate change and the very urgency of its mitigation.

As the International Herald Tribune states it :

After decades of seemingly terminal decline, Japan’s coal country is stirring again. With energy prices reaching record highs — oil rose above $135 a barrel on Thursday — Japan’s high-cost mines are suddenly competitive again, and demand for their coal is booming. Production has jumped to its highest in nearly four decades, creating a sensation rarely felt in these mining communities: hope.

(…) Soaring commodity prices have had distorting effects across the global economy, driving up food prices and prompting fears of future energy shortages. But they have been an unanticipated boon to the coal producing regions of countries like Japan that had written off coal mining as a relic of the Industrial Revolution.

(…) While Japan’s coal industry remains tiny, its revival is an example of how higher commodity prices are driving a search for resources even in some of the world’s most urbanized and developed nations.

In recent months, South Korea has experienced calls to create a domestic coal industry in order to reduce dependence on imports. In the United Kingdom, where coal’s decline became a symbol of withered industrial might, companies are increasing production and considering reopening at least one closed mine as demand for British coal rises.

“It’s now the perfect storm with demand for our coal from South Africa to China and Australia,” said Rhidian Davies, president of Energybuild, an operator of mines in South Wales that will increase production at one of its mines tenfold over the next five years.

In Japan, higher commodity prices have also unleashed soaring demand for the heavily populated nation’s other limited natural resources, including lumber and natural gas, where production has risen nearly 20 percent this year to a three-decade high.

But coal is the most potentially plentiful fossil fuel in Japan, and companies have been quick to embrace now affordable domestic supplies out of deep-rooted anxieties about Japan’s heavy reliance on imported energy.

While there are no national figures yet, mining communities report sharply higher production in the last two years. For example, in Bibai the city’s last two mines, both small strip mines, produced just 34,961 tons of coal in 2005. This year, they expect to surpass 150,000 tons, the highest production since 1973, when the city’s last large underground mine was shutting down.

For decades, Japanese coal, at $100 or more a ton, was simply too expensive because of high wages and extraction costs. But with global prices now reaching the same heights, Japanese coal is looking more attractive.

(…) Demand is so high that one of Bibai’s mine operators, the Hokuryo Corporation, is now scouting a second mine to double its output.

This boom of activity in coal mines occurs as the WWF states that Carbon Capture and Storage – which is often regarded as the ultimate solution to cut carbon dioxide emissions of coal-fired plants – is far from ready.

To learn out more, please read their article Carbon “capture ready” means not very ready in the UK.

If I am not mistaken, the IPCC believe that commercial application of CCS will be operational by 2020. As a matter of fact, it is the case.

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