Can we clean up coal ? Is it worth the hassle ?

To a study from the Massachussets Institute of Technology : “There is today no credible pathway towards stringent GHG stabilization targets without CO2 emissions reduction for existing coal power plants.”

To me retrofitting coal-fired plants represents a huge detour from going straight to massive plans of energy efficiency and low carbon energy alternatives like wind, solar or nuclear…

Indeed, we have seen on this blog that clean coal is an oxymoron and carbon capture and storage is too little too late. So why are they thinking of such a solution ?

Here is a quote from the Wall Street Journal :

The world—especially the U.S. and China—won’t be able to do anything meaningful on greenhouse-gas emissions unless it squarely tackles the coal question. That means now—not in the future. “There is today no credible pathway towards stringent GHG stabilization targets without CO2 emissions reduction from existing coal power plants,” the report begins.

The problem? That might just be doable, but won’t be a slam dunk. The economics are still miserable. Retrofitting existing coal plants is at least as costly—if not more—than building new ones. No government has yet worked out just how to store carbon dioxide once it’s been captured.

It is well known since 2002 and an article from the Economist, coal is the first environmental enemy. I can understand why developing nations like China need to burn coal because of their fast and massive economic growths, but why rich nations like the United States or Germany keep on burning it ?

Al Gore proved it, America could go coal free by 2020. I am sure that Germany and its engineers can work out a solution too. This is even more doable as prices of renewable energy sources are due to soon reach parity with coal prices. As we have seen Google is working on this.

Back to the MIT study, TreeHugger noted:

Even though the Journal admits that the economics of developing carbon sequestration and retrofitting existing coal power plants are “still miserable” they fail to make the logical leap to not building new coal power plants and phasing out as quickly as possible the ones we have.

If We’re Spending the Money Anyway, Why Not Spend It on Something That’s Actually Clean?

There’s no denying that replacing all that power from coal with renewables is going to difficult and expensive, but if we can come up with the money to clean up something that is inherently dirty (in many more ways than just greenhouse gas emissions), I want to know why we can’t wrangle the same sort of funding to install renewable energy sources which aren’t polluting in the first place? Seems like a no-brainer to me.


Edouard is a sustainability and energy professional committed to bringing our societies to a carbon neutral future. He has been writing on related topics on this very blog since 2007.

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1 Response

  1. Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    […] was wondering if we as Mankind could clean up coal and if it was worth the hassle. Indeed, Carbon Capture and Storage seems promising but is too little too late to solve our climate […]

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