Coal - OVERV IEW Coal is widely burned for power but...

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Unformatted text preview: OVERV IEW -:;:- Coal is widely burned for power but produces large quan t ities of climate- cha nging carbon Dioxide_ ii, Compared with conventiona l power plan ts, new gasifica- tion fac ilities can more effectivel~ and affordably extract C0 2 so it can be safely stored underground _ ii, The world must begi n implementing carbon captu re and st orage soon to stave off global warming. Cheap, plentiful coal is expected to fuel power plants forthe foreseeable future, but can we keep it from devastating the environment? BY DAVID G. HAWKINS, DANIEL A. LASHOF AND ROBERT H. WILLIAMS 68 SCIENTIFIC AMERI CAN More than most people realize, dealing with climate change means addressing the problems posed by emissions from coal-fired power plants. Unless humanity takes prompt action to strictly limit the amount of carbon dioxide (C02) released into the atmosphere when con suming coal to make electricity, we have little chance of gaining control over global warming. Coal-the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution-is a particularly worrisome source of energy, in part because burning it produces considerably more carbon diox ide per unit of electricity generated than burning either oil or natural gas does. In addi- tion, coal is cheap and will remain abund ant long after oil and natural gas have become very sca rce. With coal plentiful and inexpensive, its use is burgeoning in the U.S. and elsewhere and is expected to co ntinue rising in areas with abundant coal resources . Indeed, U.S. power providers are expected to build the equivalent of nearly 280 SOO-megawatt, coal-fired electric- ity plants between 2003 and 2030 . Meanwhile China is already constructing the equivalent of one large coal-fueled power station a week. Over their roughly 60-year life spans, the new genera ting facilities in operation by 2030 could collectively introduce into the atmosphere about as much ca rbon dioxide as was re leased by all the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 69 I: r coal burned since the dawn of the Indus- trial Revolution. Coal's projected popularity is disturb- ing not only for those concerned about climate change but also for those worried about other aspects of the environment and abo ut hum a n hea lth a nd safety. Coal's market price may be low, but the true costs of its extraction, processing and consumption are high. Coal use ca n lead to a range of harmful consequences, including decapitated mountains, air pol- lution from acidic and toxic emissions, and water fouled with COol I wastes. Ex- traction also endangers and ca n kill min- ers. Together such effects make coal pro- . duction and conversion to useful energy one of the most destructive activities o n the pla net [see box on page 73 ]....
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Coal - OVERV IEW Coal is widely burned for power but...

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