Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Clean coal?

I took this photograph standing at the window of a Chinese train: we were visiting Agnes during her gap year. I don't know if the smoke is belching from a power station or - more probably perhaps - from a factory. But it was a common sight then, six years ago.

What reminded me of it was a talk I heard this lunchtime by Dr. Andrew Minchener of the IEA's Clean Coal Centre. Most of Andrew's work is in mainland Europe and China, but he lives near Gloucester, and the Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network was astute in nabbing him to speak.

We heard some horrifying energy use forecasts: that worldwide coal requirements would increase by 50% before 2030; and that energy-related CO2 emissions could increase by 60%. But we also heard positive news about the development of carbon capture technology, albeit at a steep price: the scrubbing is expensive because new plant is required; because any viable CO2 storage space may be a long way away - horizontally and vertically, and because the energy loss in turning coal into electricity having captured the carbon is considerable - meaning that we need to transport and then burn more coal to produce the same amount of energy. And our existing power stations are mainly old and unsuitable for retrofitting.

But with 50% of our present energy use coal-based, we cannot leave it out of the equation. So, we need government investment and regulatory pressure, at both national and European level, to clean up the technology, and quickly. Andrew said the most advanced countries at the moment in the necessary technology were America and China! A sobering talk.

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