One year anniversary of the day “clean coal” died

“This disaster shows that the term ‘clean coal’ is an oxymoron. It’s akin to saying ‘safe cigarette.’ Clean coal doesn’t exist.”

The subhead quote is from Elliott Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists a year ago on NBC:

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Even the NYT editorialized at the time on the “Collapse of the Clean Coal Myth.”

Sadly, the Washington Post reports today that the dirty coal is still there, quoting one of the locals saying, “I don’t think they will ever get it cleaned up“:

An earth-and-ash dam holding back 1 billion gallons of waterlogged ash from a nearby power plant had failed, and the slurry flowed out to choke the Emery River and cover 85 acres of land.

One year later, most of the ash on the land is still there. And the problem of similar coal-ash ponds still sits on the long and fast-expanding to-do list of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Yes, Bush-Cheney and their polluter pals really trashed the whole damn place, America’s economy and the environment, expecting the rest of us to clean it up.

Words don’t do the spill justice, so here’s some raw footage of the spill zone via DesmogBlog:

Clean coal remains claptrap.

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8 Responses to One year anniversary of the day “clean coal” died

  1. WAG says:

    Notice how in the video, they refer to the people who are “outraged” by the disaster as “environmentalists.” As if the only people who should be outraged by toxic coal sludge spills are hippie environmentalists – and not residents, scientists, people downstream, etc.

  2. Chris Dudley says:

    Clean coal is a dirty lie.

  3. anotherhopefulmoderate says:

    clean coal is about carbon, not about other environmental harms from coal. Just as wind has dead birds, solar has chemical by products, etc, all the other enviro issues pale before the dangers of global warming. If carbon capture can work at a reasonable level of cost effectiveness(which I am not sure of) then it WILL be part of the solution.

  4. Chris Winter says:

    Sorry to rain on your parade, but living downstream from a coal slurry pond is a far more immediate risk than global warming. No, it’s not certain that the dam holding back that pond will collapse. But we are dealing with an industry that, by its overall historical record, puts economic profit above environmental protection or even employee safety.

    Let them develop the plans, get them reviewed and approved, build some pilot plants, and demonstrate sequestration successfully for several years. Then perhaps there will be such a thing as clean coal.

    In the meantime, we can deploy alternative sources of energy that are far more benign.

  5. PurpleOzone says:

    37 years since the Pittston Coal dam broke, sludge and debris crashing down on Buffalo Creek, W VA, and killed 125 people below, injured many more, destroyed the homes of 4000…

    Google on “coal dam break (Act of God)” to find many spills. God is a busy boy, according to the coal companies.

  6. Dean says:

    Is it really just a coincidence that two of the most major swing states (OH and PA) are also major coal states?, and then add WV in. Irregardless of the science or technology, coal state senators will keep getting big subsidies – even long after we stop the trade embargo with Cuba (i.e. another silly thing that exists because of swing state politics).

  7. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi All-

    Killing clean coal technology lets the utility industry off the hook for cleaning up their power plants, IMO.

    CCS is about carbon, as somebody pointed out above.

    The danger from carbon does outweigh the danger from everything else.

    Combine clean coal technology with biomass energy, and you’ve got BECCS:

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS). BECS also includes other technologies such as biochar and biomass burial.[1]

    Negative emission

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.[4]

    Bio-energy is derived from biomass which is a renewable energy source and serves as a carbon sink during its growth. During industrial processes, the biomass combusted or processed re-releases the CO2 into the atmosphere. The process thus results in a net zero emission of CO2, though this may be positively or negatively altered depending on the carbon emissions associated with biomass growth, transport and processing , see below under environmental considerations.[5] Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology serves to intercept the release of CO2 into the atmosphere and redirect it into geological storage locations.[6] CO2 with a biomass origin is not only released from biomass fuelled power plants, but also during the production of pulp used to make paper and in the production of biofuels such as biogas and bioethanol. The BECCS technology can also be employed on such industrial processes.[7]

    It is argued that through the BECCS technology, carbon dioxide is trapped in geologic formations for very long periods of time, whereas for example a tree only stores its carbon during its lifetime. In its report on the CCS technology, IPCC projects that more than 99% of carbon dioxide which is stored through geologic sequestration is likely to stay in place for more than 1000 years. Compared to other types of carbon sinks such as the ocean, trees and soil, the BECCS technology is likely to provide a better permanence.[8]

    The amount of CO2 that has been released to date is believed to be too much to be able to be absorbed by conventional sinks such as trees and soil in order to reach low emission targets.[9] In addition to the presently accumulated emissions, there will be significant additional emissions during this century, even in the most ambitious low-emission scenarios. BECCS has therefore been suggested as a technology to reverse the emission trend and create a global system of net negative emissions.[2][9][10][11][12] This implies that the emissions would not only be zero, but negative, so that not only the emissions, but the absolute amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced.

    As the accompanying graph makes clear, using BECCS we can get down to about 350 ppm CO2 for only about 6 trillion dollars USD, far cheaper than alternatives that do not contain CCS. This is a bargain, when spread among all the countries of the world and paid off over decades. We would not even notice this level of spending. Notice that without BECCS, the other options show costs approaching infinity to get to 350 ppm CO2.

    I am convinced that by enhancing the efficiency of the BECCS power plants using the Clinton Era IFCC (Indirectly Fired Combined Cycle) or HIPPS (High Performance Power System) ideas combined with oxyfuel combustion for easy CCS and higher combustion temperatures, we could bring the cost of BECCS down to roughly zero – paying for the conversion with higher efficiency, and so cheaper electricity. IFCC/HIPPS are calculated to improve efficiency from 30-35% to 45-50%, or more, and the higher Carnot efficiency of oxyfuel combustion could raise this even more.

    It’s all doable, but slogans like “clean coal is an oxymoron” get in the way of doing what we have to do to turn the corner on this problem, IMO.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    Here’s the second part of the above post:

    There are potential places to put the CO2, including in situ mineral carbonation ideas like this:

    Injection into deep-sea basalt formations provides unique and significant advantages over other potential geological storage options, including (i) vast reservoir capacities sufficient to accommodate centuries-long U.S. production of fossil fuel CO2 at locations within pipeline distances to populated areas and CO2 sources along the U.S. west coast; (ii) sufficiently closed water-rock circulation pathways for the chemical reaction of CO2 with basalt to produce stable and nontoxic (Ca2+, Mg2+, Fe2+)CO3 infilling minerals, and (iii) significant risk reduction for post-injection leakage by geological, gravitational, and hydrate-trapping mechanisms.

    We should seize the coal fired power plants, and force their conversion to enhanced efficiency biomass burning BECCS power plants. Most coal fired power plants are built on rivers and lakes, for cooling water. These rivers and lakes constitute a natural transport system for river barges full of biomass or biochar, coming from agricultural areas, forests, or biomass plantations built upstream.