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Let the Clean Coal Battle Begin

I recently wrote about the possibility of a resurgence of coal stocks spurred by new policy backed by the Republican-controlled Congress next term.

I reminded readers that coal never really went away. It was – and still is – the most significant single source of power generation in the world.

It just has a bad reputation. Of all the fossil fuels, coal is considered the dirtiest as it emits the most carbon dioxide – almost twice as much as natural gas, depending on the type of coal burned.

To counteract this, the Republicans have resorted to drastic measures…

The Dirty Truth

Carbon emissions are the root cause of the climate change argument. And the type of coal burned makes a difference in terms of emission.

For instance, in China, the coal contains more moisture and burns less efficiently, creating even more carbon emissions.

The List of Damages: Pounds of Carbon Dioxide Emitted Per BTU of Various Fuels

The science behind the damage is irrefutable. But it has not prevented proponents of the coal industry from moving forward with solutions that keep coal in the energy game.

These solutions fall under the category of “clean coal.”

Airing Out the Filthy Laundry

Now, by promoting clean coal, Republicans are really just playing the part of environmentalists.

There’s no such thing as “clean” coal. I would liken it to “light” cigarettes – it sounds less harmful, but it’s still toxic.

What clean coal really means is hiding coal emissions by capturing them and using them or storing them. The reasoning is quite simple. If you can prevent carbon dioxide emissions from getting into the atmosphere, as it does currently, then emissions are therefore reduced.

But the logic doesn’t hold water. None of the methods actually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced. They just redistribute it using different methods.

There are several methods by which carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced or captured. The most popular of which is carbon sequestration. That is, carbon dioxide is captured and pumped underground (as far as two miles) with the intention that it will never resurface.

The second method is using filtration systems that will clean the emissions before they get into the atmosphere. The by-product of which is again sequestered. A third method is to gasify the carbon and reuse it as fuel.

This last method is where the opportunity may lay.

Making Not-So-Dirty Money

Southern Company (SO) is building a plant in Mississippi to capture carbon emissions and convert them into gas that can be sold on the market. Southern also plans to sell the technology to the Chinese, who have an abundance of coal but lack gas.

The plant was originally scheduled to be completed in 2013 at a cost of $2.2 billion. The estimate now is completion in 2016 at a cost of more than $6 billion. That’s not exactly as planned, and the shareholders will ultimately bear the brunt of the cost overruns.

There’s also a new type of coal plant, in Saskatchewan, Canada, that just opened for business. This plant, referred to as the Boundary Dam Project, will capture and sell over 90% of the carbon emissions it produces!

Coal may never be clean, but it certainly could get much more profitable than anyone ever imagined! Stay tuned for more…

And “the chase” continues,

Karim Rahemtulla