The great coal hole
(First published in New Scientist, 17 January 2008 )
[Excerpt]: There used to be a joke about taking coal to Newcastle but these days the laughing stock is getting the stuff out. Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, may be the biggest coal export terminal in the world’s biggest coal-exporting country, but even it is having trouble keeping up with demand. The line of ships waiting to load coal can stretch almost to Sydney, 150 kilometres to the south. At its peak last year, there were 80 vessels in the queue, each forced to lie idle for up to a month.
The delays have been lengthening since 2003 – and not just because of the port’s limited capacity in the face of soaring demand. Gnawing doubts are also beginning to emerge about supply, not just in Australia but worldwide, and not only because of logistics but also because of geology. In other words, coal may soon be running short...
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