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A sustainable future for coal?

Lewis Smith, The Daily Telegraph
Coal has become the ugly sister of power sources, condemned as old-fashioned, ultra-polluting and excessively costly to mine, given that we have exhausted the most easily accessible supplies.

Yet beneath the Firth of Forth, in a coalfield of more than 200 square miles, a project is taking shape that, if successful, would offer an affordable means of reaching billions of tons of deep-lying coal deposits without causing irreparable harm to the environment.

The Firth of Forth field is so deep – 500 metres or more beneath the surface – that it has not been cost-effective to mine. The attraction of exploiting it has further diminished because of the link between global warming and fossil fuels.

The new scheme, however, would couple two recently improved technologies – underground coal gasification and fuel cells. Rather than having the coal dug out, oxygen and water would be pumped down the mine to create a white-hot chemical reaction that turned the coal into gas. This process would not only generate electricity more efficiently than wind, nuclear or conventional gas and coal power plants, but would enable the capture and storage of more than 99 per cent of the CO2 contained in the fuel before it escaped into the atmosphere…
(04 August 2009)

A review on coal-to-liquids and its coal consumption

Mikael Höök and Kjell Aleklett, Uppsala University

Continued reliance on oil is unsustainable and this has resulted in interest in alternative fuels. Coal-to-liquids (CTL) can supply liquid fuels and have been successfully used in several cases, particularly in South Africa. This article reviews CTL theory and technology. Understanding the fundamental aspects of coal liquefaction technologies is vital for planning and policy-making, as future CTL systems will be integrated in a much larger global energy and fuel utilization system.

Conversion ratios for CTL are generally estimated to be between 1 and 2 barrels/ton coal. This puts a strict limitation on future CTL capacity imposed by future coal production volumes, regardless of other factors such as economics, emissions or environmental concerns. Assuming that 10% of world coal production can be diverted to CTL, the contribution to liquid fuel supply will be limited to only a few mega barrels per day. This prevents CTL from becoming a viable mitigation plan for liquid fuel shortage on a global scale. However, it is still possible for individual nations to derive significant shares of their fuel supply from CTL, but those nations must also have access to equally significant coal production capacities. It is unrealistic to claim that CTL provides a feasible solution to liquid fuels shortages created by peak oil. For the most part, it can only be a minor contributor and must be combined with other strategies.
(30 July 2009)
The article is available in pdf form here

Heinberg interviewed on Santa Fe Public Radio

Post Carbon Institute
Post Carbon Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg was interviewed on the KSFR show The Journey Home. Richard spoke about his latest book Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis.

From the interview:

“What we really want to know about coal is not when is it going to run out, which is all that the US Department of Energy will tell us, but when is production going to peak? And its just within the last few years that studies have been done, not by US government, but by independent agencies including the Energy Watch Group in Germany, that suggest that global coal and US coal production will peak startingly soon. For the world as a whole something like 2025.”

Listen to interview
(11 August 2009)