Audioburst Search

How Clean Coal Works


This podcast is brought to you by IBM. We live in a world. That's creating a enabled everything a world with more devices than people today technology has never been smarter. But smart only matters when you put it to work where it matters when we put smart to work, we can help save species increase crop yields and make progress, but not just for a few of us for all of us. So let's get to it. Let's put smart to work. Find out how at IBM dot com slash smart. Get in touch with technology with tech stuff from how stuff works dot com. He learned welcome to text up. I'm your host Jonathan Strickland. I'm an executive producer with how stuff works in. I heart radio love all things tech. So today want to take a look at proposals for clean, coal power plants, and what that actually means. And before I jumped into that topic. I do want to get this out of the way because I want to be as honest and forthright as I possibly can be I'm in favor of renewable energy sources. I'm also in favor of pursuing research into nuclear fusion as a power source, if in fact that is possible to make a sustainable effective power source. I'm very much in favor of getting off of all fossil fuels, particularly coal. However, I will do my best to discuss this topic without bias in other words without just constantly. Spitting on coal, and even an advocate for clean energy. Like me has to admit there are enormous challenges in the way of weaning ourselves off of coal and other fossil fuels as an energy source. There are big things we have to be able to make work for that to happen. So we're gonna talk about those two because it's important to look at these problems from a big picture perspective and to not just ignore the very real hurdles that are in our way. Because if we do if we ignore those hurdles, then we set ourselves up for failure. When we tried to change things if we acknowledged the challenges than maybe we can figure out a way of getting around them over them or through them. So what is cold? I've already mentioned that it's a fossil fuel. But what that really means is that originally comes from organic material, most notably Pete Pete is a large source of a lot of the coal that we use today. So this organic material accumulates it gets buried overtimes of animals die plants die. They decompose. They get buried by sand and other stuff and centuries. Go by and more and more layers build up around this material and the material than starts to compact under all that pressure, and the temperature grows because it's under pressure like the wonderful Queen and David Bowie song. And then as it has all of this pressure and heat, the material hardens into a rock, Mike substance, and it turns into coal. So the call it coal in has to contain a significant amount of carbonaceous material by weight or volume carbonaceous just means that it has to contain carbon or carbon compounds the amount and type of carbon coal determines how much energy the coal contain. Pains and really to us. What that mostly means is how much heat the coal is capable of producing. When it is burned when it's combusted in a furnace. This intern is dependent upon a few things, including how much heat and pressure went into creating the coal in the first place. There are a lot of different ways of classifying coal. But there are four main ranks of coal. There's anthracite coal and that has at least eighty six percent to ninety seven percent carbon in it. This Cole has the highest heating value of coal. And there ain't a lot of it. It's not plentiful in the in the United States less than one percent of all the coal mined in the country ranks as anthracite the one place in the United States where it is mind right now is Pennsylvania. This coal is used nearly exclusively by the metals Industry cO blazin important part and producing various types of metal and metallurgy. Then you have by two menace coal by two minutes. Coal contains between forty five to eighty six percent carbon. And this makes up nearly half of all the coal mined in the United States. Specifically, it's around forty six percent of all the coal we mind here in the US. This is the coal. That's used primarily for coal burning power plants for generating electricity. That's also used in iron and steel industries five states in the United States produced nearly all of the coal for the entire country. Those five states are West Virginia. Prince Leinna Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Then you have sub by two minutes coal that contains between thirty five to forty five percent carbon. So as less carbon you knows in these ranks were going down by the amount percentage of carbon in the material Elsa is a lower heating value. It doesn't burn his hot. As by two minutes coal makes up about forty five percent of all coal production in the US so sub by two minutes. And by two minutes called make up ninety one percent when you add it up and remember the anthracite makes up less than one percent. So the rest of it is made up of lignite does the last rank it contains only twenty five to thirty five percent carbon this stuff. Can convert into synthetic natural gas with some processing we also call it sin gas as why in g a s and I'll talk about that again a little bit later in this episode now human beings have been using coal for at least three thousand years, though, many early references to coal actually a referring to charcoal. Not to the stuff we mine out of the ground. Charcoal is not the same thing as coal charcoal is what you get when you remove water and several compounds from wood and typically you do this in a low oxygen environment, and you would apply a lot of heat to the would. So if it were a high oxygen environment, the would would catch fire and burn. But because it's low oxygen that reaction can't happen. We remember the triangle that you need in order to make fire you have to have heat, and you have to have you'll and you have to have an oxidizer typically oxygen. So you're not. Your your heating up in a low oxygen environment. You're essentially cooking. The would the technical term for this would be pyrolysis. So again, you're not burning it you're just removing moisture and heating up the wood in this low oxygen environment, and you end up with about a quarter of the mass that you started with a quarter by weight. So all those compounds in the water make up a lot of the weight the majority of the weight of the wood. So you end up with something that's about twenty five percent. The weight of what ever you started with? Now. We've used coal the mineral the the stuff we mine for a really long time. But the widespread large scale use of coal, the industrial use of coal really didn't get going until the eighteenth century. That's when you had inventors like Abraham Darby who developed methods for using coal in blast furnaces and the industrial revolution which really began in England. And then spr-. Throughout the rest of the world saw an enormous need for coal and that pushed the mining industry from being sort of a modest effort. There were reminds that existed before the industrial revolution. But the need for coal was much more modest then. So they were very much surface mines, and this point the need for coal was barechested. So mine started getting deeper and going further and requiring way more manpower to operate and became an enormous enterprise. Employing thousands of people tens of thousands of people coal mining became a lucrative but dangerous business miners encountered deadly gases, some of them explosive. So if you were to create a spark while mining you could ignite that explosive gas in have have a true catastrophe, some gases are poisonous. There was always an issue with flooding. That was always a date. Injure with mine shafts. There was also the possibility of mine shafts. Collapsing. But the demand for coal created enough of a reward to merit the risk. At least in the minds of the coal. Mine owners if not the actual miners who were doing the work Britain led the way in coal mining in this early time in the eighteenth century, and because it was plentiful lower rank coal in England. Not the stuff that we would use today to generate electricity would frequently be used as a fuel to warm homes in coal furnaces. So you have a furnace you throw some colon there. And that was what would generate heat that created a lot of air pollution in England London, which had a reputation for heavy fogs was frequently blanketed in smog and smog, of course, is made up of a particular matter that comes out of burning fossil fuels, particularly coal this peaked in nineteen fifty two with the great snow. Dog of London, which produced a smog so thick. And so persistent it reduced visibility drastically to just a few meters. And it had an enormously negative impact on citizen health. People started developing really terrible respiratory illnesses as a result. So what does burning coal produce apart from heat that we can use an applications like boiling water into steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity while the burning process breaks, the chemical bonds between the atoms and cold those molecular bonds, get broken, that's what releases energy and also several potential pollutants including contaminants that could be part of the coal that can include stuff like mercury which is a toxic heavy. Metal Burke Yousry is dangerous stuff. It can damage health in numerous ways it can cause damage to the nervous system. The digestive system. The immune system in two thousand fourteen US coal plants amid. And more than forty five thousand pounds of mercury plants are responsible for forty two percent of all mercury emissions in the United States. So that's a big one sulfur dioxide is another one that's an emission. That's very dangerous cold frequently has sulfur in it and when sulfur reacts with oxygen during the coal burning process because again, you need to have that oxygen have combustion happen. You end up getting sulfur oxide, and that sulfur oxide can combine with other molecules these emissions are harmful to us. Also. So for dioxide once it has reacted fully it's gonna strong linked to acid rain. So that's terrible also to smog and can be linked to problems like bronchitis and asthma then you also have nitrogen oxides. It's another byproduct that it can also contribute to smog, and it also can end up leading to the development of respiratory ailments or. Or make existing respiratory ailments. Much much worse. These are just a sample of some of the pollutants that can come out of a burning coal. You also get coal ash. These are also called coal combustion, residuals or CCR's. And this is actually again a collection of stuff. It's not just one thing. There's fly ash, which is mostly made of silica, which is powdery and very very fine. There's bottom ash, which is made up of large course, ash particles. These particles are too large for heat to carry them up the smokestack of power plants, so they tend to gather at the bottom of furnaces. There are some types of furnaces that create molten ash also called boiler slag, which has to be drained or drawn out of furnaces regularly using tap and typically you would cool this mixture with water, and at that point the ash turns into glassy pellets, and then there's the flue gas. Desulfurization material which is a byproduct produced by a sulfur dioxide emission reduction process. It's typically either a dry powdered material or a wet sludge, depending upon the reduction nethon employed. I'll talk more about that. In our next section now, coal ash. Also contains dangerous stuff in it like lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury then for that reason regulatory agencies like the EPA the environment. Environmental Protection Agency maintain pretty strict rules about how our plants may dispose of coal ash to prevent contaminants from polluting the environment these regulations under more recent years have been scrutinized and somewhat cut back due to a political maneuvers by people who are in the EPA who previously came from the coal and power, utility industry's. I'll talk more about that. Because one of the big challenges we have to look at isn't a technologic. Challenge. It's not a scientific challenge. It's a political challenge. So burning coal releases a lot of energy, that's useful. But it also produces stuff that's harmful to us and to the environment and coal is plentiful and cheap. So it makes it a very attractive energy source. It it definitely has its downsides. The pollutants are undeniably bad. But the fuel source is easy to get. And that's one of the big reasons why it's hard to. Wean ourselves off of coal that's cheap and other options are less cheap. So how do experts proposed to mitigate the pollution problems in the next section. We're going to take a look at what clean coal is. And how it works and try to answer the question. How clean is it? Really? But first, let's take a quick break to thank our sponsor. This is brought to you by IBM by twenty fifty the world population will reach nearly ten billion and food production will need to grow by seventy percent. What if artificial intelligence could help farmers are already using it to help increase. Crop yields Watson and the IBM cloud provide access to whether data an analyze satellite imagery to help them monitor soil moisture levels and reduce water waste, so as the population grows more food can be put on tables. Let's put smart to work. Find out how at IBM dot com slash smart. All right. Let's get this out of the way. I clean coal refers to processes and technology. Not too coal itself. The coal used in clean coal applications is just as thirty as cold thrown into an otherwise unremarkable Blast Furnace and coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels meaning that it produces more pollution and a wider variety of pollutants per unit burn than any other fossil fuel. However, the fact that Cole is plentiful, and inexpensive means it's likely to remain important in major industries like generating electricity for quite some time, unless something major changes so engineers have dedicated a lot of time research and effort into creating systems that can limit the amount of pollution emitted into the environment. There are procedures the can reduce some of the stuff that would otherwise be released when you burn coal, and this is another important point. There's no single process that is good for reducing all pollutants. There's no one system that we can put coal through and get clean air coming out of the smokestack on the other side. There are lots of individuals systems that are really effective or pretty effective at reducing one or more of the pollutants. But there's no single approach that gets everything. So if you wanted to burn coal with a bare minimum environmental impact, you would have to employ multiple methods, and thus have a more complicated system. And we'll talk a little bit more in a bit about why that's a big challenge. Now, one of the methods you could use to have a clean coal application is called coal washing. And it's pretty much. What it sounds like? There are two main approaches you can take one involves a physical process in which you rely upon the different densities of the various contaminants found in coal to be able to set. Operate them out and remove them. And leave the coal behind. The other relies upon chemical processes to remove those same contaminants. The most common of the two is the physical approach not the chemical abridge chemical bridge is still one of those things that's constantly being studied. But so far as far as I can tell has not been scaled up to a degree where it could actually be used practically in widespread applications, so with coal washing with the physical approach, you take the raw Cole that you've mind out of the ground, and then use some heavy machinery to crush it up into much smaller pieces you sift. The crushed coal and you separated into different sized particles, and you can use a series of sieves this way. Right. You can use one. That's very fine that way only the smallest particles come through. And once he got all those out you transfer the material to a sieve that has slightly larger grids in it. So. That way slightly larger particles can come through you do this several times until you've divided up the coal particles into different piles, and then you put them through their respective cleaning processes the process is pretty much the same for each one. Just it makes it easier to divide them up. So they all tend to work essentially the same way. He put the coal particles into a container like a VAT, and it has a jets water jets in it that can push water up through the coal and it creates this upward. Current the coal is lighter than the contaminants. So the coal gets pushed toward the top the contaminants sink toward the bottom, and you can then separate out the coal from the contaminants this way, then you have to dry the coal before he can use as a fuel. That's a process takes quite a bit of time and energy in itself ever deuces, but does not eliminate all pollutants. So you could. Reduce however, the amount of pollutants you're releasing into the atmosphere, but you don't eliminate them entirely and requires energy to do this system. That's something that we also have to keep in mind in each of these steps is that the whole purpose of using coal in the first place is to generate electricity at least in the applications. I'm talking about here. But if you have to dedicate energy toward the process that means you're you're eating into your own returns. Right. If your goal is to create electrically, and you're having to use some energy in your process, more and more of the energy in your process to make it acceptable to generate electricity in this way. Then you're eating into your own ability to generate the thing you're selling your eating into your own revenue. If you like so another process focuses on the gas generated from burning coal using what are called wet scrubbers, you can treat that gas. So that a chemical. Action renders otherwise harmful emissions inert. This is what I was talking about a little bit earlier in the last section so sulfur dioxide which can react with other gases in the atmosphere and create fine particles that are harmful to the environment. And to the health of humans is a great example, sulfur dioxide scrubber is a flue gas diesel for technology as the gases from burning coal moves from the furnace into a special chamber nozzles spray, a slurry made up of limestone and water, limestone has calcium minute and the calcium in the limestone reacts chemically with the sulfur dioxide. The main byproduct is a substance called calcium sulfate, you have this chemical reaction, and you get calcium sulfate as a result also known as synthetic gypsum. This stuff could be used in other materials, including cement, so you can actually put to use elsewhere which helps bring down the cost, right? If you can if you can put a by. Product to use it brings down the overall cost of the process because you recapture some of that by repurposing, the material scrubbers can move a lot. But not all of the sulfur dioxide emissions from coal firing plants if they are properly used nitrogen oxides are another problem, and they require a different approach. Nitrogen oxides are a group of highly reactive gases that are poisonous coal combustion produces fuel. Nitrogen oxide and thermal nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen can't be removed ahead of time from coal. So the only options you have to come up with our way to remove it during or following combustion. You can't do a pre combustion cleaning to remove nitrogen. You can only do it as you're burning it or after you've burned it during combustion you could use. What is called a low nitrogen oxide burner? This actually requires careful management of the ratio of fuel to air to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions. During several stages of combustion. So it slows down this process. It's possible to retrofit existing boilers with these types of burners, but they're limited in their effectiveness. They can reduce emissions between thirty to fifty five percent, which is not bad. But it's still means that you have almost what you can have up to forty five percent to more than half of all emissions still going out into the environment. Which is not great after combustion. You can use something like selective catalytic reduction in which you inject ammonia into a catalytic reactor, and you can use something like titanium oxide as a catalyst as flue gas flows through it. This is the gas given off by combusting, the the colts, very hot and Scalise chemicals in it all the reaction with the the catalyst and with the ammonia creates some byproducts like water, vapor and nitrogen, not Nitra. Jn oxide, but just nitrogen this process reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by eighty to ninety percent, though unredacted ammonia ammonia that did not actually go through this. Chemical reaction can also become an emission. That's not great. There's a similar approach called the selective non catalytic reduction that requires a higher operating temperature because you're not using a catalyst, which you know, catalysts make chemical reactions easier. If you like they facilitate commercial reactions though in the absence of a catalyst you have to compensate by increasing the temperature. But then you don't have to have a catalyst and instead of using ammonia use a different chemical the reaction when the flue gas results in nitrogen water, vapor and carbon dioxide the overall reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions tends to be between seventy four and ninety percent. But then you also have CO two which will get to a little bit later. Then there's the particular matter they get carried up in smoke stacks. The the coal ash. If you will and can contribute to stuff like, asthma and other respiratory problems. One way to reduce those emissions is to use an electrical field or a series of high voltage electrical fields, the purpose of this is to impart an electrical charge onto the particular matter as it moves through the system. Now once those particles are charged they will move near collection plates that carry the opposite charge and opposite charges attract so the particular dust will cling to the collection blaetz, they can be really effective in removing that particular matter like ninety nine percent effective in some cases. However, the social means using some of the electrobi- you're generating to power the system. So again, you're getting a reduced return on your investment because you have to use some of that electricity just to keep the process from being too dirty. Another method involves a different approach to using coal called gasification, which gives you a hint at what's involved. Use steam and pressurized air or pressurized oxygen, and you have that air oxygen heated to very high temperatures, and you combine all this. With the coal this forces, a chemical reaction in which carbon molecules break apart and produce sin guests that synthetic natural gas. I talked about earlier send gas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide you'll also get water, vapor and carbon dioxide from this process. The sin gas wants chemically scrubbed can be used in a guest turbine to generate electricity. So instead of generating heat to boil water and turn a steam turbine, you can have a a sin gas powered turbine that just takes the fuel and uses that to generate electricity directly, not only that. But then you can also capture waste heat from this process to boil water and turn a second turbine steam turbine. So it can increase the the efficiency. Of a power system this way, and the essentially turn waste heat into productive, heat, you still produce carbon dioxide this way, and that's greenhouse gas. And that's still a big problem and carbon dioxide emissions continue to contribute to climate change, so reducing them as critically important to limit the damage we face in the years to come not to avoid the damage that's going to happen one way or the other. But to mitigate it we need to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions in order to have that happen. So in the next section. I'm going to talk about carbon capture and storage. And then we'll wrap up the whole clean coal conversation. But first, let's take another quick break to thank our sponsor. Hey, guys. I wanna talk to you about the online furniture shopping company joy bird, because I recently got a chair from joy bird, and I am incredibly pleased with the experience not only was it seamless the furniture itself is gorgeous. And it's comfortable. It is a wonderful accent to the room that we put it in. We put it in our guest room. We got the Soto chair from joy bird and lucky turquoise. And my wife said immediately, you did a really good job picking this out. Well, I didn't do that job joy bird. Did they have an incredible selection of different pieces of furniture? They are made with precision and care. They use responsibly sourced materials, and they have a three hundred sixty five day home trial. You can see how joy bird is revolutionizing online furniture shopping. Just go to create the furniture. That brings you joy today at joy bird dot com slash tech stuff. Go to joy dot com slash tech stuff and receive an exclusive offer for twenty five percent off your first order by using the code tech stuff. Hey, guys. I want to talk to you about the online furniture shopping company joy bird, because I recently got a share from joy bird, and I am incredibly pleased with the experience not only was it seamless the furniture itself is gorgeous. And it's comfortable. It is a wonderful accent to the room that we put it in. We put it in our guest room. We got the Soto chair from joy bird lucky turquoise. And my wife said immediately. You did a really good job picking this out. Will I didn't do that job joy bird? Did they have an incredible selection of different pieces of furniture? They are made with precision and care. They use responsibly sourced material. Sales and they have a three hundred sixty five day home trial. You can see how joy bird is revolutionizing online furniture shopping. Just go to create the furniture that brings you joy today at joy bird dot com slash tech stuff. Go to joy dot com slash tech stuff and receive an exclusive offer for twenty five percent off your first order by using the code tech stuff. Carbon dioxide makes up the vast majority percentage wise of all greenhouse gas emissions back in two thousand sixteen. It was eighty one percent of all greenhouse gases emitted by man now, there's a natural process in our planet in which carbon gets removed from the atmosphere. Plants do it as part of their normal life cycle, they take in carbon dioxide, but we're dumping way. More CO two into the air, then plants can absorb and on top of that we tend to wipe out large areas of plant life in order to do stuff like build cities or have farmland the carbon were introducing into the atmosphere has been locked away in coal for millions of years until suddenly unleashed. And dumped in there. So is there some way we could reverse that right and take carbon out of the air and lock it back up. The answer is not only. Yes. But also that there are lots of different ways. He's we can do this. There are three general approaches when it we're talking about coal power plants in particular, because there's no simple way of just grabbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in general. So if we look at the places where we're dumping a lot of CO two and say can we find a way to capture it right there at that source that would be very helpful. So I you can use solvents or solvents to capture CO two ads organs such as activated carbon or zeolite s- can separate CO two from other gas mixtures, and it's used in the process of hydrogen production. It's also used to remove CO two from natural gas. But when it comes to coal power plants. That's different story at Zorba materials have a limited capacity to take out CO two, and they aren't quite up to the task of doing the job on so largest-scale as on flue gas. So while it does work in smaller applications for things like a coal power plant. This approach would not work solvents are more promising. And in fact, are actually being used in some carbon capture facilities already right now as the primary way of capturing carbon dioxide there's a process called Amin scrubbing in which derivatives of ammonia called a means react with flu guests, they can potentially remove an enormous amount of carbon dioxide practically all of it at least on paper. But there are some questions about how quickly certain a means may degrade and flue gas, or how much energy is needed to regenerate the system, you know, how much do you how much energy do you need to put in to put in enough of the salt, the solvents to take out the CO two and without answering those questions we can't really know if this is an effective approach on a large scale. But there are a lot of pilot programs out there that are using this method the next. Big way because I was one right? The sore bids in the solvents the second big way to remove CO two from gases is to use gas separation membranes, which is pretty much. What sounds like he can think of it again, kind of like a sieve they allow certain materials to pass through and they keep other materials back, and there are lots of different types of membranes out there. So not going to go through them all because they get real technical and their tons of them. But you would typically need several membranes along an entire stream because they don't individually achieve a high degree of separation. In other words, stuff can get through one membrane. So you wanna have extra layers kind of extra layers of protection to capture all of the CO two. However, adding membranes adds complexity to the system and complexity tends to translate into cost. It means the more complex assistant in the more expensive. It tends to be you would likely need different types of membranes. Not all just the same one. Because of the various byproducts that come from coal combustion. And in any case, the membrane approach isn't currently scalable to be an effective efficient and affordable process for something like a coal power plant. So maybe one day it will be. But right now, it isn't. It's still in the research and development phase, the third big process is another one that's not gonna work too. Well for major coal power plants, but it's cryogenic approaches that means using the processes of cooling and condensation to separate carbon dioxide from other flue gases again, it wouldn't be an effective process for post combustion treatment because you'd have to do a lot of other stuff to the gases. I you like you have to separate out the water vapor before you could use a cryogenic approach you could use it in a pre combustion process. So before you've actually started to combust, the coal capturing the CO two, however is just the first step after preventing the carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Large ni- do something with it. Right. You've captured it all you put into canisters. Now what? Well, there are two main long term storage options. One involves burying the CO two deep in the earth. I mean, literally pumping it there. That's where we got the carbon from first place after all, right? We went down. We dug out coal. We burn the coal that release the c o two. So in a way, we're just putting it back where it blocks. If you think of it that way, the other options, putting it into the ocean, we call these two approaches the geologic and the carbon capture strategies so with the geologic approach you inject carbon dioxide deep into the earth itself typically into underground oil or gas fields where it can get absorbed in the into the ground or you can actually pump it into any part of the earth. That happens to have some salty water and porous rock in the mix and the carbon dioxide will soak in the ideas that it will lock into the ground and stay there and slowly bind. With the materials in the surrounding rocks over the course of millions of years. The oceanic approach requires another step. I you take the CO two you've captured, and then you have to pressurize it to get it down to these super-critical liquid state. So now, you've got liquid CO two this by the way is another energy-hungry process and one the becomes less efficient, as you scale up the system, you have to pour energy into it in order for it to happen, which again eats into your bottom line. Anyway, now, you've got liquid carbon dioxide you inject the liquid CO two into deep water and by deep I've talking about between five hundred and three thousand meters, which is around sixteen hundred feet to just under ten thousand feet deep at that depth the waters pressure. The the amount of water pressure is enough to dissolve the c o two into water. However, this process would turn lower the ph of the water at that region turning it slightly acidic which could end up being harmful. To aquatic life. So this is something that we're not entirely sure would have a net positive environmental impact. Now. Keep in mind to truly be clean coal. You would have to use multiple strategies. I've talked about on this episode in order to get all the pollutants. Carbon capture is not gonna do any good for things like stopping mercury from getting out into the environment. And even then you're talking about reducing some of those pollutants significantly, but not eliminating them. So some of it's still getting out into the environment. And as you add in these various systems as I mentioned earlier, it creates more and more complex facilities and the more complex Pacific is the more expensive. It gets maintenance is also an added expense. So you end up with a system where the fuel is still cheap the fuel is cheap and plentiful, but using it gets more and more expensive, especially if you want to use it in a way where you're capturing as many of these pollutants as poss-. Some of them expense. Also, like, I said means dedicating some of the energy are some of the electric city in the in the system just to keep the whole thing running. So you lose out on some of the stuff you would otherwise sell to the public and in order to stay profitable. That might mean that you have to raise the cost of electricity of the service. So as a general rule, and again, this this goes without saying that I'm going to say, it companies, aren't terribly keen on increasing costs and eating into the bottom line. That's generally thought of as a bad thing in business. You wanna cut costs and maximize profits. So the coal industry and power utilities in the United States have lobbied historically to great extents and vigorously to limit regulations. And in more recent years to reverse previously established regulations, and that's because clean coal if implemented properly at scale is gonna be. The expensive it is more environmentally conscious. It is the better choice to make from a health perspective from an environment perspective, and I would argue from a long term economic perspective. But from a short term economic perspective, it may not be the most attractive option. If you're just looking at literally a return on investment shareholders want to see money come back to them when they pour it into an industry or a company. So it's hard to make that case to say in the short term. We are not going to see big returns. But further down the road. We're going to see much better returns. And we're also going to avoid doing further critical damage to the environment. Now when I say that a coal power plant. That's running on a clean, coal strategy is more. Expensive was that mean, it means that it costs about seventy five percent. More to operate a clean, coal coal plant than a normal coal plant. That's a tall order. Now. The cost of clean coal might make it less attractive than say greener renewable energy sources new might say, oh, well instead of doing this clean coal approach. Maybe we should invest more in wind power or hydro power or solar power a carbon tax, which is a tax in which companies would have to pay a fee in return for being allowed to emit carbon dioxide, sometimes there's like a credit program you purchase credits and for each credit. You're allowed a certain amount of CO two emissions, but you have to pay for it. The ideas that this creates the incentive for companies to not emit carbon to cut back on carbon emissions. So as to avoid having to pay those fees. It's the idea of creating an economic system of pressure to force companies or at least to encourage companies to. Cut carbon emissions that that could also help, and it would be really nice to see a move toward more renewable methods. If company said, well, coal itself is still cheap. It's still easy to get. But using it as too expensive. I would love to see that. Because I would love to see more money going into renewable energy sources, which have a much lower environmental impact than coal or even natural gas. Because again, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. It's not hard to have a lower environmental impact than burning coal. And and also, I should mention renewable energy sources still have an environmental impact, you know. We can't just say like magical, and they don't harm the environment at all. That's not entirely true. You have to if you look at the big picture at hell. These things are made. They're still an environmental cost to be paid. It's just not nearly as Deora cost as using coal. So. So one of the really big challenges facing renewable energy is that it's up against a super cheap fossil fuel. If we decide the only way we can allow coal combustion is if we require coal plants to reduce emissions as much as possible, then it might become financially viable for more companies to invest in alternative because getting a coal plant up to speed incorporating all these systems might be more expensive than just scrapping it and saying all right. We're we're going to get into solar now. So that's that's actually something that is possible. If the regulations are put in place, but that has not been the trend at least in the United States over the last couple of years the trend is actually been the reverse getting rid of regulations as opposed to strengthening them. Now. Some people could argue that advocating for clean coal at all is really a smokescreen pun intended to keep the status quo for as long as possible. In other words, someone who says no, no, no. We need to keep investing in clean, coal might really be saying I want to be able to keep using coal as a fuel source, and if I can argue that the research and development into clean coal is going to pay off dividends. I can keep using coal. In the meantime, it it becomes a shell game. Some clean coal technologies are mature technologies they are proven and they can be used right now. And they are used in widely some of them, but others are still young. They're still in development. They're still questions about whether or not they can actually work on large scale applications. So in the meantime, there are a lot of coal power plants out there with few of those systems in place, and they're dumping more CO two and other pollutants into the atmosphere. There are a lot of environmental advocates who say we can't continue with this that we can't argue for clean coal and simultaneously, not use the techniques that we already have. Have created to mitigate Kohl's pollution. So it's a pretty dirty argument. Ultimately, clean coal, the combustion of coal in a way that has the minimal environmental impact. I believe that is going to be possible with the right investments. Whether those right investments are ever fully made an implemented is another question because a may turn out that companies make this decision that it makes more sense to switch to a different energy source than it does to update all of these old power plants and have them run under this new system. I worry right now that some of those advocates are absolutely right. That clean coal is really just allowing an excuse to stick with an old dirty fossil fuel is doing more harm than than good rather than and pulling our focus away from alternatives that could be much more. Beneficial the nice thing I can say. Is that over the last few years natural gas production has been on the rise and natural gas while still a fossil fuel produces fewer pollutants that coal does. So the de-emphasis on coal is a good thing. The problem is we need to make much more drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than just switching from coal to natural gas will allow we have to go further than that. And the the question is do we have the willpower and the engineer witty and the animation necessary to do it. I think we do have the ingenuity and innovation. It's the willpower part that I question, I certainly hope we do because I would love to see a world where we are able to move off of fossil fuels entirely. I think it would improve not just the environment. But it could improve the economy. It could certainly improve things like national. Security if you are able to be self sufficient for your power needs entirely in you're not having to import fossil fuels. That's fantastic. It's a great way to improve national security or a lot of good arguments for it. But economically, it may be a harder sell than sometimes that's the toughest battle. The fight is the the battle of the price tag. What do you guys think I'm curious to hear your thoughts about energy, and what we should be turning to? What should we really focus on? I'm curious. You guys are all tech savvy folks right to me. Let me know I want to hear the Email address is tech stuff at how stuff works dot com. And don't forget the pop on over to our website. That's tech stuff podcast dot com. You can look at the archive Voller VAR older episodes there. You can also find ways to contact me on social media where I'm a quite the social media butterfly. And don't forget the pup over termer. Today store at t public dot com slash tech stuff. That's where you can make purchases of all of our cool designs. Remember every purchase you make goes to help the show, and we greatly. Appreciate it. And I will talk to you again, really soon. Really? For more on this and bathrooms of other topics. Visit how stuff works out com. Hey, guys, I want to tell you about a brand new show called the brink. This is a podcast that's been in the works for a really long time. And the hosts are well, there's a handsome devil Nate Jonathan Strickland and his good friend Ariel cast. And together we bring to use stories about big moments in business that were make or break situations. And what happens when people have to make that pivotal decision. In some cases, things turn around and company that was on the verge of extinction will find a new life and be rejuvenated and everything's happy. Sometimes things don't go. So well, and we learn about those stories as well. So if you've ever wanted to know the human stories behind some of those big moments and business make sure you check out the brink. Listen and follow on the I. Iheartradio app or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Coming up next