Coal

For every ton of coal burned, approximately 2.5 tons of CO2 are produced. Of all the different types of fossil fuels, coal produces the most carbon dioxide. Because of this and its high rate of use, coal is the largest fossil fuel source of carbon dioxide emissions. Coal represents one-third of fossil fuels’ share of world total primary energy supply but is responsible for 43% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use, and produces 87% of human carbon dioxide emissions. link

As of 2013, global coal consumption increased by more than 70% from 2000 to an estimated 7,876 million tons in 2013, and was the fastest-growing primary energy source in the ten years through 2013. link

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Latest news:

June 16 2018: Accelerating economic growth ensures coal dependence stagnant. In 2017, economic growth, which had slowed for a few years, cranked up again. The connection between economic growth and growth in carbon emissions is not quite “decoupled,” it seems. In 1998, coal represented 38% of global power generation. In 2017, it still represented 38% of global power generation. In electricity, a sector that absorbs 40% of the world’s primary energy and produces more than a third of its emissions, the past 20 years have been running to stay still. No net decarbonization progress has been made.  link  Germany and Poland, EU’s biggest consumers of coal stress economy over climate – link

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        Below:

  • General information
  • Health costs of coal
  • Clean coal debate
  • CTL – coal-to-liquid
  • Coal gasification
  • Coal industry lobbying and subsidies

Other pages:   USA – coal page – See also Unfriend Coal Campaign
Coal Ash – Mountaintop removal  –  Carbon capture and sequestration

 General Information

Global carbon emissions rise slowing. (November 2016) China’s decreasing use of coal is the primary reason for a small drop since 2013, as it takes steps to address the quality of the coal it uses and increase air pollution controls. link

November 2017. Countries launch ‘Powering Past Coal’ alliance. Governments, businesses and other partners have formed the ‘Powering Past Coal’ alliance, which aims to rapidly phase out traditional coal power. Government members of the alliance, which was launched during the UN COP-23 in Germany, agreed to phase out existing traditional coal power and place a moratorium on new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage (CCS). According to the International Energy Agency, coal-fired power plants produce almost 40% of global electricity, making carbon pollution from coal a major contributor to climate change. link

(June 2017) The 15 countries most dependent on coal for energy. More than 40% of global electricity is derived from coal, although some countries record higher numbers than others. These countries are ranked as per the World Bank data on coal-generated electricity as a percentage of total electricity generated, with South Africa dependent upon 93.7% of its electricity from coal. Poland is Europe’s biggest consumer. link

According to EPA, American coal plants produce 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year. Coal-fired electric power generation emits around 2,000 pounds of CO2 for every megawatt-hour generated. The toxins they release, hazardous chemicals that can lead to disease, brain damage and premature death, affect every part of the human body. Arsenic, chromium and nickel cause cancer; lead damages the nervous system; acid gases irritate the nose and throat; dioxins affect the reproductive endocrine and immune systems; and volatile organic compounds weaken lungs and eyes. link  The global dominance of industrial interests dependent on cheap energy sourced from coal means that climate change is inevitable. Unfortunately, there is enough cheap coal around to power ever-higher emissions for at least another century. link

June 2012: Study: Coal plants do more harm than good. A report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) evaluated the health impacts of the 18 dirtiest coal plants, from the standpoint of sulfur dioxide emissions, and found that the cost of health care required as the result of the pollution exceeded the cost of electricity produced by the plants. The plants are located in 13 states in the South and Midwest.  Overall, the report found between 2,700 and 5,700 deaths per year attributable to pollution from the 51 dirtiest American coal plants. This translates into a cost somewhere between $23 and $47 billion. The problem is, of course, that this money does not show up on the companies’ balance sheets, at least not at the present time. link

EndCoal.org is an environmental, social justice and health advocate concerned about coal’s heavy toll on human health, our natural environment and the planet’s climate. The site was developed to provide a resource for local communities, activists, students and researchers who would like to learn more about why coal is not the solution to the world’s energy needs and how you can work to stop the expansion of coal and promote better alternatives for meeting energy needs. link

Inside the world’s biggest coal mine – link 
(The average U.S. coal plant emits 1,768 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. Natural gas plants emit 800 to 850 pounds. New limits set by the EPA (September 2013) would reduce that number to 1100 lbs or 1,000 lbs for plants producing mire that 850MW.)

 Coal Around the World

Coal consumption by country – For latest global statistics on producers and exporters etc.  link

December 2017: Global coal consumption forecast to slow. Every major country in the world except India reduced its consumption of coal in 2016 with demand forecast to stagnate for the next half decade, according to official forecasts. The IEA said 5.3bn tonnes of coal equivalent were burnt in 2016, down 1.9% on the year before and 4.2% on 2014, the fastest decline since 1990-1992, when the global economy was in recession. China, the US and Europe drove the continued drop-off in demand last year, offset only partly by India, one of a few Asian countries where the burning of coal is expected to grow until 2022. link

December 2017: ‘Death spiral’: half of Europe’s coal plants are losing money. Air pollution and climate change policies are pushing coal-fired electricity stations to the brink, says a new report. More than half of the EU’s 619 coal-fired power stations are losing money, and as a result, the industry’s slow plans for shutdowns will lead to €22bn in losses by 2030. link

June 2017: Global demand for coal falls in 2016 for second year in a row. The UK, with a 52.5% decrease, was described as the “most extreme example” of the trend away from coal, which has resulted in use of the fuel returning to levels not seen since the start of the industrial revolution. The 1.7% fall in worldwide consumption in 2016 marks a striking reversal for coal’s fortunes, which was the largest source of energy demand growth until four years ago. link

June 2017: Southeast Asia represents the last stand for coal industry. Today Japan is the biggest investor in coal. Despite its near complete lack of domestic resources, Japan has plans to build 49 coal plants, in part to ensure energy security in the light of the still uncertain return of nuclear power to the island nation. The chief targets for environmentalists, and the next two countries in the Asia-Pacific region with extensive coal plans, are Indonesia and Vietnam, who, coincidentally, are getting funding from Japanese investors to build these projects. Coal developers have been protected from clean energy by a whole host of market barriers, but with the cost advantage shifting to renewables that won’t last forever. link

April 2017: The end of coal: EU energy companies pledge no new plants from 2020.Europe’s energy utilities have rung a death knell for coal, with a historic pledge that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020. National energy companies from every EU nation, except Poland and Greece, have signed up to the initiative, which will overhaul the bloc’s energy-generating future. Poland relies on coal for 90% of its energy. link  

            World coal consumption by region, 1980-2010 (click to animate)


Source – EIA  

March 2016: As coal’s future grows murkier, banks pull financing. Coal, like railroads, steel and other engines of the nation’s industrial expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped drive Wall Street’s profits for generations. More than a century later, the coal industry is in a free fall and the banks are pulling away.  Bankers say there is a more basic reason for the shift: Lending to coal companies is too risky and could ultimately prove unprofitable. link

March 2016: Coal power plants exhaust needed water supplies. Coal power plants use enough water to supply the needs of 1 billion people and that will almost double if all the world’s planned power plants come online. Almost half the new power plants will be built in areas that are already in high water stress, a report commissioned by Greenpeace says. The research found 44% of current plants, and 45% of planned plants, were in areas that were in a state of water stress – where water use is already considered to be having significant ecosystem impacts. link

December 2015: About 2,400 new coal are planned globally. Niklas Hohne of the New Climate Institute explains why building these plants is inconsistent with emission control commitments countries have given. To reach the 2C agreement the electricity sector has to phase out emissions from coal-fired plants by 2050. An average lifetime of a coal-fired plant is 40 years taking them past 2050. “If we are serious about the two degrees, no single coal plant should be built today. If all countries would do what they have already proposed in their national plans, we would go up to a temperature close to 3.6C . . . adding these coal-fired power plants, it would be even above that.” link

November 2015: Coal a dilemma for developing countries. Philippines President Aquino said 23 new coal plants are needed to meet demands for energy even though the country has been dubbed one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Many developing countries, facing rapid increases in population and surging economic growth see coal as a relatively cheap option. China, India and other fast-growing Asian economies also have plans for hundreds of new coal power stations. link

Lignite or brown coal. Lignite is generally yellow to dark brown or rarely black coal that formed from peat. In many countries lignite is considered to be a brown coal and contains about 60% to 70% carbon .It has been estimated that nearly half of the world’s total proven coal reserves are made up of lignite and subbituminous coal, but lignite has not been exploited to any great extent, because it is inferior to higher-rank coals. link
Germany: Germany is Europe’s largest economy, and its wealth depends heavily on exporting industrial goods made with cheap electricity. Lignite is the cheapest source of electricity from fossil fuels, and Germany has the world’s largest reserves of it. But lignite causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned, one-third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas. link
 Cost of Coal, Including Health

December 2008: There are unseen problems with coal we know little or nothing about.  Revealing is the TVA disclosure that in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications. link   According to the American Lung Association, pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 23,600 premature deaths, 21,850 hospital admissions, 554,000 asthma attacks, and 38,200 heart attacks every year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 12,000 coal miners died from black lung disease between 1992 and 2002.

September 2015: Coal burning costs UK between £2.5bn and £10bn in health care. The UK spent between £2.47 and £9.9bn on healthcare costs related to emissions from burning coal in 2013, according to a comprehensive overview of coal production in Europe. The figure, which includes costs from coal-related respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, such as heart disease and lung cancer is linked to the 395 kilotons of pollutants emitted by UK coal plants. Europe as a whole had a coal-related healthcare spend of between €21bn and €88bn, according to the authors. link

March 2012: Coal is expensive and not getting any cheaper. Contrary to coal industry spin, coal is not the cheapest resource for electricity generation – and it is only becoming more expensive, according to a new report titled “Coal is not Cheap Power”  The study, put together by the Alaskan non-profit Groundtruth Trekking, looked at 20 years of power generation and price data and found the majority of coal-burning states show no significant correlation between proportion of coal fired electricity and electricity prices. For newly constructed plants, coal is not the cheapest option. link

May 2013: Mercury from coal. Though mercury is a natural element, most of the mercury that winds up in the atmosphere is released by people, primarily from coal combustion. Coal combustion is the single highest contributor in the US, responsible for almost 50% of atmospheric emissions. Approximately 75 tons of mercury are present in the coal used by US coal-fired power plants every year. Of this, more than 50 tons are subsequently released into the atmosphere, while the rest remains in coal combustion wastes. link

Cost to our health

July 2016: Coal dust kills 23,000 per year in EU. Lung-penetrating dust from coal-fired power plants in the European Union claims some 23,000 lives a year and racks up tens of billions of euros in health costs, an NGO report said on Tuesday. Even as the bloc shifts towards renewable sources like wind and solar energy, coal still accounted for 18% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 and a quarter of its electricity mix in 2015, said the analysis. link

June 2015: Coal’s hidden costs. Perhaps no industry has inflicted such widespread costs on society as coal. From debilitating black lung disease to the devastating removal of whole mountaintops, from decades of lung-scarring smog to unrestrained emissions of greenhouse gases, coal has imposed its own deadly taxation, hiding the charges under the smoky cloak of cheap and abundant power. In a major study published in 2009, the National Research Council estimated that the non-climate pollution damages from smog, soot and acid rain brought on by burning coal amounted to about $62 billion per year, a hidden cost of more than 3 cents for each kilowatt/hour of electricity produced. (The climate costs, it said, were harder to estimate, but probably ranged from 1/10th of a cent to 10 cents per kWh.) A more comprehensive analysis, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2011, put coal’s hidden costs even higher, at a mid-range estimate of nearly 18 cents per kWh, a stunning penalty on the public of between one third and one half a trillion dollars annually. link

June 2013: European coal pollution causes 22,300 premature deaths a year. Burning coal also costs companies and governments billions of pounds in disease treatment and lost working days. These figures come from a Stuttgart University research study of the health impacts of burning coal to produce energy. link

February 2011: Health costs of coal – $345 billion a year. A Harvard University researcher found the United States’ reliance on coal to generate electricity, costs the economy about $345 billion a year in hidden expenses not borne by miners or utilities, including health problems in mining communities and pollution around power plants, a study found. Those costs would effectively triple the price of electricity produced by coal-fired plants, which are prevalent in part due to their low cost of operation. The study said the costs could be as low as $175 billion or as high as $523 billion. link

September 2010: Deaths from US power plants – 13,000 each year. A Clean Air Task Force study quantifying the deaths and other health affects attributable to the fine particle pollution from power plants finds that over 13,000 deaths each year are attributable to U.S. power plants. While reducing in numbers, much more still needs to be done.
link to interactive map for states here
Clean Coal Debate

Scrubbers clean coal – but move pollutants from air to the water instead.
June 2008: ‘Scrubbers’ provide a method of removing up to a tonne of CO2 each day from the air – roughly the equivalent amount produced by a transatlantic flight. Each device would cost around £100,000. (February 2009 conversion = $ 145,000) Scientists have stressed their invention does not provide a magic solution to the problem of CO2 emissions. Millions of the devices would need to be produced to capture all global emissions, and the problem of disposing of the CO2 once it has been trapped still remains. Scientists have previously been skeptical about the feasibility of air-capture devices, due to the large amounts of energy required to run them. link

October 2009: Cleansing the air at the expense of waterways. In 2006 Allegheny Energy in Pennsylvania decided to install scrubbers to clean the plants air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky. But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June 2009, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north. link

To read more on Carbon Capture and Storage – link

 CTL – coal-to-liquid

According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) relying on coal-derived liquid as an alternative to oil-based fuels could nearly double global warming pollution for every gallon of transportation fuel that is produced and used. The total emissions rate for oil and gas fuels is about 27 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, counting both production and use, while the estimated total emissions from coal-derived fuel is more like 50 pounds of CO2 per gallon. link

November 2013: Investors now see coal as potentially risky investment. About $8 trillion of known coal reserves lie beneath the earth’s surface. The companies planning to mine and burn them are being targeted by a growing group of investors concerned with the greenhouse gases that will be made. Future curbs on CO2 emissions beyond 2020 may cut valuations on coal assets by as much as 44% according to HSBC Holdings. Globally, share prices of coal producers have slid over the past two years on declining demand for the fuel and fears of oversupply. link

Liquefied coal (CTL) an alternative to oil? The liquefaction of coal is one concept that is being given new life due to higher petroleum prices. Currently it is cost-prohibitive and environmentally unfriendly. But according to a new study from the MIT, as early as 2015 and without a solid climate policy, coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel may be economically viable in the US and China. CTL fuels have been in existence since the 1920s, and were used extensively by Germany in the 1940s. At the time, it produced about 90% of their national fuel needs. Then Middle Eastern oil became dirt cheap and CTL technology was largely abandoned. The only country that still uses it in a significant way is South Africa where it covers about 30% of their fuel needs.
The production of liquefied coal has a large carbon footprint, much larger than that of petroleum fuel production. One method of production is carbonization where the coal is coked at temperatures up to 1,380 F to produce coal tars rich in hydrocarbons. The coal tar is then further refined into fuels. The process produces a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions. If done without CCS technology, the life-cycle carbon footprint is about double that of crude oil. The study notes that the viability of CTL will by vary greatly on whether or not certain regions adopt prohibitive climate policies. If lower-carbon fuels are available, CTL would not be considered as an option. Liquefied coal may only be available in developing nations with lax environmental rules, and where low-carbon alternatives are not available. One of the study’s authors, John Reilly, stated, “Various climate proposals have very different impacts on the allowances of regional CO2 emissions, which in turn have quite distinct implications on the prospects for CTL conversion. If climate policies are enforced, world demand for petroleum products would decrease, the price of crude oil would fall, and coal-to-liquid fuels would be much less competitive.” link

 Coal Gasification

Gasification is very energy-intensive, requiring high-temperature air, steam or oxygen to react with the organic material. Gasification breaks down coal into its basic chemical constituents using high temperature and pressure which leads to the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. In addition, gasification is often inefficient, leaving behind significant amounts of solid waste. In theory coal gasification offers a versatile and clean way to convert coal into electricity. Because of this, carbon dioxide can be captured from a gas stream far more easily than from the smokestacks of a conventional coal plant. One significant challenge is the historically short lifespan of refractories, which are used to line and protect the inside of a gasifier. Currently, refractories have a lifespan of 12 to 16 months. The relining of a gasifier costs approximately $1 million and requires three to six weeks of downtime. link

December 2016: Underground coal gasification will not go ahead in UK. A highly polluting method of extracting gas has been effectively killed off in the UK after the government said it would not support the technology. Underground coal gasification (UCG), which involves injecting oxygen and steam underground to release gas from coal seams, would massively increase UK carbon emissions if exploited, according to a government-commissioned report. The review said the method would be 40-100% dirtier in terms of CO2 emissions than burning gas from the North Sea and imports. Exploiting all the UK’s coal reserves would release the equivalent of 24 years of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. link

December 2014: Coal gasification more expensive. There are currently two large IGCC power plants in the United States, Duke Energy’s operational 618MW Edwardsport plant in Indiana and Southern Company’s under-construction 582 MW Kemper County project in Mississippi. In June, Reuters reported that a number of power companies have scrapped their IGCC plants due to their high cost and the abundance of cheap natural gas, leaving Duke and Southern as the last two utilities standing. Southern Company’s Hall says that once Kemper is fully operational, the plant will capture 65% of the carbon produced, “making emissions better than a similarly sized natural gas generation plant.” Environmentalists warn, however, that statistics like these disguise a bleaker reality for IGCC. While the gasification process removes impurities from the coal and creates a cleaner-burning fuel, that process consumes power as well. Experts say IGCC plants with carbon capture capabilities like Kemper consume 20-30% more coal to make a kilowatt hour of electricity than traditional coal plants. link

 Coal Industry Lobbying and Subsidies


October 2017: Coal may become a scarce commodity. The idea of coal as a scarce commodity seems somewhat preposterous given it remains one of the most abundant mineral resources on the planet, but the coming years may see a deficit in seaborne markets for the polluting fuel. The current debate surrounding coal is generally one of how long it will continue to play a role in the world’s energy mix before it is replaced by cleaner alternatives, mainly renewables such as wind and solar. Coal’s reputation as a major contributor of man-made climate change has made it difficult for would-be coal miners to obtain financing. Even if a coal mine can secure money and regulatory approval, public opposition and protests can make life difficult, especially in more developed countries like Australia. link
  

June 2016: Fossil-fuel utilities not operating in free market.  “No one’s actually making money from coal-fired power plants in the United States right now,” said David Crane, former CEO of NRG Energy, one of America’s biggest power companies. According to Crane, one of the biggest hurdles to scaling up solar and other renewables is utilities’ reluctance. “They’ve built their business models on fossil fuels, and because of current grid design, consumers can’t go elsewhere. In short, the principles of the free market don’t apply to utilities. The problem with reforming utilities is there’s nothing you have to offer them that is better than what they have now.” link

US Subsidies to energy: According to The National Academy of Sciences the federal government invested $644 billion (in 2003 dollars) between 1950 and 2003 in efforts to promote and support energy development. Of this, only $60.6 billion or 18.7% went for R&D. It was dwarfed by tax incentives (43.7%) Also tax incentives comprised 87% of subsidies for natural gas. Federal market activities made up 75% of the subsidies for hydroelectric power. Tax incentives and R&D support each provided about one-third of the subsidies for coal. link

May 2009: Industry opposes clean energy. The Guardian recently ran an investigative piece finding that America’s oil, gas and coal industry “has increased its lobbying budget by 50%, with key players spending $44.5m in the first three months of this year (2009) in an intense effort to cut off support for Barack Obama’s plan to build a clean energy economy.” link