the way we live

clean coal


coming promptly on the heels of our discussion about ending our addiction to oil came an announcement from the federal government that they had chosen a site in illinois for the first “clean coal” power plant to be built (at a cost of $1.8 billion, with a “b”).  no amount of architectural refinement (as seen above) can disguise the fact that this is still a coal power plant.  why are we insisting on pursuing such backwards technology?  proponents of the new “clean coal” technology argue that it is pollution free; that statement is a serious misguided diagnosis.  it is true, coal at this plant will not be burned in the way it traditionally would, rather it under goes a process called gasification in which energy is harvested from the coal without burning it.  unfortunately, this still produces enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  the “solution” is carbon capture and sequestration.  the carbon capture process is exactly what it sounds like: capture all the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and put it somewhere else.  where?  pump it under ground.  i see a few obvious problems with this.  for starters the entire principle hinges on the fact that you can construct a volume that is totally impermeable to gas, meaning that it wont leak out into the environment anyways (and it must essentially last forever).  second, if you store enough of the carbon dioxide, under pressure as the plan calls for, aren’t we in fact creating a ticking time bomb underground?  it’s spent nuclear fuel all over again.  in 50, 100, 200 years (if it makes it that long) what is to stop someone from inadvertently digging into this storage space and releasing the gas, or worse causing an explosion while releasing the gas.  of course none of this even addresses the issue of harvesting the coal to begin with, a process that is already incredible harmful to the environment (then of course the transportation of the coal, etc.).  instead, why don’t we stop investing in technology that is barely a stop gap (if at all) and start employing the alternative technologies that are already available while pursuing braver, bolder, truly innovative technologies that are whole-heartedly sustainable, not just in name only.  why don’t we increase wind farms, wave harvesting, solar farms, or geothermal technologies on the scale of $1.8 billion and see how many homes we can power and how much farther innovation advances.  practically speaking of course, it makes exponentially more sense to generate much smaller amounts of power where it will actually be used as a large percentage of usable power is lost in “transportation/delivery.”  this is why we must rethink how we design our buildings.  we must increase passive heating and cooling technologies by way of materials, construction, and design.  we must utilize these new innovative technologies to maximize the resources made available on site: rain water catchment, greywater systems, daylighting, building integrated photovoltaics or wind turbines just to name the tip of the iceberg.  enough with the antiquated technologies that got us in this catastrophic climate mess.  let’s use our minds, treat this like a design problem, and move forward.

19 December 2007 - Posted by | green, society, urban planning

1 Comment »

  1. While I agree with you completely, I think the motive behind clean coal is this: The U.S. has a lot of coal. It’s one fossil fuel we don’t have to import, and that domestic supply is very appealing to lawmakers. Unfortunately, it’s just another iteration of the “old” way of thinking about energy.

    Comment by greendweller | 20 December 2007 | Reply

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