Renewable sources is not enough. Clean Coal - Energy of the near future
Today, coal produces more than 40% of the world's electricity, actually being the foundation of modern life. I>
In this article, we will focus on the current situation with the use of coal in power, why do not currently possible to abandon it, and the new technology of purification of coal combustion products and their distillation for later use. - Approx. interpreter. i>
Proof that good things do not always wrapped in a beautiful package can be found by taking the fast train from Beijing to Tianjin, and after having driven to the coast. Tianjin, the third largest city in China, was established as a seaport of Beijing on the Yellow Sea, but in recent years, the city has developed and made fit for that amount of land on its coast dirty that he actually began to move inland, but right the water, a new port, the life in which the activity is boiling. This hyper-industrial area, a clogged highway trucks, there are dozens of factories and commercial enterprises, each of which consists of a plurality of pipes, reactors, valves, ventilation vents, vascular plants to cracking, compressors, chimneys and distillation units. In short it is a landscape, to which James Cameron could seek inspiration while working on the ending of Terminator 2.
Among these structures, such as large and impersonal, like its neighbors, there is a building which is called GreenGen - giant state electricity company, built the Chinese Huaneng Group, together with a number of other companies, departments of the Chinese government and, not least, Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company from Missouri.
By Western standards GreenGen - secretive place. My application for an interview, and a trip there for weeks remained unanswered. When I finally decided to pay them a visit, the protection in place, not only denied me access, but refused to confirm the name of the company. Drove away from the entrance, I saw the blinds on one of the windows moved over and through them, for my departure watched someone's eyes. I think that behave - stupid, because GreenGen - enterprise worth billions, which extracts carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants, and through special channels moves it into underground storage, which is many miles from the place of his burning. Part of a new wave of businesses operating on coal, can be called the most consistent efforts of China, and perhaps the whole world, to combat climate change.
Most people rarely sees coal, so they have a habit imagined it as a relic of the 19th century, black mass lying in the streets of the Victorian era. But in fact, a piece of coal, which is found almost everywhere artifact of the 21st century, is as much a symbol of our time, like iPhone. Today, coal produces more than 40% of the world's electricity, actually being the foundation of modern life. This percentage is growing: in the past decade, coal has made a great contribution to the world supply of electricity than any other of its source.
Nowhere has the advantage of coal does not become so obvious as in the fastest growing, most populated region of the world: Asia, and particularly in China. Over the past couple of decades, China out of poverty several hundred million people. It is possible that this can be called the largest in the history of the rise in the level of welfare. This progress could not take place without industrialization, which, in turn, could not happen without coal. More than 75% of the electricity produced in China with its help, including power for the electronics giant factories where iPhones are going. More coal is spent on heating millions of homes, melting steel (China produces almost half the world's steel), roasting limestone for cement production (China produces almost half of the cement produced in the world). In his feverish quest for development, China burns as much coal as the rest of the world, and already this fact alone makes climatologists shudder.
China already emits a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases - more than any other country. According to estimates of the International Energy Agency, a research organization based in Paris and sponsored by 28 developed countries, Beijing will double the number of coal-fired plants by 2040. If this happens, the performance of China on the development of carbon dioxide will increase in two or even in three. "Coal is too cheap, it so much and he too is available through a reliable supplier to him something to replace - says analyst on fuel sources, John Dean, president of consulting firm JD Energy, - China is establishing the production of solar and wind energy are booming, but he will have to use more and more coal to meet growing demand. »
However, the dependence on coal - a problem not only in China. Countries around the world, even the European states, which advertise their performance in relation to the environment, understand that they are not able to wean themselves from coal. Germany, which is often praised for the fact that she stood under the banner of solar and wind energy, not only receives half of its energy from coal, but also, in 2013, opened up more coal plants than in any other year in the last two decades. In neighboring Poland, 86% of electricity is generated from coal. South Africa, Israel, Australia, Indonesia - they all depend on coal more than ever. United States, in some degree, is an exception: the share of coal in electricity generation in America has fallen from 49% in 2007 to 39% in 2013, to a large extent, due to start production of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing, which dramatically reduced prices of natural gas, a competing fuel. However, critics rightly point out that coal exports from the US reached record levels: the proportion of "red-blue-white" coal in Europe and Asia have never been so sharply is not increased. According to the Institute for the world's resources, a group of scientists conducting environmental studies, nearly 1200 new large coal enterprises will be built in 59 countries worldwide. As climate scientists warned in November, in a joint statement, the sharp increase in the use of coal leads to "the effects of which can only be described as catastrophic.»
This, in a certain way, brings me back to the inhospitable venture in Tianjin. GreenGen - one of the most important in the world attempts to develop a technology called carbon capture and storage, or CCS ( the collection and storage of carbon - approx. Interpreter i>). Essentially, CCS is very simple: Industry burn as much coal as before, but remove all contaminants. In addition to the purification of the soot is now standard practice in large factories will be separation of carbon dioxide and pumping it underground, where it can be stored for thousands of years.
Many researchers in the field of climate and energy believe that this technology is vital to avoid climate catastrophe, as it would allow worldwide continue to burn their most abundant resource, while dramatically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and soot. And though this will hardly speak often, but it can be even more important than any future technologies based on renewable sources, which could occur in the coming decades. Himself Steven Chu, a physicist, Nobel Prize winner, who was Minister of Energy of the USA until last year, called CCS essential. "I do not know how we can move forward without it," - said Chu.
Our dependence on coal is far from over. Despite the fact that renewable energy is waiting for the boom in the next decade, coal will remain the main source of energy in the world. I>
Sorry to do this step will be incredibly difficult. Despite the fact that the basic concepts are clear and understandable, the development of reliable, large-scale hardware in CCS will require a lot of time will be unpopular and breathtakingly expensive. Engineers will need to spare neither money nor time to rigorous calculations, finalization and dangerous experiments. In the end, the world will get a few thousand huge buildings that everyone will be an eyesore. At the same time, environmentalists oppose the technology, convinced that it is a sop to the coal industry at the expense of cleaner alternatives such as solar and wind energy sources.
As a consequence, CCS simultaneously recognized critical technology of the future and, at the same time is in a difficult situation. In 2008, at the summit of the Group of Eight, the energy ministers of the participating countries have recognized the key role of collecting and storing carbon and "strongly supported" the recommendations of the International Energy Agency to launch the "20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects" by 2010. However, the number of projects world actually decreases. The exception is China, where in the planning or production is ten large enterprises CCS.
China is probably well suited to the role of the leader as the most polluted place in the world coal. In addition to this, there are energy companies partially owned by the state and therefore they can not actively suing the government to stop the CCS program. In this case, do not wait for their fines, nor the Government, nor from lawyers shareholders, if the introduction of this expensive, experimental technology affect their profits. In any case, all others should be grateful to China for the fact that he comes into play, said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. We need someone to find a way to collect and store carbon dioxide on a large scale until it is too late.
"I do not know any other technologies that have been so crucial to the health of the planet and, at the same time, so bezinteresny for us - says Birol - China - seems to be the only place in the world where it grows.»
Coal can not be ignored h4> Coal - it MEGO, until you start to live with him. MEGO - old journalistic slang, stands for "my eyes glaze over" ( «skimmed - all clear." - Approx. Interpreter i>), which is called good, but too boring to read the story. In America, where coal is burned away from human eyes, readers tend to react to the word "coal" close the page.
However, people do not believe in Hebei coal MEGO, in any case, according to my impressions. Hebei - province, which surrounds Beijing. When capital has begun preparations for the 2008 Olympics, the government sent coal power plants and factories that pollute the city air beyond. For the most part, these companies have moved to Hebei. The province has many new jobs, but other than that, it was the dirtiest air in all of China.
Out of curiosity, I hired a taxi to get around the city of Tangshan, in Hebei, which is located in the north-east of Beijing. Visibility was about a quarter mile - a good day, as I told the driver. Smokescreen attached buildings blurred view of an old photograph. Most recently, Tangshan was relatively poor place. And now the city is located on the outskirts of a series of car dealerships class "lux»: BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, Lexus, Porsche. Most of the cars were in the room, and those that were exposed to the outside, covered with gray patina.
People say that coal everywhere. One truck driver with a proud tone of mockery in his voice, told me that we are there to breathe the worst air in the world. A graduate of the University of striped socks Hello Kitty noted that every time she wipes her face on the napkin is "something black". That "something", she said, called PM2.5. PM2.5 - technical jargon indicating a particle diameter less than 2.5 micrometer, capable, because of this, to settle in the lungs. Respiratory problems are typical, she said. "Suffer all, but the government will never tell you." I drove to one of metallurgy, who told me that the Tangshan plans to clean your air for 30-35 years. "We - the city of Industry, the city of coal," - he said.
Dirty air is a problem not only for the little-known places in remote areas of China. Face masks that help to filter pollution are becoming more commonplace in major cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. One company, called Vogmask, sells masks on which large companies can place their logo, using smog as an opportunity for branding. A few days before my trip to Tangshan, more than 10 million people in the northeastern city of Harbin, caught up in the coal pollution, schools were closed, people stayed home, highways were blocked, as the driver did not see the road. During his visit, I came upon a Beijing newspaper with colorful Commercials full page about the "first high-tech condominium project, which is implemented in real-time monitoring of the levels of PM2.5.»
According to a major research project, which involved nearly 500 scientists from 50 countries, air pollution annually producing 1.2 million premature deaths in China. Another study provides data that elimination of coal pollution in northern China will increase the average life expectancy there for almost five years. (For comparison: the elimination of cancer will increase the average life expectancy in the United States only for 3 years.) Last year, a group of 10 Chinese scientists considered that the decrease in the level of PM2.5 to the same period in the US, reduce mortality in major Chinese cities by the amount of 2 to 5 percent. In other words, we can say that in some places, the side effects of inhaled air are the cause of one in twenty deaths.
Learning about these figures provided by the Chinese are beginning to send their children to other countries. Not so secured to the Chinese, as the people with whom I spoke in Hebei, practically where to go for help. "What's good in these workplaces (Hebei), if they occur at the expense of our lives?" - Asks the woman in socks Hello Kitty.
Influence of coal evaporation in China extends far beyond Hebei. Smoke from coal power rises high and absorbs sunlight, warming the air. Black coal particles interact with clouds, helping them to accumulate heat and block solar radiation. Soot sits on glaciers and ice fields in small drops, covering them with a thin black film, and less sunlight is reflected off of the ice. Thus, the particles of coal dust actually help melt glaciers poles and expose Himalayas. Last year, an international team considered that emissions from black coal were the second largest contribution that they make to climate change. Danger of their course - only carbon dioxide emissions. Coal is the main source of both of them.
Burning coal is the source of more than 70% of the emissions of CO2, reducing emissions to impropriety of any other type of fuel used to generate electricity. Given the plans to build more than 1,200 additional coal plants in 59 countries, is a cloud of greenhouse gases can grow to 4 billion tons, an increase of almost 50% in 2020. I>
The easiest solution would be to immediately impose a ban on all 7000 coal plants that are currently working in the world, including nearly 600 of them are located in the USA. Make it very simple ... and impossible.
"Alternatives to the use of fossil fuels for energy is - says Barry Jones, General Manager, Global Institute of CCS, the association of international governmental organizations and energy companies located in Australia - but for some industrial processes associated with coal, there are no alternatives." As Examples include steel and cement, the basic building materials for any modern society. Most steel is melted in large blast furnaces, this requires that the coke, the solid fuel which is produced by burning coal in a medium with a reduced oxygen level. Being not only an energy source, coke literally holds the iron ore in the furnace and contributes to the chemical reactions that convert iron into steel. According to Vaclav Smyl, a researcher in the field of energy and the author of many works on the subject, producing a ton of steel requires almost a half-ton of coke. Coal is the main fuel for cement manufacturers.