Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

from Jasmin Melvin:

“Clean” coal not just a pipe dream to GE exec

As the debate over "clean coal" rages on, General Electric is keen on offering up ideas to help coal transition from yesterday's polluter to a greener source of energy.
John Krenicki, the head of GE's energy infrastructure unit, says governments should invest in a dozen large-scale clean-coal demonstration plants in the United States, Europe, China and India. The plants would generate between 600-900 megawatts of power each and capture and sequester climate-changing greenhouse gases underground.
"We can change the game in coal for the next 100 years," he told Reuters in an interview.
Some environmental groups consider clean coal nothing more than a fairy tale. The technology to capture and store carbon in an environmentally safe way is commercially untested and not yet cost competitive, they say.
But the U.S. stimulus package provided $3.4 billion for fossil energy research and development. Some of these funds could resurrect the FutureGen pilot clean coal project that was abandoned last year.
President Barack Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- all former Illinois legislators who fought hard for Illinois-based FutureGen -- are now in positions to push clean coal forward.
The United States must show leadership in this area if it expects the rest of the world to do its part to combat climate change, according to Krenicki.
"We're pursuing (projects) in the European Union and we're pursuing them in China, but the answer from most countries is, 'We'd like to see the U.S. lead,'" Krenicki said.
A 600 MW clean coal plant would cost more than $2 billion to build, but it would also create thousands of jobs in states hit hard by the economic downturn, he said.
Krenicki said the United States seems "paralyzed" by trying to jump to strictly green and renewable electricity generation from its dependence on fossil fuels. Clean coal, he says, is a needed evolutionary step to get the country out of the current stalemate to a green future.
Krenicki noted that with technologies like a smart grid and wind turbines the results are quick and easy for voters to see. "You can put points on the board so I think it's politically acceptable," he said of such projects.
"Some of these other technologies, like cleaner coal, you're doing it for the next administration, even if you're two-term," he said.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid (GE's John Krenicki); Reuters (A miner working at a coal mine in China)

Environmental groups call “clean” coal a fairy tale


USA-COAL/MONTANAWhat do Bigfoot, a mermaid, an alien from outer space, and clean coal all have in common?
    None of them exist, according to several environmental groups.
    Organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation have launched a multi-million dollar media onslaught aimed at knocking down claims that power can be generated from coal now in an environmentally safe manner.                                                                                                                                                      The so called “reality” campaign features a television commercial with a man touting “clean coal technology” in a barren field and print ads with fictional creatures holding lumps of coal. The message of the ads is “In reality, there’s no such thing as clean coal.”
    How to handle America’s abundant coal supply is likely to remain a contentious issue as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration tackles climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    Coal-fired power plants generate about half of U.S. electricity supplies, and account for about 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — the biggest single industrial source.
    Obama has expressed support for the development of technology that would allow coal-burning power plants to trap and store carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Such technology is commercially untested and currently economically nonviable.
    Coal industry trade groups, such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, say that they are committed to carbon reduction strategies and coal power is necessary to provide Americans with affordable electricity.
    Until the carbon capture and storage technology is developed, however, environmentalists behind the Reality Coalition say on their website “coal will remain a major contributor to the climate crisis.”

–Ayesha Rascoe