Clean Coal: Reality
Is it Really Clean?
According to the Department of Energy, The
Clean Coal Power
Initiative, which President George W. Bush introduced, “is providing
government co-financing for new coal technologies that can help
utilities meet the President’s Clear Skies Initiative to cut sulfur,
nitrogen, and mercury pollutants from power plants by nearly 70 percent
by the year 2018.”  One study that was released by the EPA
in July 2006 showed that IGCC technology can reduce the amount of
sulfur dioxide emitted by around 60%, which a significant improvement
over pulverized coal plants, but does not eliminate sulfur dioxide
emissions altogether. The Clean Coal Power Initiative does
address the issue of carbon emissions from coal-burning plants, which
the public has become very concerned about in relation to climate
change, and thus, in many cases has become opposed to new coal-fired
power plants. Nor does clean coal technology, no matter how “clean” it
becomes, eliminate controversies over “dirty” methods of retrieving
coal, such as mining andmountaintop removal (see
Figure 4), and the issues associated with them. These new “clean coal”
plants also still produce problems of water pollution, requiring large
evaporation ponds with sludge and heavily polluted water.
new plants may be cleaner than coal has been in the past, but is
society really ready to accept coal as clean when it still produces
massive amounts of carbon dioxide, requires extraction techniques that
harm the environment and people, and still cause significant
Clean Coal Technologies
There are many different technologies that are considered part of
“clean coal.” However, one of the major and most-focused on
technologies is the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)
coal-fired power plant. These plants combine crushed coal with oxygen
and water in a high pressure gasifier, which creates “syngas,” a
combustible fuel. IGCC plants create very little emissions of sulfur
dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and particulates; they also use less
water and create less solid waste. However, while their
concentrated carbon dioxide emissions make the compound easier to
capture and store, the carbon emissions are not reduced. IGCC
technology is much “cleaner” in some respects, due to its lower
emissions of sulfur dioxide (60% less than pulverized coal plants),
nitrogen oxides, mercury, and particulates compared to conventional
pulverized-coal power plants, in which coal is crushed and burned in a
boiler, producing steam to power a turbine in order to create
electricity. However, there are downsides to this new
The plants are still not as reliable as traditional pulverized coal
plants, and due to their implementation of complex technology, they are
more complex to operate. Furthermore, can IGCC technology
be considered “clean” if its carbon emissions are not reduced? Even
under optimal conditions, such as in IGCC plants, coal still produces
more than two times the amount of carbon dioxide than natural gas per
unit of electricity, and the plants are still not as clean as other
power sources such as wind and solar. In order for coal
more “clean” in that sense, IGCC technology must be paired with Carbon
Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, or carbon sequestration.
Sequestration would take carbon emitted by the coal industry and
sequester, or store, it in pumped-out oil and gas fields, in the
shallow oceans, or in geological reserves such as underground coal
seams or saline reservoirs, thousands of meters underground. The
captured carbon could also be utilized in other types of energy
production; it could also be injected into the ground in order to push
more oil and natural gas to the surface. CCS technology
currently commercially available, and it is unknown whether it could
actually be implemented on a large, cost-effective scale.
of the technology have also said that storage has the potential to be
very dangerous in the case of leaks. Carbon is currently
in three locations: one in Canada, on in Algeria, and one under the
North Sea. However, there is currently no facility that
captures and stores carbon dioxide.
“Clean Coal Technology and the
President’s Clean Coal Power Initiative.” Fossil Energy.
Department of Energy.
 Pelley, Janet. “Is EPA blocking clean coal technology?” Environmental Science
and Technology. 1 January 2007. Pg. 11-12.
 LaPlaca, Nancy. “The Myth of Clean Coal: Integrated Gasification
Combined Cycle (IGCC) Power Plants.” Energy Justice Network.
 “Clean Coal Technology: How it Works.” BBC News.
28 November 2008. 25 April 2008.
 Snell, Marilyn Berlin. “Can Coal be Clean?: New ways to burn a
dirty fuel.” Sierra
Magazine. January/February 2007. Accessed on April 9,
Edwards, Steven. “IGCC Technology: A Promising – and Complex-
Solution.” World Energy. V8. N3. 2008.
 Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate
Fears.” The New York Times. 23 April 2008.
 Biello, David. “ ‘Clean’ Coal Power Plant Canceled – Hydrogen
Economy, Too.” Scientific
American. 6 February 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
Loder, Asjylyn. “ ‘Clean Coal?’ What about the carbon?” Tampabay.com.
St. Petersburg Times. 29 September 2007. Accessed 25 April 2007.
“Is Clean Coal Feasible?” The Futurist. Novermber-December 2007. Pg. 8-9
Figure 4: Chart on Mountaintop Removal
For more information on how clean coal technologies visit:
Figure 1: A coal-fired power plant