Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Clean coal" is literal

Did you know that the much-vaunted "clean coal" means washing the coal before you burn it?

I'm not taking the piss; it's one method of removing impurities and thereby reducing atmospheric pollution while improving thermal efficiency. But it also captures perfectly the fact that "clean coal" is primarily a cosmetic solution, a PR job on a dirty technology to make it seem environmentally friendly, while leaving the real problem unsolved. Of the four technologies on the BBC's list, two (gasification and washing) are primarily about improving thermal efficiency, while one is about reducing air pollution (and its not so much new technology as old technology the coal industry has refused to install unless forced to by law). Only one - carbon capture - is about actually reducing the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere, and even if it works and the storage is sufficiently secure to be called "permanent" (at least on an atmospheric timescale), there's no willingness among its advocates to adopt the legislative mechanisms to force the coal industry to use it. And that ultimately is where the problem lies - not with technology (we already have the technology to massively reduce our carbon emissions), but with bringing it into use in the face of vested interests and entrenched industry lobbies. And until that problem is solved, "clean coal" will remain exactly what it sounds like: a whitewash.