Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced Monday they found a way to make electricity from coal twice as environmentally friendly.
Coal gasification and fuel cell research could lead to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity produced, according to an abstract of the scientist’s work.
The technique extracts fuel from pulverized coal and uses an electrochemical reaction that generates electricity without burning the fuel. Since the fuel is not burned, less coal ash, CO2 and other air pollutants are produced. The technique would also make it easier to capture and sequester any CO2 or air pollutants produced.
“Finding a cleaner way of using that coal could be a significant step toward achieving carbon [dioxide]-emissions reductions while meeting the needs of a growing and increasingly industrialized world population,” says a press release from MIT’s news office published Monday. The research will be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Power Sources May 1.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates 71 percent of America’s CO2 emissions from electricity in 2015 were produced by coal, so the technique could result in huge reductions of emissions.
The International Energy Agency predicts the world will use even more coal power over the next few decades, despite anti-coal environmental regulations. The new technique could have enormous environmental benefits as large portions of the American and the world economy are still deeply dependent upon coal power.
A study published last April found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012 due to regulations and cheap natural gas. The “coal country” of Appalachia has been economically devastated and has very few job options for unemployed workers.
The situation for coal miners would likely get worse if President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan is implemented. The EIA predicts the plan would more than double the number of coal plants shutting down over the next five years. The shutdowns have a cascading effect, causing coal production to collapse even further, by more than 30 percent over the next decade.
Obama said coal miner opposition to the rules and regulations is “perfectly legitimate” during a December interview with National Public Radio.
The Obama administration offered a mere $14.5 million in federal funding for programs to retrain out-of-work coal miners, after imposing regulations that greatly hampered the American coal industry.
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