Monday, February 09, 2009

The Monday morning blog: burning coal does not make you green

There is a belief amongst many Labour MPs that burning coal is somehow a green activity - in other words damage to the environment and carbon emissions can be avoided by burning coal. Labour's claim however is deeply flawed.

Basically, Labour MPs simply add the word "clean" to the words "coal technology" whenever they possibly can presumably in the hope that people will think burning coal is some kind of environment saving measure. Their claim however is not well founded. The term "clean coal" started some years ago when it was realised that coal burning was adding significantly to levels of acid rain. Nitrous and sulphurous oxides released by burning coal had to be scrubbed from emissions to stop their forming airborne acids when they dissolved in water droplets which then fell as rain. Carbon emissions were never reduced. Indeed, if anything, carbon emissions went up in net terms because resources had to be put into cutting acidic emissions.

What Labour MPs are hoping for is the technology of carbon capture will developed quickly to the point where it actually makes a significant impact on carbon emissions and is not prohibitively expensive. At the moment neither of these conditions is being met. At this point in time, industrial carbon capture has not even reached an embryonic stage as a solution to our emission problems. And furthermore, use of industrial carbon capture will significantly reduce the net output of energy from a given quantity of coal. As with removing acidic emissions, a large amount of energy will be required to remove the carbon emissions of coal burning. The end result is that even more coal will have to be burnt just to get the same energy output.

That said, carbon capture is something that should be pursued but, it should only be used as a short to medium term solution to our emission problems. Our ultimate goal has to be to ween ourselves off fossil fuels and nuclear as both leave a lasting and damaging environmental legacy. Both give us a short term boost in terms of the energy provided for us, but both leave subsequent generations and the planet generally with the problem of how to deal with the waste.

The solutions to our energy problems must start with energy efficiency. As an industrialised society we are enormously wasteful with the energy we have. We need to cut the waste by using energy more efficiently. Secondly, we need some lifestyle changes. These cannot be forced on people but we all need to understand the consequences of our actions and lifestyle choices. So, when replacing your car, do you really need that 4 litre gas guzzling 4 wheel drive or are you just buying it as a status symbol to show off to everyone when you take the kids to school or do the shopping at Tescos? (No doubt the 4 wheel drive comes in very useful to drive up the rugged peaks of Tesco car parks!)

The more effort we put into renewable energy, the less we need to put into carbon capture. This should be the next strand of energy policy. Nevertheless, as I mentioned previously, we will need some degree of carbon capture for some time to come as for some decades we will continue to be dependent of fossil fuels. We also need carbon capture to reduce the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to more natural levels, after centuries of deforrestation and industrialisation.

There is of course one natural form of carbon capture that does not need a major industrial complex to make sure it happens. Indeed, it is something I do myself. Growing trees captures and locks up atmospheric carbon. I have 40 sycamore saplings growing at the moment and I am about to plant 20 acorns. Yet even growing trees cannot address all out carbon emission problems. Firstly it is a slow process. It takes years for a tree to soak up one persons carbon emissions. Secondly, we will not have sufficient land to grow the trees to soak up the required amount of carbon. Whilst it is a reasonable response to the problem, it is not the total solution and it does not reduce the problem. Ultimately, we have to cut the amount of fossil carbon we emit.

So my message to Labour MPs in particular who claim that coal is a green fuel is, think again. Burning coal adds to the problem, and the solution to reducing emissions from coal is not yet available. Focus instead on energy efficiency and and renewables. Give up your coal addiction.

Meanwhile, over to David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon who wisely spends some of his time reading my blog! A pat on the back from JW. I like the EDM you have sponsored calling for much more effort to be put into using waste cooking oil as a fuel. This is all about making maximum use of the resources we have. But that said Dave, you need to kick the coal habit.

Sent via BlackBerry


Anonymous said...


What a load off crap you post.

Alex Salmond is the man to ask about all this. As he said in a speech a few years ago...Scotland has three fifths or MORE of the renewable energy in the whole of europe. This has been knowing about for MANY years. Very little has been done to use this to power for the UK and export/sell the great amount of renewable energy that the UK would have left over after it`s own needs were taken care off.

The reason this has not been used as always is...lies being told...corruption...bribery,etc,etc.

As for your post all it is trying to do is score points over David Anderson, Labour MP and New Labour...and that is pathetic.

Your post when you carry out an analysis is contradictory,you say...

"What Labour MPs are hoping for is the technology of carbon capture will developed quickly to the point where it actually makes a significant impact on carbon emissions and is not prohibitively expensive. At the moment neither of these conditions is being met. At this point in time, industrial carbon capture has not even reached an embryonic stage as a solution to our emission problems"

Yes.."AT THE MOMENT"...NOT to say it will be in the future.That is the point.Who is to BLAME for all this...give you one guess and it AIN`T old Labour...

Thatcher would know all about this...

This brought back memories of Thatcher standing outside No 10 saying this..."I have aginised over this decision but feel it is the best thing to do"...what she was referring to was the burning off 20/25 years supply of britains north sea gas into the atmosphere. She said it was too expensive to store it,(she wanted the money to give tax cuts to get re-elected). Norway on the other hand did spend the money to store their north sea gas and are now selling it to us.

Thatcher also closed down our world leading clean coal technology centre well she didn`t like miners and her friends in the nuclear industry didn`t want coal.

Came across this the other day...

"Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend recall that, in the early 1980s, this country led the world in clean coal technology, through the fluidised bed plant at Grimethorpe colliery power station in my constituency? That plant was funded by more than 20 countries, including America and Japan. Unfortunately, the facility was closed down by Mrs. Thatcher. Does he agree that this country continues to regret that decision to this day?"

"Huw Irranca-Davies: Indeed, and I am sure that all Members here will agree that we want to regain that lead in clean coal technology to take us forward through not only the next few years but the next few decades. The export potential is massive, but it will not happen without investment and prioritising clean coal and carbon abatement technology."

Be VERY interesting to find out which way the Lib Dems voted when Thatcher closed down the "fluidised bed plant at Grimethorpe colliery power station".

On this one dear Jonathan,David Anderson, Labour MP is WAY,WAY ahead of you and the Lib Dems.

Margaret said...

I witness an interesting coalition starting between the SNP and the BNP commencing. The fact that the BNP are more or less non existant north of the border is now speaking great volumes - they are clearly up to the top of their night clothes in bed with the SNP.
Can anyone advise me different?
Margaret Scott-Barlow

Anonymous said...

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