The only reason China is investing in everything possible for their energy mix is because they need more energy then they can generate. Once their energy catches up to their demand they will be able to take a serious look at what energy sources are the most efficient and narrow their scope to what can be considered clean energy. Once their focus on quantity is turned to quality, hopefully they will still include fossil fuels. Really?
There is a needed mix for energy and it includes fossil from my perspective. I struggle to understand why the Obama Administration wants to throw coal under the bus. If we change the way we look at coal, it too can be a cleaner energy source. If we convert coal to electricity via electrochemical oxidation without burning it, we can generate twice the electricity with half the coal and manage the waste without a variety of toxins ever getting release into the atmosphere. We have managed nuclear waste for 60 years so we already know how to do it safely.
The concept is called Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC) and Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) has demonstrated this technology as far back as 2005. Why no one is interested in this solution stuns me just like the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) oversight for clean safe nuclear energy did fifty years ago. Natural gas and oil can also be used as a source for this DCFC process and the best part is that it already comes with an existing commercial electrical power generation infrastructure.
I’ve written a short paragraph about DCFC in a previous column but I strongly believe the Unites States Coal Industry needs to take a serious look at this potential technology. There are several reasons why I take this position and the first and most obvious is that the Coal Industry is on the chopping block with the latest EPA regulations. The new regulations have to do with clean air and water from the coal burning process to generate electricity. The EPA itself admits that the plan’s usefulness against the threat of climate change will be so small that it will be impossible to measure. If you eliminate the ‘burning of coal’, you eliminate the need for new regulations and many of the older regulations as well.
Coal is the cheapest source we have to generate electricity today. The fact that there is already a well established infrastructure for mining coal, it only makes business sense to leverage that infrastructure and only change that process which needs to be changed – the burn. At a fraction of the cost to build an equivalent nuclear power plant or renewable wind and solar farm, a new DCFC Converter can be built right next to the existing coal furnaces and the output fed directly into the electrical grid without having to go through a secondary steam turbine process. Wow! That would lower the cost of processing tremendously and make electricity generation from coal cheaper than coal. There is a little sarcasm in that last sentence because coal is the cost baseline for all other energy sources.
There is a book I read recently titled “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” and it addresses the abundance of what fossil fuel has contributed to our extraordinary life style. Even as an advocate of nuclear energy, I just don’t understand the reasoning behind those you want to shut down coal production when clean coal can be achieved if we wanted to commit the effort to it.