Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Coal on a Roll

The UK’s carbon emissions are rising. Ten years ago they began to decline because of the ‘Dash for Gas’. Coal-fired power stations were closed and new, clean gas stations took their place. Ten years on gas is more expensive and more and more of it has to be imported. Some say that we will be importing 80% of our needs as early as 2015.

The problem is that UK demand for gas continues to grow and so does world demand. With the power industry accounting for a third of the UK’s carbon emissions the choice of fuel for generators has a direct effect on whether the UK meets its targets. Coal is cheaper at present and government subsidies for desulphurization plant mitigate the cost to some extent. Clean coal requires investment to deal with carbon emissions as well as the sulphur and other pollutants. Powerfuel plc has recently entered into a joint venture with KRU, one of Russia’s largest coal producers To re-open Hatfield Colliery in South Yorkshire and build a clean coal generating station. The unit will produce gas from coal slurry, treat it for impurities and burn it to generate electricity which will be sold to occupants of a new business park planned for the site, and to the grid. By-products will be sold to the pharmaceutical industry.

Carbon sequestration – the storage of CO2 from conventional generation - in mines, spent oil wells or at the bottom of the sea; is theoretically possible but not yet in commercial operation. To make it a reality will take time and public money. With a five to ten year lead-time on major power stations we probably won’t have these systems in place in time to meet the targets. There may be a problem raising the money as well. It will all come from taxation, of course, but there’s still a great deal of resistance from the man in the street to spending money on going green!

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