Coal Power and Air Pollution

Discussion in 'Emissions' started by Carcus, Feb 3, 2013.

  1. Carcus

    Carcus Well-Known Member

    "Fifty years ago I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Leeds in the UK. It is not something I particularly dwell on, but the stories out of Beijing describing the air pollution in the Chinese capital this week brought back a memory. This story on CNN notes that visibility in Beijing has been cut to under 200 yards. Back in Leeds in December of 1962, the air quality had registered the highest levels of sulfur dioxide that had ever been recorded as air conditions generated smogs covering large parts of the country. What made it personal for me was that I lived about a mile from the University and had to walk there through the smog that covered the city. Despite it being daylight, there came a point where I could not see my hand with my arm outstreched (and I still vividly remember doing this)."

    ".....we are at a point where China will consume about half of the global supply of coal each year. "

    Tech Talk - Coal Power and Air Pollution
  2. ILAveo

    ILAveo Well-Known Member

    What I've read/heard is that a big problem in urban Chinese air pollution results from neither transportation nor power production. The widespread use of soft coal for home heating/cooking using traditional technology is very dirty and this is a major source of trouble in Beijing now just as it would have been in Leeds in 1962. I anticipate that growing affluence will lead to the substitution of cleaner fuels or electricity for coal in heating in China just as it did in the US and Britain. This is a case where increased coal powered electrical production for heating/cooking actually would likely lead to lower smog levels.
  3. herm

    herm Well-Known Member

    AEP to Shutter Three Coal Units in Legal Settlement With EPA

    American Electric Power Co. (AEP) said it will stop using coal to generate power at three plants, as part of a settlement with government regulators and environmental groups, a sign of continuing pressure on coal-heavy utilities.

    As part of the agreement, AEP, the largest U.S. coal user, said it will also further reduce sulfur-dioxide pollution from its other, existing coal plants nationwide, conforming this modified legal settlement to the requirements of pending regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    While the Columbus, Ohio-based company had previously announced aspects of the deal, the full scope of the control measures and closings is a sign of the pressure on power producers to cut or clean up coal use for electricity generation, environmental advocates said.

    “Across the country, the coal industry faces unprecedented setbacks as its share of electricity generation plummets, and the cost of coal continues to skyrocket,” Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement. “This agreement is only the latest sign of progress.”

    AEP said earlier this month that it expects to spend $4 billion to $5 billion on pollution controls at its coal-fueled plants through 2020, less than the $6 billion to $8 billion it had estimated in 2011. It also said its coal plants should generate about half of its power by decade’s end, down from 65 percent.
    1999 Lawsuit

    The company initially set the agreement with eight states, EPA and environmental groups in 2007 on a lawsuit filed in 1999. As part of a modification of the deal today, AEP is switching the control-technology at its Rockport plant in southern Indiana to the cheaper, less effective dry-sorbent injection from flue- gas desulfurization.

    In return for that change, AEP will develop more wind and solar power in Indiana and Michigan. And it will close or shift to natural-gas three units at existing coal plants: Tanners Creek Generating Station unit four in Indiana, the Muskingum River Power Plant unit five in Ohio and the Big Sandy Power Plant unit two in Kentucky.

    The company had previously planned to retrofit the Tanners Creek plant and continue burning coal there, Melissa McHenry, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. It had already announced that it planned to shutter or remodel into natural-gas units the other two, she said.
  4. Mountain Driver

    Mountain Driver Active Member

    Interesting topic.

    Long read if you're up for it:

    With drastic improvements in automotive combustion, most metropolitan areas in the US have seen dramatic improvement in air quality.

    Home heating changes also provided a huge improvement in air quality, Vail CO area is an example with many residents changing from wood burning to cleaner heating methods.

    Similar improvements also have occurred in the power generation industry. As in any industry, there are always some who are slower or reluctant to comply with needed improvements. But that is the exception rather than the rule.

    Most power generating facilities strive to comply with or exceed air quality requirements as there are financial incentives for doing so (and penalties for not). Many facilities use techniques to remove much or most of a given pollutant from their 'flue gas' stream.

    The waste coal burning facility I operate at combines limestone with the waste coal fuel. The calcium in the limestone combines with the sulfur in the coal to make gypsum (a drywall component) and remains a solid in the ash, which now is landfilled, top soiled, and reseeded as restored forest land.

    Otherwise left alone, these waste coal piles continue to contaminate ground water and streams.

    This 'reduction' in sulfur dioxide ("sox") is what does NOT go into the atmosphere. At my plant, we are required to maintain above 92% reduction of sulfur. Compared to days gone by, this is incredibly dramatic.

    As for oxides of nitrogen, NOX, the smog producing gas that sunlight affects, ammonia is be injected into the flue gas stream and at the right temperature (another operating requirement) nitrogen from the ammonia combines with nitrogen in the NOX, to produce nitrogen (which makes up 78% of the atmospheric air we breathe) and water vapor. This reduction is also mandated.

    These reductions then become classified as 'credits' which have value and can be bought and sold on the industry market. Therefore the financial incentive to comply with and better the epa mandates.

    As for particulate matter, soot, regulations require extreme reduction of what is allowed to pass to the atmosphere. The typical 'smoke stack' has no visible particulate matter emitting from the stack. If it is visible, that facility is likely in violation. At my facility, particulates in the 'PM 10' (smaller than 10 microns) category are captured and not allowed to the atmosphere.

    Unfortunately for industry, many negative ad campaigns show images of cooling water tower plumes (evaporating water vapor) emitting to the air. Rarely do such ads show a power plant 'smoke stack' because most of them have no visible emissions.

    These reductions are just a few of the features of what is termed 'clean coal technology'.

    Again, there's always the few who don't comply, these are what the negative ads show on tv.

    Considering fuel costs to make power, coal (2nd to nuclear) is by far the cheapest source of mass produced energy available. Mass produced is the key. We use LOTS of power. We don't have the ability to store these large quantities.

    The typical coal plant generates 2 Gigawatts / hour and operates at that rate for about 95% of the hours in a year (capacity factor). The typical wind turbine produces about 2 Megawatts ( 1/1000 of a gigawatt) at an approximate 30% capacity factor (the wind isn't always at just the right speed). Wind is a nice supplement, but not a suitable replacement. Nor is wind a profitable business. That's why after 20 years of taxpayer subsidy, the wind industry is still unable to stand on its own. We've seen what has happened to some solar initiatives subsidized by our tax dollar.

    A little known fact of the effect of potential coal power shutdowns in eastern Ohio where the negotiated (not speculated), negotiated price for electric power will be four fold what it is now, if the presently proposed restrictions on coal generated power go into effect. First Energy is the bulk supplier of electric power in that region. How can residents, grocery stores, industry and the like manage such a large increase in electric power? We may see soon enough. Other regions will soon be negotiating their 'futures' power market at what will likely be surprising rates.

    It's a very complex puzzle with multiple answers.

    Well, that's my $10 rant on coal.

  5. EdwinTheMagnificent

    EdwinTheMagnificent Legend In His Mind

    Gee, Bob , you do an awful lot of thinking about coal.
  6. Mountain Driver

    Mountain Driver Active Member


    Yeah, it's another obsession. Steam and power generation is my career. When I saw the emissions thread about coal I had to say something.

    12 hour rotating shifts; 33 years. Can't help but think about it. It's how I pay my mortgage. I hope I can keep my job long enough to pay off the house, and still be able to afford electricity.

    I'm all for alternate and supplemental power sources, but I'd prefer to see emerging industries that don't require my tax dollar to remain viable.

    We need another group like Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse, and Einstein to figure out a better way to generate power.

    btw: At work I talk up hybrid cars and hypermiling. Generates some interesting conversations. :D

    Last edited: Nov 2, 2013
  7. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Super Moderator Staff Member

    My feeling on coal is it's been damaged by a history of demanding cheap energy and fighting every atrempt to clean it up as a cost burden. If instead we think about it from the other direction and said we should have clean fuel that's as cheap as possible, it'd currently be seen as getting better and buying us more time.
  8. Mountain Driver

    Mountain Driver Active Member

    You hit the nail on the head. A positive publicity drive would be beneficial.

  9. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi All:

    With the cost of NG today, Coal appears to be behind the 8-ball on both a cost to produce and emissions basis. That is today and King Coal will come back with a vengeance. After all, we are shipping it to China to burn now...

  10. Mountain Driver

    Mountain Driver Active Member

    Exactly right Wayne. China is buying a lot of coal from the US. That is one of the factors that drove the price of coal higher (EPA regs the other big factor). China is mining their own coal (with great expense to human welfare and life) and back-filling with US coal for future use.

    Natural gas is now even more plentiful in the US. It's price bottomed out about a year and half ago is slowly rising as demand increases. (Being shipped to Europe too.) In the early 2000's many utilities began to switch to gas as a primary fuel and the price shot up (my home heating bill went crazy). Many of those utilities went back to coal. If utilities make the switch again, coal prices will drop as gas increases. Now it's mostly a matter of whether the proposed EPA regs will stick after the current administration moves on.

    btw: The gas industry is trying to soften European opinion on fracking, there's a lot of 'deep' gas over there too. Ukraine and Russia are running strong negative campaigns against fracking so they can continue to be the primary supplier of gas on that continent. ?familiar?

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2013
  11. NeilBlanchard

    NeilBlanchard Well-Known Member

  12. PaleMelanesian

    PaleMelanesian Beat the System Staff Member

    Yep. And my local coal plant burns dirty lignite and puts out the most mercury of any coal plant in the country. :( They're proposing shutting down Unit 3, which is a start, but I don't see any new generation coming to pick up the slack. We get screwed either way. Poison or $$$. :mad:
  13. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    European NG market is more rigid, though working to get more liquid. They tend to trade in long-range contracts instead of spot prices, which kept real NG prices high even when American spot prices were dirt cheap. Russia is, of course, a strong proponent of this system, it makes them tons of Rubles. What's more, their LNG capacity, like most places, is underdeveloped, and there is still much uncertainty over unlocking native NG supplies. Plus, Germany still has ample, easy-to-tap (read: cheap) coal reserves and got spooked so badly by Fukushima Dai-ichi that they are shuttering nuclear generation with little thought for what will replace it. The EU's eco-regs are imperfect as well. There is effectively a huge subsidy for burning wood pellets, for instance, as wood is technically classified as a renewable resource, and this is further skewing the market.

    Europe has much to learn and is of course preoccupied with its own recession and currency troubles. Tapping into NG would probably be a benefit for them, but I don't see much happening on this count in the next 5 years or so.
  14. Mountain Driver

    Mountain Driver Active Member

    Neil and Andrew make good points about mercury Hg release. No doubt about Hg, that stuff is bad news and it hangs around for a very long time.

    That's where the advantage of lower combustion temps comes in, (like in waste coal burning at my plant) and doesn't break open the 'Hg bond' and thereby minimizes and almost eliminates the Hg hazard. Our ash is considered non-toxic and safe for landfilling, topsoiling and replanting. We've restored many acres of forest land, and the streams are now thriving for fishing-safe to eat fishing. If regular coal burners could be somehow tweeked to operate at a lower temp, it would be helpful. (Tough to do and maintain efficiency.)

    Kinda like low Nox burners in boilers with flue gas recirc to lower flame temp and reduce Nox.

    Similar principle applies to automotive combustion. The Honda Insight for example: the 5 speed mt gets superior mpg at over 100, but with a 10.8 : 1 compression ratio it operates at a higher combustion temp and rates only a ULEV rating from the epa. The CVT model operates at 10.3 : 1 compression ratio (and lower combustion temp), has lower mpg (60's), but rates an SULEV epa rating (lower Nox).

    Interesting how it comes back around to our cars.


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