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The search for clean coal

By Everald Compton - posted Monday, 5 August 2013


The coal industry is at a crisis point worldwide, and any fallout from its decline will impact heavily on the Australian economy.

Barack Obama has stated that his goal is to gradually shut-down every coal fired power station in the USA, and Green lobby groups worldwide are calling for the picketing of all new coal mines anywhere on the planet. Warren Buffett has said that decline of coal mining is gradual, but permanent.

Gas, more so than nuclear, is being promoted as the ideal alternate to totally replace coal and, to add to the problem, coal prices are steadily dropping to the point where it soon will become uneconomic to dig it up. Then, there is the issue of the relationship between miners and farmers, which is at a low ebb and becoming even more militant on both sides.

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All of this uncertainty has led to a tightening of the equity and debt markets for coal mines, with junior miners not having strong enough balance sheets to back their development capital requirements. This leads us to a dismal looking future for coal - so the industry is now slowly and reluctantly seeking ways to turn its fortunes around.

There are two main options in turning the tide: carbon capture technology and reducing costs of production so as to make coal more affordable on world energy markets.

 

Both are languishing in a lack of will. Too many miners and politicians believe, misguidedly, that as the population of the world is increasing rapidly and there is currently a seriously inadequate supply of energy to at least half of the existing population of developing nations, this will mean that coal will always be needed, as other forms of energy will never cope with the demand.

Such a complacent attitude is the equivalent of “Nero fiddling while Rome burned”.

So, let us take a positive look at both challenges, as it is possible to turn them into assets.

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Coal can retain its dominance as the world’s prime source of energy if it solves the issues relating to its perceived pollution of the atmosphere. This can be achieved by making coal clean by safely storing carbon.

Coal producers have invested moderately in this initiative in Australia in recent years through the Coal21 Fund, and governments have provided token support, but it is a long way from sufficient and shows a failure to take the matter seriously.

China, a massive user of coal power, has made the largest carbon capture investment by far and, interestingly, has employed many American scientists in their team - people frustrated by their own nation’s disinterest in the matter.

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This article was first published on Everald@Large.



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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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