Coal – Implications and Consumption

Coal – Implications and Consumption


With temperatures rising and ice melting, the issue of energy consumption and production has gained more and more attention. In the United States we have focused our attention to the most prevalent forms of our energy consumption, fossil fuels. In this assignment I was assigned a specific fossil: coal.  With over fifty percent of the nations electricity coming from coal fire power plants, it is important to realize the implication behind the coal consumption process.

In today’s modern coal era, coal goes through several processes before it is transformed into electricity. The first step of the process begins at the mine, in which coal is extracted from seams. The ease of this process is dependent on the location of the seam, generally speaking the seam is located deep underground. For these circumstances, the coal is mined underground and then transported to the surface for exporting. In other cases the coal seams are close to surface and easily minable. After mining the coal is transported to its surrounding power plants by train car. Once received by the plant, the coal is placed into a large kiln, in the kiln the coal is super heated. Once heated, water is introduced to the hot coal and steam is formed.  The steam is then used to turn massive turbines that in turn produce electricity.

In theory coal fire power plants seem like a relatively low source of pollution, but in reality it is quite the opposite.  The burning of coal with today’s standard equipment is a dirty process. The majority of sulfur dioxide and mercury in the atmosphere can be attributed to the burning of coal, not to mention that coal pumps out as much “climate-warming carbon dioxide as America’s cars, trucks, buses, and planes combined” (Appenzeller, 2).  With all of these pollutants known and the connotations attached to them, one might ask why America continues to use coal as a means of energy. The answer to this question relies on the word “dependency”.  Having the largest coal reserve in the world, the United States sits on 250 years worth of coal. Having seen the consequences of being dependent on a foreign resource it is likely that the US will not only continue its use of coal, but slowly shift towards coal for all of its energy needs.  That is to say if alternative technologies are not found.

When looking at coal as a whole there were several things that I thought were pertinent to weighing the pros and cons of coal. The first was that coal is a relatively unregulated form of energy, considering that there are relatively no consequences for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, plant owners have no economical incentives for cleaning their coal. With that said, in the near future there is likely to be a carbon tax to force these plants to change. Furthermore, the article highlights the technology in place to potentially replace coal fire; coal gasification. Though relatively new technology, coal gasification is potentially the cleanest and most viable energy source available with our current technology.  With our reserves and this technology in place, it is my personal opinion that coal could be the savior to America’s energy crisis.


Works Cited

  • Appenzeller, Tim. “The High Cost of Cheap Coal.” The Coal Paradox 01 Mar 2006: 1-4.
  • Fackler, Martin. “As Oil Prices Rise, Nations Revive Coal Mining.” 22 May 200: 1-2.
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