Why do we need to use this resource?
Many countries such as Poland, South Africa and Australia rely heavily on coal, each getting more than 80 percent of its energy from coal-fired power stations. This is bad enough, but despite coal’s devastating effects on our climate, governments are still approving plans for new coal fired power plants around the globe.
What specific impacts does the harvesting/use/extraction of this resource create?
• Coal is the single biggest source of climate changing CO2 pollution.
• Coal mining destroys ecosystems, releases toxic levels of minerals and gasses into our water and air (including the potent greenhouse gas methane) and exposes miners and those who live nearby to coal dust and other toxins. Thousands of people die in mine collapses around the world every year.
• Beside CO2, coal combustion releases millions of tons of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air, which create acid rain and smog
• Burning coal creates millions of tonnes of waste products that contain toxic levels of heavy metals and minerals. These mostly end up in landfill sites or impoundments, and pose a threat to our health and environment.
What are we doing and what can we do to make the use of this resource more sustainable in the future?
· Recently there have been new and improved technologies – underground coal gasification and fuel cells. Rather than having the coal dug out, oxygen and water would be pumped down the mine to create a white-hot chemical reaction that turned the coal into gas. This process would not only generate electricity more efficiently than wind, nuclear or conventional gas and coal power plants, but would enable the capture and storage of more than 99 per cent of the CO2 contained in the fuel before it escaped into the atmosphere.
· The construction of such a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility means that environmental objections to using coal as a fuel would be dramatically diluted.