By R. Bruce Striegler
Coal production internationally
• Coal is mined commercially in over 50 countries and used in over 70. Estimates show over 984 billion t of proven coal reserves worldwide, the largest in the U.S., Russia, China and India. This means that there is enough coal to last over 190 years.
• Coal provides 30.3 per cent of global primary energy needs and generates 42 per cent of the world’s electricity. In 2011 coal was the fastest growing form of energy outside renewables.
• Total world coal production reached a record level of 7,678 million tonnes in 2011, increasing by 6.6 per cent over 2010. Average annual growth rate of coal production since 1999 was 4.4 per cent.
• There are four types of coal:
Lignite: also referred to as brown coal, is the lowest rank of coal and used almost exclusively as fuel for electricity power generation.
Sub-‐bituminous coal: whose properties range from those of lignite to those of bituminous coal is used primarily as fuel for electricity power generation. This coal generally has a lower sulphur content than other types, which makes it attractive for use because it is cleaner burning.
Bituminous coal: is black and sometimes dark brown, often with well-‐defined bands of bright and dull material. It is used primarily as fuel in electricity power generation, with substantial quantities also used for heat and power applications in manufacturing and to make coke for steel making.
Anthracite coal: is a hard, glossy black coal that is used for home heating and steel making.
Canadian coal production
• Canadian coal production has been around 60 million tonnes over the last decade. However, in 2012 coal production increased to 67 million tonnes. Forty million tonnes was thermal coal and 28 was steel-‐making coal.
• Coal exports to Asia accounted for 73 per cent of total exports in 2012. Canada has an abundance of coal with
6.6 billion tonnes of recoverable coal reserves and an estimate of 100 years of future production.
• The majority of Canada’s coal comes from either strip mining or open pit. British Columbia has 10 mines, Alberta has nine, Saskatchewan has three and there are two coal mines in Nova Scotia.
• Canada has deposits of anthracite, bituminous, sub-‐ bituminous, and lignite. Anthracite is used primarily for residential and commercial space heating and also in steel-‐making. None of this coal is currently being produced in Canada, although a new mining project in British Columbia is in the planning stages. Canada has a number of
new coal mines on the horizon with 25 coal projects currently going through various governmental regulatory processes.
• Bituminous coal is used primarily to make coke for steel-‐making and as fuel for electric power generation, and heat and power applications in manufacturing. Sub-‐bituminous and lignite coals are used for electric power
• Coal-‐fired electricity generation represents about 13 per cent of the installed power generation capacity in Canada, and accounted for nearly 17 per cent of the electric energy produced in 2006. Coal-‐fired generation is not evenly distributed across Canada, being found predominantly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, all provinces where there is less hydro power available.
Coal’s environmental and health issues
A June 2013 report commissioned by Greenpeace International to study coal-‐fired power plants in Europe, researched and produced by Stuttgart University Institute for Energy Economics found that:
• Coal-‐fired power plants are the largest source of sulphur dioxide emissions, one of the key causes of particulate pollution. They also emit huge quantities of nitrogen oxides, as well as fine ash and soot particles, contribute to smog formation, and are the largest source of arsenic and mercury emissions in Europe. This is despite significant advances in end-‐of-‐pipe pollution controls, such as SO2 scrubbers and particulate filters. While coal-‐ fired power plants of today have lower emissions than those of last century, they continue to exact a heavy toll on the health of Europeans.
• Approximately 300 large coal-‐fired power plants are in operation in the European Union, producing a quarter of all electricity consumed. These power plants are responsible for over 70 per cent of the EU’s sulphur dioxide emissions and over 40 per cent of nitrogen oxide emissions from the power sector. They account for approximately half of all industrial mercury emissions, and a third of industrial arsenic emissions into the air. These coal-‐fired power plants are also responsible for almost a quarter of Europe’s CO2 emissions.
• In Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, it is estimated that more deaths are associated with air pollution from coal-‐fired power plants than with road traffic accidents. In Germany and the UK, coal-‐fired power stations are associated with almost as many deaths as road accidents. Overall, it is estimated that the deaths of approximately 22,000 people in the EU in 2010 are attributable to pollution from coal-‐fired power plants.
The Union of Concerned Scientists began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. It is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists with a goal of securing responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices and consumer choices.
• Its November 2012 report “Ripe for Retirement, The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants” identified a range of 153 to 353 coal-‐fired electric utility generating units in addition to 288 units already scheduled by their owners to close, all as good candidates due to age, pollution generation and economic costs of upgrading.
• A typical (500 megawatt) coal plant burns 1.4 million tonnes of coal each year. As of 2012, there were 572 operational coal plants in the U.S. with an average capacity of 547 megawatts.Each plant requires 40 railroad cars each day to supply 1.4 million tonnes of coal per year. That’s 14,600 railroad cars a year.
• Railroad locomotives, which rely on diesel fuel, emit nearly 1 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 52,000 tonnes of coarse and small particles in the United States. Coal dust blowing from coal trains contributes particulate matter to the air.
• Coal burned by power plants is typically stored onsite in uncovered piles. Dust blown from coal piles irritates the lungs and often settles on nearby houses and yards. Rainfall creates runoff from coal piles which contains pollutants that can contaminate land and water.
• Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. Some emissions can be significantly reduced with readily available pollution controls, but most U.S. coal plants have not installed these technologies. Comparisons of uncontrolled and emission-‐controlled substances:
Sulfur dioxide (SO2): Coal plants are the United States’ leading source of SO2. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 14,100 tonnes of SO2 per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including flue gas desulfurization (smokestack scrubbers), emits 7,000 tonnes of SO2 per year.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx): NOx pollution causes ground level ozone, or smog, which can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 10,300 tonnes of NOx per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including selective catalytic reduction technology, emits 3,300 tonnes of NOx per year.
Particulate matter: Particulate matter (also referred to as soot or fly ash) can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility. A typical uncontrolled plan emits 500 tonnes of small airborne particles each year. Baghouses installed inside coal plant smokestacks can capture as much as 99 per cent of the particulates.
Mercury: Coal plants are responsible for more than half of the U.S. human-‐caused emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-‐acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits approximately 170 pounds of mercury each year. Activated carbon injection technology (ACI) can reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 per cent when combined with baghouses. ACI technology is currently found on just 8 per cent of the U.S. coal fleet.
Facts and statistics complied from World Coal Association; Coal Association of Canada; Greenpeace International; Union of Concerned Scientists.