No matter how you clean it up, coal is 60% to 91% carbon. High grade coal basicly is carbon. Burning it takes oxygen out of the air, binds it with the carbon, and produces carbon dioxide (or worse), the biggest greenhouse gas.
And in 100% of the power plants on earth, that carbon goes into the air, trapping heat, and changing the climate. The ads mention carbon sequestering, capturing it before it goes into the air. But that has never, ever, been done in a commercial power plant. Maybe someday.
But right now, coal use is climbing world wide. Why? It's cheap, old tech, easy to build, easy to run. And the world wants more electricity.
What are the choices?
- Conservation: We could be a lot more efficient, so we could get more use with less electricity. In any plan, this has to happen. However, this won't be enough. Around the world people are getting their first refrigerators. People want a decent life, and are going to get one, coal or no coal.
- Oil: Oil has less carbon than coal, about 40% in gasoline, with the rest as hydrogen. That's still a lot of carbon, and it's way more expensive than coal.
- Natural gas: The cleanest of the fossil fuels is about 20% carbon and the rest is hydrogen. The infrastructure for natural gas is similar (but easier) to what pure hydrogen would need. Where I live in Oregon, the Sierra Club, (I am a member) has been lobbying against building a port to import natural gas by sea. In my mind this is counter productive, and will result in more coal power.
- Hydrogen. 0% carbon, all hydrogen. Expensive (now), and will leak out of the tiniest holes. Burning hydrogen creates water. It can also generate electricity in fuel cell. The infrastructure is not built yet. It would be like the natural gas infrastructure. Pipelines and tanker ships.
- Nuclear fission. Produces 0% carbon. Expensive and very toxic wastes. The US gets 20% of its electricity from nuclear power, and most of the reactors are nearing the end of their lifetime. The cheapest replacement for them is more coal plants.
- Solar. 0% carbon. Tiny but growing. Expensive, and requires a back up (coal?) plant for when the sun is not shinning.
- Wind. 0% carbon. Bigger and less expensive than Solar, but still tiny. Shares the same need of a back up plant, which could be coal, for when the winds die down.
- Hydroelectric. 0% carbon. Requires big dams that flood large areas and disturb fisheries and habitats. Most of the good (as in they make a lot of electricity) dam sites already have dams on them.