Tag Archives: coal

Life After Oil and Gas – NYTimes.com

24 Mar

As renewable energy gets cheaper and machines and buildings become more energy efficient, a number of countries that two decades ago ran on a fuel mix much like America’s are successfully dialing down their fossil fuel habits. Thirteen countries got more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, and many are aiming still higher.

Could we? Should we?

A National Research Council report released last week concluded that the United States could halve by 2030 the oil used in cars and trucks compared with 2005 levels by improving the efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles and by relying more on cars that use alternative power sources, like electric batteries and biofuels.

via Life After Oil and Gas – NYTimes.com.


Tribes Add Powerful Voice Against Northwest Coal Plan – NYTimes.com

12 Oct

And as history has demonstrated over and over, especially in this part of the nation, from protecting fish habitats to removing dams, a tribal-environmental alliance goes far beyond good public relations. The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.

Lummi tribal leaders recently burned a mock million-dollar check in a ceremonial statement that money could never buy their cooperation. Last month, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a regional congress of more than 50 tribes in seven states, passed a resolution demanding a collective environmental impact statement for the proposed ports, rather than project-by-project statements, which federal regulators have suggested.

via Tribes Add Powerful Voice Against Northwest Coal Plan – NYTimes.com.

The Huge Shift in Our Energy System That’s Happening Right Now in 1 Chart – Alexis Madrigal – The Atlantic

18 Jul

As long as Americans have made electricity, they’ve gotten more of it from coal than from any fuel. While petroleum and natural gas have played huge roles in our energy system, coal’s been responsible for more than 65 percent of the fossil-fuel electricity we’ve generated for most of the last 50 years. (And for big chunks of the 20th century, we made half of all the electricity in this country by burning coal.)

But natural gas is in the process of overtaking coal as the top fuel in America — and fast. The energy system, as you can see in the chart, tends to change slowly. But just look at the last three years in the chart below. That’s the kind of growth that you tend to see in the high tech industry, not energy. That’s an honest-to-goodness hockey stick.

via The Huge Shift in Our Energy System That’s Happening Right Now in 1 Chart – Alexis Madrigal – The Atlantic.

Big Coal Kills a Town

13 Apr

Which is what Big Coal does. Kills mountains and towns and poisons the rivers and the skies.

Dan Barry of The New York Times tells the story of Lindytown West Virginia:

But the coal that helped to create Lindytown also destroyed it. Here was the church; here was its steeple; now it’s all gone, along with its people. Gone, too, are the surrounding mountaintops. To mine the soft rock that we burn to help power our light bulbs, our laptops, our way of life, heavy equipment has stripped away the trees, the soil, the rock — what coal companies call the “overburden.”

Now, the faint, mechanical beeps and grinds from above are all that disturb the Lindytown quiet, save for the occasional, seam-splintering blast.

Wouldn’t you know it, Massy Energy’s been at work.



My Father Cleaned Coal for a Living

1 Apr

A Systems Story

by Bill Benzon

My father was trained as a chemical engineer. He spent his entire career with Bethlehem Mines, the mining division of the Bethlehem Steel Company. He designed coal-cleaning plants, at least the system for actually cleaning the coal.

This is a story about the last plant that he designed, one designed to keep the air clean while at the same time reducing the cost of running and maintaining the plant. It was a beautiful and elegant solution to a nasty engineering problem. I offer it as a study in systems thinking – though my father probably never used that phrase.

Cleaning Coal

Before coal can be turned into coke (for subsequent use as a fuel in steel-making) it must be cleaned of impurities, mostly sulfur. Most cleaning techniques take advantage of the fact that the rocks containing the impurities are denser than coal. So, you crush the raw coal until all the particles are less than, say, an eighth of an inch. Then you float the crushed coal in some medium – generally, but not always, water – and take advantage of the fact that the rock sinks faster than the coal. There are several things you can do, as I recall, but whichever technique you use, you end up with wet coal when you’re done.

Wet coal is considerably heavier than dry coal. As railroads charge by the pound, it costs more to ship wet coal than dry. And, in the winter, a hopper car filled with wet coal at the mine – coal is generally cleaned at the mine, not at the steel plant – is likely to be filled with frozen coal when you get to the plant. How do you empty that mess from the cars?

So, you need to dry the coal.

The old drying techniques – drying ovens – leaves you with a lot of coal dust in the air. A lot. And coal dust is nasty stuff. You don’t want it spewing out of chimneys anywhere in your neighborhood. Or near your farm.

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Megawatt Coal Plants Don't Bring Jobs Home

31 Mar

Utilities sell coal plants by promising jobs in compensation for the environmental hit. A study of “the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009” indicates that more jobs were promised than were delivered. Writing in The New York Times, Tom Zeller, Jr. reports that “only a little over half, or 56 percent of every 1,000 jobs projected, appeared to be actually created as a result of the coal plants’ coming online. And in four of the six counties, the projects delivered on just over a quarter of the jobs projected.”

How’s the song go? “Sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” And now you don’t even get a job burning the 16 tons. Have we sold our soul to the company store forever?