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Coal CEO admits that ‘clean coal’ is a myth

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Climate Progress

While President Donald Trump continues to tout “clean” coal, coal baron Robert Murray says it’s just a fantasy.

“Carbon capture and sequestration does not work. It’s a pseudonym for ‘no coal,’” the CEO of Murray Energy, the country’s largest privately held coal-mining company, told E&E News.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), also called carbon capture and storage, is the process of trapping carbon dioxide from a power plant (during or after burning a hydrocarbon like coal) and then storing it permanently, usually underground.

It’s a technically challenging and expensive process — especially problematic in an era of cheap natural gas and renewable energy. Mississippi pulled the plug on one of the country’s biggest CCS efforts last month after the company spent billions on trying, and failing, to make it work.

While many clean energy analysts (including me) have long been dubious of CCS for economic, environmental, and practical reasons, the coal industry has touted “clean coal” as the long-term savior of the industry in a carbon-constrained world.

That’s why it’s so stunning a top coal CEO like Murray would now say that clean coal isn’t a real thing.

“It is neither practical nor economic, carbon capture and sequestration,” he said last week. “It is just cover for the politicians, both Republicans and Democrats that say, ‘Look what I did for coal,’ knowing all the time that it doesn’t help coal at all.”

And this is from a guy who is a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — which has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to persuade the public that clean coal is the solution to global warming.

If, as Murray says, CCS is “neither practical nor economic,” then coal clearly has no future. Two years ago the nations of the world agreed in Paris to bring global CO2 emissions down to zero in the second half of this century — the only way to avoid multiple, irreversible catastrophic climate impacts.

And if we won’t be using coal in the foreseeable future, then we need to start an orderly reduction of existing coal plants — in contrast to Murray’s support for team Trump’s plan to boost coal use. It makes little or no sense to keep building new coal plants, since they will have to be shuttered prematurely and replaced with carbon-free energy. All that wasted capital would be better spent on sustainable carbon-free sources from the start. This is precisely the calculus that more and more countries are starting to make today, including China.

The coal industry has pushed CCS and “clean coal” for years. But coal baron Murray just let the cat out of the bag: Clean coal is a fiction.

Dr. Joe Romm is Founding Editor of Climate Progress

Source: Climate ProgressReproduced with permission.  

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  • Ross Flint

    I suggest this be forwarded to all members of Federal Parliament, especially Coalition and Independent parliamentarians – can this be done Giles?

    • many of them already get RE, but can’t say things like that without permission from the right wing.

      • Ian

        It’s not that the politicians don’t know that CCS is BS, it’s that they think their voting public either don’t know it’s BS, or that the public are complicit in the known lie and willing to throw a few sacrificial dollars at it so that others will be fooled into thinking that they are gullible and thus can be excused from doing the wrong thing by burning coal in a carbon constrained world. In other words every one from king to pauper avoids the truth about coal burning by saying ” we didn’t know CCS can’t work so don’t blame us (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)”

  • Miles Harding

    For reasonable and honest people, there is limit to the assaults on their principles before they go rogue. It will be interesting to see how far off the coal highway he is willing to move.

    Robert Murray has a historic opportunity to re-invent himself and his company such that they are part of the solution and can lead rather than being forced into the sustainable world we are entering.

  • phred01

    Some months back Michael Bloomberg described sequestration / clean coal as BS

    • Calamity_Jean

      But he’s not the owner of a coal mining company. Bloomberg has no financial motivation to lie about this. Robert Murray does.

    • solarguy

      Well he wasn’t wrong, but too many just don’t get it!

  • David McKay

    I don’t see this decreasing the spin around CCS & so called HELE plants, as these are the main remaining talking points for the MCA & politicians.

  • Radbug

    A Rankine Cycle power plant is the best way to dispose of unrecyclable plastics, like polystyrene.

  • jm

    It seems to me that Robert Murray is actually saying that as clean coal can’t happen, coal really needs help, like rescinding prohibitions on pollution and getting rid of the legislation which recognizes endangerment.

    There is no yielding here at all. No opening for reinvention.

    • Megs

      I think you are right. Rather than fight silly he wants to fight full on.

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    • Calamity_Jean

      spam flag

  • Tbone Agitation

    All this is assuming carbon dioxide is a pollutant. If you think it is, plant some trees – that will do more to help the planet than endless bickering.

    • Rafael Valentino

      the properties of carbon dioxide have been well known for a century or so and nobody is questioning them

      • Tbone Agitation

        Yes, I agree it is plant food.

        • Rafael Valentino

          sure, like water is, but too much and it drowns things, theres a point it becomes a so called pollutant. you don’t need to be a so called liberal to understand basic stuff like this

        • Joe

          Tboner, we humans just like the plants also breathe in the CO2. Perhaps we should all sit in a room and pump it full of CO2 and see how that works out, yes.

          • RHfactor

            Plastic bags for conservatards who failed science and are in control of all worlds future to practice what they preach and test how great carbon dioxide is for you but placing plastic bag overhead. It’ll be good plants alright after the break down. Seeing you could give a fuck about us — well right back atcha bitch.

    • brentwilliams2

      “All this is assuming carbon dioxide is a pollutant.” It is well accepted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide has side affects, many of which are negative to our current society. The bickering that must end is from those that still somehow believe that climate change is not happening.

      • Harland

        If liberals really thought that man made climate change is the biggest existential threat to the world they would not be in favor of people from the lowest carbon per capita producing countries immigrating to the the highest carbon per capita producing countries. Why would anyone turn a low energy consuming person, and their future children, into high energy consuming ones? My god, the future of the world is at stake!

    • Michael Pulsford

      Anything can be a pollutant in the wrong place or in the wrong quantities. Seawater is as natural as you get, but it’s a pollutant if you start dumping it in a city’s water supply. And salt is tasty, and essential to life, but if you start consuming an ever-increasing amount of it you’ll eventually mess yourself up.

      And if one of the key things driving the increase in CO2 is policy, and if that policy is there because it suits powerful players to have it there, then a bit of bickering is going to be required to change it, no?

      • solarguy

        Mate bickering at the least!

    • Richard_Pietrasz

      The term clean coal was misused by both the author and the coal exec. Properly using the term, clean coal would mean the only exhaust would be CO2 and perps H2O, but not compounds with mercury, oxides of sulfer, nitrogen, and other pollutants.

      Carbon neutral is a separate issue, and extremely expensive to achieve, because if the CO2 is converted back to O2 plus other carbon compounds, the energy put into the process is a large fraction of the energy yielded from the coal in the first place, probably a fraction greater than one, making the total process a net consumer of energy, notba net extractor.

  • Instead of Sequestration, Mr Murray has to help us prove our Carbon Capture Utilization System technology. We use an agricultural grown plant to produce an amine, along with an earth based product, we transform the CO2 into useful saleable products.
    The DOE has over the past 10 years been so focused at CCS because they knew it was too expensive, and their goal was to kill the coal industry, not help it.
    We can remove the CO2 for less than $15 per ton. CCS is at $75 plus.

    • Matt Clara

      If they are trying to kill it, it’s because helping the whip and buggy companies to survive a little longer is no kindness. One of these coal barons should identify the best location out of their holdings to build a green energy factory making solar panels, or wind turbines, or whatever. Invest some of those millions into training the former mine employees to run the factories, and you’ll be well on your way to preserving your energy empire instead of looking at the end of the line.

    • Alex Hromas

      CCS plants cost about 2 times as much as normal thermal plant and use about 30% of their output to power the carbon capture process and we have not started costing the sequestration. With energy costs from renewables becoming competitive with conventional thermal we do not need coal barons or economic professors to tell us that CCS is a dead horse. The parrot is not sleeping its dead as put by John Cleese

  • farticustheelder

    Natural Gas is not as cheap as it was. Coal electricity generation in 1Q17 gained market share at the expense of NG because gas prices rose to $3. It looks to me like NG gets squeezed out of the electricity generating business pretty soon.

  • Monkeywrench542 .

    do not worry, man made global warming is a myth too.

    • Calamity_Jean

      If you are being sarcastic, you need to put ( /s ) at the end of your comment. Otherwise people will think you believe this nonsense.

      • Harland

        “Earth Day” 1970 Kenneth Watt, ecologist: “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

        “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the
        same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change….There will be more police cars….[since] you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”
        Dr. James Hansen, 1988, in an interview with author Rob Reiss. Reiss asked how the
        greenhouse effect was likely to affect the neighborhood below Hansen’s office in NYC in the next 20 years.

        June 30, 1989, Associated Press: U.N. OFFICIAL PREDICTS DISASTER, SAYS GREENHOUSE EFFECT COULD WIPE SOME NATIONS OFF MAP– entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos,” said Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program. He added that governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect.

        “Winters with strong frost and lots of snow like we had 20 years ago will cease to exist at our latitudes.” Mojib Latif, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, 1 April 2000.

        January 2000 Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund commenting (in a NY Times interview) on the mild winters in New York City: “But it does not take a scientist to size up the effects of snowless winters on the children too young
        to remember the record-setting blizzards of 1996. For them, the pleasures of sledding and snowball fights are as out-of-date as hoop-rolling, and the delight of a snow day off from school is unknown.”

      • Monkeywrench542 .

        not being sarcastic at all, evidence is forged, faked and lied about and all you liberals can do is spout off about the crap that you love

        • RHfactor

          Why they should nuke you and your thinking for being a planetary existential threat – a fucking terrorist to all of the future. Fucktards like you will be served notice monkeyfuck

          • Monkeywrench542 .

            yep, you know when a liberal lost an argument, when they start the cussing and wishing for your death.

        • MrPoletski

          And let me guess, Trump won the popular vote and Obama is a Kenyan muslim right?

          • Monkeywrench542 .

            none of that has been proven, although you can say he is half kenyan as his father was born there, and even if obama acts like a muslim, it does not mean that he truly is.

  • Diarmuid

    As a species we consume energy. The production of energy to generate electricity and for transport, building, consumables and food leaves a massive carbon foot print. When we begin to construct our energy usage around overall efficiency we will take the first step on a very long road to reducing the harm we are now doing to our planet. Energy production decisions are not necessarily dependant on the individual fuels to obtain the best outcome but it is more about looking at the overall system and having a long term plan. This plan will incorporate a multitude of power sources including some coal but currently we are shutting the existing system down without having a clue about the overall performance of the system. We are not dealing with reducing our overall appetite for energy as every year overall world energy consumption continues to increase at an ever faster rate because of the increase in our desire world wide for consumables.

  • Jim Smith

    And electric cars and such are clean? No. Are they cleaner? Overall likely maybe?

  • Monkeywrench542 .

    I look at it this way. the planet Earth is overdue for an ice age. if an ice age started tomorrow, we would have liberals galore screaming for more global warming.

    • cactuspie

      Predictions mean nothing.

      • Monkeywrench542 .

        neither does the democrat/liberal party, they mean nothing at all either.

        • cactuspie

          No argument from me. Both parties are corrupt corpwhores. If you think either one is looking out for us you haven’t been paying attention for a very long time.

  • Apocalypso

    Two men walk into a (steel) bar… sorry, a coal mine… and one says to the other; “What are you having?”
    Answer: “I’m having what you thought you were having.”