The dangers of coal have decreased with advancements in clean coal technologies (CCTs).
These technologies minimise the release of pollutants, such as oxides of sulphur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx), and particulate and trace elements, such as mercury, lead and arsenic.
CCTs are a range of technological options which improve the environmental performance of coal.
For example, converting coal to gas through integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), which uses up to 40 per cent less water and up to 90 per cent of mercury emissions can be captured, compared to conventional coal plants. Emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are reduced up to 99 per cent, and particulate emissions are reduced to almost zero (World Coal Institute).
This process is clean and enables high efficiency of electricity generation. The reason is that, using IIGCC, coal is not combusted directly, but reacted with oxygen and steam to produce a synthesis gas composed mainly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This synthesis gas is cleaned of impurities and then burnt in a gas turbine to generate electricity.
The world is also exploring hydrogen-based energy systems in which hydrogen is used to produce electricity from gas turbines and fuel cells. Fuel cells use electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen, instead of a combustion process, to produce electricity. Hydrogen does not occur naturally in usable quantities but we can use fossil fuels to manufacture it.
Coal, with the biggest and most widespread reserves of any fossil fuel, is a primary candidate to provide hydrogen and, through coal gasification, this process can generate the increasing global demand of electricity. Europe, Japan, the USA, and New Zealand all have active hydrogen programmes and are considering coal as an option to produce hydrogen.
Energy is vital to our national development and we should consider coal with an open mind.