Clean Coal Is Not Worth The Hassle

I think trains are cool, although I find them intimidating. When I was a child a train track ran just a few feet from my Dad’s tire store, situated a block from Main Street. As a little girl, when I heard the whistle, I’d go out outside to the front of the store and stand there, feel the ground move, my hair blowing from the passing machines on the track. I’d count the cars. I’d wave at the engineers and the guy who manned the caboose. They smiled and waved back. I’d go back in and report to my Dad how many cars, as if the information was very important. Huge and powerful, a mighty sight for a little child.

Anthony Watts, over at WattsUpWithThat, reports on “renewable” energy and the latest development in ……the steam engine. Yes, you read that right. The steam engine. Dreaming of bygone eras…it sounds so charming.

Here is Anthony’s take on bio-coal used for “renewable energy:”

Trending: The Facts about the Death of Justice Scalia are Quite Suspicious

“Here’s the strange part, they are converting an oil burning locomotive to run “biocoal”, and somehow they magically think the production process and the burning of it won’t produce any net CO2, saying the process is “carbon neutral”. I think they’ve left out some parts, like the energy needed to produce and transport the biocoal fuel in the first place. Excerpts from the MSNBC story:

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“A steam train built in 1937 is getting a makeover that will turn it into a “higher-speed” locomotive that runs on biocoal, a coal-like fuel made with woody plant material.
When finished, the train will be able chug along existing tracks at speeds up to 130 miles per hour without contributing to the greenhouse gas pollution blamed for global warming.”

The comments below that story are priceless, by the way.

The “renewable energy” used to fire up this steam engine is bio-coal made from……..trees. North Carolina has committed itself to a percentage of “renewable energy” by such and such a date. To that end, our State has made deals with the energy sector and the enviromentalist lobbies to create biomass energy. The problem with that is North Carolina’s abundance of trees is named as a source for this “renewable energy.” Trees are a fabulous renewable resource. The durable products we receive from trees are many and useful, furniture and paper being two of them. But those two industries have been vilified for years for using trees to create their products from trees. So now we find that environmentalists who have complained for years about the use of trees for industries of durable goods are, all of sudden, just fine with burning up trees for “renewable energy?” What goes on here?

The News and Observer reports,

State regulators today resolved one of the more nettlesome conundrums of green energy: Do forests and tree farms count as a renewable energy resource?
The N.C. Utilities Commission said that they do, clearing the way for power companies to harvest entire trees for wood chips to be used as a fuel in power plants. Wood and other biomass are expected to supply much of the alternative fuel that in the coming decades will offset the state’s heavy reliance on coal and nuclear power to generate electricity.
Duke Energy, the state’s biggest power company, is already blending wood chips with coal to meet its green energy mandates under the state’s 2007 energy law, which requires power companies to shift to alternative energy sources.
“This decision by the commission further reinforces that biomass, including woody biomass derived from whole trees, is a viable renewable resource for North Carolina,” said Duke spokesman Jason Walls.

Read more here:

Anthony Watts and the comments on his post proceed to explain how this bio-coal does nothing to reduce energy use. It takes energy to produce bio-coal, just like wind turbines take more energy to create than the energy they eventually produce. There is a downside to production of bio-coal. The trade off would be taking a living tree which provides a carbon sink to the atmosphere and then turning it into an energy source. Is this energy source any more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels?

Supply Problem:

“The Tennessee Valley Authority—a government-owned power utility—has been conducting biomass/coal cofiring tests for the past several decades, and also has an interest in torrefied pellets. Unfortunately, it has run into the same problem as UNC. “There doesn’t seem to be enough material, or supply,” says Daryl Williams, head of renewable energy at TVA. “We needed a couple thousand tons for test burns at our plant in north Alabama, and we had a few vendors promising that, but when it came down to it they couldn’t provide it.”

My layman’s view is that this is much more finite resource than any fossil fuel. There is only so much dead wood laying around to be gathered up. Once the dead wood is used up, in North Carolina there is nothing on the books inhibiting the harvesting of live whole trees to create bio-coal. Which makes me wonder where the environmentalists go from there. After they’ve successfully eliminated natural gas, then oil, and coal, and wind, solar and bio-coal turn out to be insufficient, what happens then?

Are some people so caught up in their own propaganda on “renewable energy,” that they can’t see the forest for the trees? Seriously.

Side notes: I’ve read quite a few positive articles on bio-coal, but find the information more hype for something unproven. It isn’t going to be the elixir of the Gods for fuel starvation policies. Bio-coal might make some sense when made from only scrap tree material or forest clean up methods. However, as I read further, I find that bio-coal costs 3 times more than bituminous coal That would mean either major subsidies or excessive energy prices for consumers. The article cites using downed trees from Hurricane Katrina, for instance. (Hurricane Hugo debris ended up being used for land reformation projects, filling in revines, creating more useable land space.) How often do hurricanes happen? There is no mention of transporting the downed tree material, no mention of the energy used to create bio-coal briquettes, no mention of any reduction of CO2, etc. Also, no mention of the reclamation of land that coal companies have been held to for decades.

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