Air quality control is the big issue among the world’s coal industries at the moment. The world’s environment protection authorities have spoken. Air pollution limits will have to be adhered to across the industry, by collieries, coal fired industries and at all stages of plant operations that employ coal. Otherwise, coal industries face the risk of contributing more to environmental pollution than they bargained for.
There is strong competition in the energy market from cleaner alternative fuels like methane. But the technologies are still too expensive to replace coal. The only solution for coal industries is therefore to employ clean coal technology.
According to a report by the International Energy Agency in 2012, coal’s share in worldwide use of energy fuels has continued to rise. The IEA estimates that by 2017, as much as 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent will be used worldwide.
But this optimistic report doesn’t take into account the fight put up by residents and activists in rallies across the world, complaining about the poor quality of air and water in their locality because of coal industry emissions. Environment authorities across the world are waking up to the air pollution that are created by coal mining and related industries.
How Coal Industries Affect Quality of Air, Health and the Environment
1. Coal dust is a problem wherever there are coal mines or wherever coal is transported through residential areas and cities. That and other particulate matter released during the different processes involving coal can cause a number of health problems, some of them fatal, if in excess.
Very small particulate matter carried by the air can enter our lungs and affect our health, sometimes leading to hospitalisation. If the people breathing in this air already have lung problems, they are going to bear the brunt of it. Other health problems include black lung disease (or coalworker’s pneumoconiosis) among miners and treatment plant workers, congestive heart failure, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis and reduce life expectancy. Young children are also very susceptible to chronic lung problems.
It has been found that coal trains passing through a city’s outskirts can raise particulate air pollution by as much as 120% in many cases. Also, in general, coal trains were found to cause much more pollution than passenger trains and freight trains.
2. Coal-fired power stations that use wet cooling towers release fog and drift that also carry this particulate matter. These are breathed in by nearby workers and residents and lead to additional lung problems.
3. Coal mines also release gases like methane, which is a potential greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
4. Burning coal in plants releases the greenhouse gas CO2, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and other toxic substances like sulphur nitrate and hydrogen cyanide. Haze created by these gases and particulate matter result in poor visibility.
Given such harmful effects of coal, coal industries are responsible for the protection of people who live nearby. Future coal industries should adapt to air quality standards. The good news is that global EPAs (Environment Protection Authority) have carried out numerous studies on the matter. They have come up with several solutions for coal industries who want to look forward to a safe and sustainable future for their operations. And other innovators in the field have come up with clean coal technologies that are going to be a big part of the future of coal industries.
How Future Coal Industries Are Going to Deal with Pollution with Clean Coal Technologies
• Existing technologies
Industries monitor particulate matter emissions according to techniques laid down in the USEPA AP42. When it comes to controlling these air emissions, hi-tech and cost-effective methods of washing and veneering are applied when preparing coal for transport and burning. This controls particulate emissions and unwanted minerals that are wind-borne or polluting when burnt. Low-nitrogen oxide burners create less of these oxides. Particulates are removed by electrostatic precipitators. Transport is carried out in covered wagons to contain particles.
Coal industries ideally should be located away from cities, residential communities and farmlands that are at a risk from air quality contamination and groundwater pollution from coal fly ash and coal sludge.
• Ambitious technologies we are to see in the future
The coal industries of the future will be able to catch and store carbon dioxide emissions at power plants in economically viable and effective ways. They will be able to separate CO2 from flue gases with a solvent at coal-fired plants and reuse it. Other methods like oxy-fuel combustion and pre-combustion capture will be able to completely separate CO2 from the fuel at different stages in affordable ways. Storage methods being explored include injecting the emissions into the earth or deep into oceanic waters. There are costs and benefits of both that still need much research before they are viable across the industry.
A large number of conscionable industries in the field have air quality monitors installed at loading stations and railheads. Some plants are already utilising existing clean coal technologies. Research and innovation is on to improve the technologies and make them available to every plant across the world. The future of sustainable coal industries and the environment depends on it.