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Pros And Cons Of Coal Energy

Pros and Cons of Coal

Coal is still used today as one of the main sources of energy for mankind mostly due to its low price even if we are aware of the fact that coal is a very dirty energy source.

This fossil fuel is responsible for the major air, soil and water pollution and environmental destruction on the planet.

Coal energy or coal power refers to the combustion of a fossil fuel called coal for heat generation that will be used to spin a turbine to produce electricity.

Coal is an extremely dirty source of energy that contaminates almost everything around it.

The pollution starts with the mines and the miners that are extracting the coal, the surrounding territory around the mine, the trucks that are used to transport the coal and the power stations burning coal.

Air pollution is released while burning coal to produce heat and energy.

The ash resulted during the burning process, which will sit on everything around the coal-fired power station (like a black blanket of toxic ash) will also contaminate the soil, the water sources, animals, birds and people.

What is Coal? – Definition

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock having a black or brownish-black color, which can be found in rock strata (layers of sedimentary rock, soil or igneous rock that was formed at the surface of the planet), in veins also called coal seams or layers of underground rock called coal beds.

Coal consists of mostly carbon along with other elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and oxygen.

Coal is a result of the biological and geological processes that turned the dead plants and animals that have died millions of years ago into a fossil fuel used for energy and heat generation.

The biological and geological processes that took millions of years have turned the dead plants and animals into peat (an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation and organic matter).

Peat was then turned into lignite (brown coal obtained from naturally compressed peat), and after that was turned into sub-bituminous coal.

In the next phase, it was turned into bituminous coal (soft black coal that contains a tar like substance called bitumen or asphalt), and finally was turned into anthracite.

Anthracite is hard black coal containing the highest concentration of carbon, which makes it the type of coal with the highest energy density excepting graphite.

What is Clean Coal Technology?

Clean coal technology refers to the capturing of the carbon emissions released during coal burning for heat and electricity production and storing the carbon emissions in the underground rock.

However, while burning coal, the harmful emissions released do not consist only of carbon emissions, toxic airborne pollutants and heavy metals.

Burning coal also releases nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (soot), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC), arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals.

Using the technology to capture and store the carbon emissions released while burning coal is working well, but is expensive to build or retrofit an old coal-fired power plant.

Capturing carbon emissions in the underground rock cannot solve the problem with the air pollution caused by burning coal.

Coal needs to be replaced by cleaner sources of power in order to reduce the level of air pollution generated on the planet by the coal-fired power stations, which leads to cardiovascular and lung diseases among the population.

Pros Of Coal Energy

There are a few advantages related to coal energy, mostly produced by its low price and its abundance on the planet.

1. Coal Represents an Abundant Resource of Energy on Planet Earth

The largest reserves of coal in the world are concentrated in the large and industrialized countries such as the U.S., China, Russia and India.

Some of the largest deposits of coal on the planet can be found in the U.S. (about 25% of the world reserves).

Despite the fact that the U.S. has the highest reserves of coal on the planet, in terms of energy consumption, coal is only on the third place in the country after oil and natural gas (source).

2. Coal is a Relatively Cheap Source of Power

The average cost of conventional energy produced from coal is around $100 per MWh (megawatt hour), which means that is one of the cheapest sources of power available on the planet.

This is possible because coal energy is subsidized by the government like many other sources of energy.

3. Coal Ensures a Continuous Source of Power

Using coal as fuel for power plants ensures a continuous source of energy that feeds the grid day and night as long as the coal supply is ensured to the power plants.

Today the grid receives energy produced by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, but also energy generated by renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc. especially when the energy demand is high.

4. Coal Can Be Converted into Liquid or Gas Forms to Burn Cleaner

Coal liquefaction is a process that converts coal into liquid hydrocarbons, which can be used as liquid fuels that will burn releasing less harmful emissions than coal.

Coal gasification is another process used to produce syngas.

Syngas is a mixture that consists mainly of carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H2), methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water vapours (H2O) and is obtained by mixing coal and water with air (or oxygen).

Syngas burns cleaner than conventional coal and the harmful emissions released while generating energy from syngas can be captured and delivered to oil fields to help with oil extraction.

5. Clean Coal Technology was Already Used in Several Countries

We know that China in its race to become a developed country is using huge reserves of coal to generate cheap energy that is required by the developing economy.

Burning such a large amount of coal produces a huge amount of air pollution in the country, which can be seen and felt mostly in the winter season when coal is used not only to generate electricity, but also for heating.

This is one of the reasons why China already used the clean coal technology that captures and stores the carbon emissions and stops them from being released into the atmosphere.

Similar technology was also used in Canada and the U.S. to lower the level of carbon emissions released by coal-fired power stations.

Actually, all the countries that heavily rely on coal as an energy source are interested to use the clean coal technology. A reason would be the massive pollution produced by coal all over the planet.

The clean coal technology tries to give a helping hand to coal to remain a major source of power on the planet (because is cheap), but without polluting the environment.

6. Is Cheaper to Build a Coal-Fired Power Plant Than a Nuclear or a Gas-Fired Power Plant

Energy sector specialists GHD and Solstice Development Services have estimated that building a 1,000 MW ultra-supercritical coal-power plant (USC) would cost about $2.2 billion.

The electricity produced by the power station would cost about $40-$78 per MWh, while the electricity produced by a gas-fired power plant would cost between $69 and $115 per MWh.

Cons Of Coal Energy

Coal as an energy source has much more disadvantages than other sources of power mostly due to the high level of pollution produced while burning.

1. Burning Coal for Energy Generation is a Major Source of Air Pollution on the Planet

Coal-fired power stations are a major source of air pollution on planet Earth due to the large volume of harmful emissions released while burning coal as an energy source.

These harmful emissions (including particulates) are causing acid rains and are producing cardiovascular and lung diseases among the population.

The heavy metals such as mercury and lead released by coal-fired power plants can develop neurological problems in humans.

2. Coal Represents a Finite Resource that is Nonrenewable

Coal like all the other fossil fuels available on the planet represent finite resources of energy.

This is a good thing because knowing that fossil fuels will be someday depleted, we have already started to search for cleaner sources of energy that will replace them in the future for a cleaner environment.

Estimates say that if we keep the current level of coal consumption on the planet, the coal reserves are enough for another 200 years (maybe we will find a way to generate power from coal without polluting the environment).

3. Coal Affects the Health of People and the Environment

A coal mine can consume an entire mountain, which will destroy the landscape and the environment on the mountain and in the surrounding area (the soil, the forest, the water, birds and animals).

Everyone that lives close to a coal mine or a coal-fired power station knows how harmful are these things to the health of people and the environment.

4. Coal Ash is a Major Environmental Problem

Ash or soot is another component of the air pollution produced while burning coal as an energy source.

Coal is simply so dirty that while burning will release harmful emissions, heavy metals, but also soot that can be seen with the naked eye.

If you live in an area close to a coal-fired power station that produces soot after a while you may suffer from respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and asthma.

The presence of soot is the cause of 1.6 million premature deaths produced by cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

5. Coal Mining destorys the Landscape

Coal mining is flattening the hills and the mountains by consuming the rock to extract the fossil resource.

Before flattening the hill, the forest is removed, which affects the local habitats and makes birds and animals to migrate to in areas that have remained wild.

By extending the mining activity we are both destroying the landscape and we are reducing the wildlife habitats.

coal mining

Coal mining destroys the landscape in Virginia, image source:

6. Coal Mining Emits Methane, which is a Greenhouse Gas

Coal mine methane (CMM) is a gas that can be found in the active, working mine sites.
In the coal mine, this gas is extracted from the air to improve safety and to stop the methane from being released into the atmosphere.

However, methane is removed from the coal mine, but from time to time it manages to escape outside, which will increase the volume of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and accelerate the effects of global warming and climate change.


Coal was the major energy source on the planet that developed the human society until now.

Being a heavy polluting and finite resource, coal does not qualify as an energy source of the future because the future will be dominated only by clean and renewable energy sources.

Once the battery technology evolves, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen and nuclear fusion, will starts dominating the energy mix of the planet.

Article written by:

I write about the renewable energy sector, electric cars and climate change issues. I love nature and good food, so I travel all over the world to see new places and meet new people. Magda Savin

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