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Environmental Issues
Going Green

By Alan J Hartley

Coal As A New Source Of Energy.




40 years ago, when I was a teenager, we had a lecture at school about our dwindling oil and coal reserves. We were told that within one generation we would have to abandon oil as a fuel source, because we only had an estimated 20 – 30 years supply of oil left. Coal reserves were being depleted, but there was no need to worry as we, in the UK, had in excess of 2 - 300 years coal still to be mined. Bearing in mind that there were less cars then and many more coal fired power stations, the estimates proved to be totally meaningless.

Coal reserves are not even considered these days as most of our mines have been closed with far fewer people burning coal at home for heating after the “Clean Air Act.” Logs and woodchip burners are currently in vogue as a sources of renewable combustible fuel in domestic heating burners and have largely replaced coal for those that want a fire, but don’t want gas. Many of our coal-fired power stations have been closed, because of the pollution aspect of burning coal with only a few rebuilt using new technology enabling them to comply with the new tighter emissions regulations. We are told that burning British Coal was always a problem, because of its high Sulphur content and much of the coal used in power stations always had to be imported. Although, with new technology and methods of burning fuels more efficiently, it does seem to be a huge natural energy resource in the UK that could be tapped once again if we needed to.

Another big complaint about the scores of mines in the UK, was that they caused subsidence as many were under built up areas and busy roads. However, since they have virtually all been abandoned and become derelict they are still causing subsidence as many of them fill up with water due to the cessation of their pump drainage maintenance and resulting collapse with the internal failing of their neglected supporting structures. The mines employed a huge number of workers in tough jobs and their closure caused massive unemployment problems for many towns. At the time, many of the older workers were glad for the redundancy deals and relief from the brutal work, but of course in the past thirty years or so, machinery and technology generally, has advanced enormously, which would make mining a different occupation these days.

As regards the worldwide dwindling oil resources, the constantly rising fuel prices are encouraging new methods of extracting oil from other sources seem more realistic for general production. It has been possible to produce oil from coal for many years and indeed there has been such a commercial plant to make petrochemical fuels in North America for some years.

We are told that Gas resources are also dwindling fast and new discoveries are getting harder to find, but it wasn’t so long ago that we used to make Coal Gas for domestic cooking and heating in the earlier part of last century, before it was realised that we could use North Sea Gas which was just flared off for years at first. Coal Gas was highly poisonous and led to many deaths from its toxicity, but with new chemical techniques it ought to be possible to remove the poisonous elements from it.

Admittedly, if we start mining and burning coal again here in the UK, we are using up the Earths natural resources and burning fossil fuels is certainly not “Green,” but with the current economic downturn and its associated unemployment problems, coal mining may well be one solution to many of our problems and not just energy ones, that is worth considering.



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Alan J Hartley