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A New Use for Coal

Jeff Siegel

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted March 11, 2013

Last week, Fox News reported on coal-powered cars.

Here’s a snippet of that article:

New technological advances may make it possible in the near future to engineer a coal-powered car so clean that it produces nearly no polluting emissions, including carbon dioxide, experts tell

“There are many exciting possibilities for the clean coal technology,” says Liang-Shih Fan, a chemical engineer and director of Ohio State University’s Clean Coal Research Laboratory. “We found a way to release the heat from coal without burning it. This could be applicable for many industries.”

I won’t lie; as I read about the inner workings of this technology developed by Fan, I found it to be quite fascinating — and certainly exciting as a potential replacement for older, more pollutive coal-fired power plants…

However, some analysts have suggested auto experts are excited about using this “clean coal” technology to power cars and trucks. Gene Koprowski from Fox News wrote that these experts are even considering it as a possible rival to hybrid and electric cars.

But I don’t buy it.

Falling Short

Even if this particular “clean coal” technology does prove successful as an alternative transportation fuel, by the time it moves into commercial use, conventional hybrids will be delivering fuel economies in excess of 60 miles per gallon, and electric cars will regularly deliver 300 miles on a single charge.

As well, there will likely be more natural gas-powered vehicles on the road.

And conventional internal combustion vehicles will be significantly more fuel efficient than they are today.

I’m not saying it would be out of the question for this technology to be used as another alternative transportation fuel, but certainly it is decades behind natural gas and battery-powered vehicles, which are decades behind conventional internal combustion.

It is true: I’m a huge fan of technology, and I’m always interested in seeing what these guys come up with next.

But using this particular technology (at least, to power our cars and trucks) seems to fall short as far as the benefits it can offer.

Premature Evaluation

In Koprowski’s piece, he notes the use of this technology results in no greenhouse gases (which I assume is during the operation of the technology, and doesn’t include the production of the actual coal), with the only waste products being water and coal ash.

Oh, is that all?

Look, no form of power production is environmentally benign. From wind and solar to oil and coal, there is an environmental price to be paid for the production and consumption of these resources.

This is the inconvenient truth most overzealous treehuggers don’t want to admit — and it’s a reality fossil fuel apologists prefer to ignore.

But if this “clean coal” technology is being touted as some kind of environmentally-friendlier transportation fuel, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears. And I’ve seen no data on cost projections, either.

Quite frankly, from both an economic and environmental perspective, it’s just a bit too early to start cheering this thing on as some kind of game-changer in the world of transportation fuels…

Besides, the coal industry isn’t nearly as bad off as some would lead you to believe. It doesn’t need to rely on the hopes and dreams of a potential transportation fuel technology to survive.

Sure, dirt-cheap natural gas has put the kibosh on new coal-fired power plants in the United States (and helped shut down quite a few older ones, too). But rest assured the coal industry is simply going through a period of transition. It’s acclimating to an adjustment in the global energy economy that’s requiring more natural gas and renewables in the U.S. and more coal in China and India.

My friends, the latter nations will see to it that America’s coal industry does not die on the vine, and in fact, that it will come back quite strong in the coming years. It’s just that most of that coal will end up being sent overseas, where energy-starved emerging economies will pay top dollar.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we’ll continue to expand both our renewable energy production, and of course, our natural gas production. And this will likely be the trend well into the end of the decade.

Invest accordingly.

To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth…

Jeff Siegel Signature

Jeff Siegel

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Jeff is the founder and managing editor of Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor’s page.

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