At present the most abundant fossil fuel resource available in the United States is coal. Coal-based electric power generation represents about 50 percent of energy used and is the largest environmental pollution source. Coal burned in boilers generates an abundance of CO2, SOX (sulfur dioxide), NOX (nitrogen dioxide), arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, soot particles, and tons of coal ash, all of which pollute the atmosphere and water. At present 40 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions comes from coal-burning power plants.
Under the advertising slogan of Opportunity Returns, the coal industry in the United States has recently attempted to convey an unsubstantiated message to the public that a new clean coal gasification technology, assumed to be superclean, is on the horizon to provide safe energy for the next 250 years. Whatever the outcome of the promised technology, at present coal-fired electric power generation plant construction is on the rise and currently 120 power generation plants are under construction.
So-called clean coal integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology converts coal into synthetic gas, which is supposed to be as clean as natural gas and 10 percent more efficient when used to generate electricity. The technology is expected to increase plant power efficiency by 10 percent, produce 50 percent less solid waste, and reduce water pollution by 40 percent. Even with all these coal power energy production improvements, the technology will remain a major source of pollution.