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Is Coal the Fuel of the Future?

February 25th, 2015

As the nation continues on a pathway towards energy independence, that venerable old standby — coal — is rumored to be on its way out as a source for power generation. But those stories about coal’s demise may actually be premature as engineers continue to devise new methods to reduce the emissions created when burning coal to generate electricity. Still, mining and transporting the commodity carries a large environmental cost.

Will engineering innovations allow coal to be the fuel of the future, or will its cheap cost cause developing nations to ignore the environmental risk? Let’s take a closer look.

Engineering a Cleaner Burning Coal?

A variety of engineering innovations are being leveraged with the hopes of reducing coal’s carbon footprint. Scrubbing emissions is one common technique used to lessen pollution from coal-fired power plants. This is very expensive, however, with a newer $5.2 billion power plant in Mississippi producing electricity at a cost of $6,800 per kilowatt. Simply put, this is the most expensive power plant ever built.

Other techniques like pulverization and gas extraction also require too much investment to make clean coal economically viable for most of the world.

Coal Still Expected to Be Used Decades from Now

Undaunted by the risks of climate change, much of the world relies heavily on coal as a power source, even as mining becomes a more difficult and expensive process. The Federal Energy Information Administration predicts that the United States will still generate 32 percent of its electricity from coal, which is only down 10 percent from today.

Even as other wealthy countries — including China — are hoping to ramp up their use of other energy sources, India and others on the African continent looking for the most inexpensive solution, are expected to increase their coal consumption over the next few decades. This creates an opportunity for engineers to make green energy options more feasible from an economic standpoint.

If improving the carbon footprint of power generation is something that inspires you, furthering a career in energy engineering makes sense. As one of the top engineering staffing companies in Washington State and a great source of Seattle engineering jobs, put The Talley Group on your contact list. Make it a point to meet with us as soon as you can!

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