Sergey Belozerov, CCO, EcoCarbon
Coal phase-out: from climate protection to trade protectionism
Nowadays an increasing number of countries forced by environmental organizations are announcing their plans to abandon coal. Fossil fuels, primarily coal, and greenhouse gases generated during its combustion have been declared the main cause of global warming and a serious threat to human existence.
Europe plans to become the first climate-neutral union of countries in the world by 2050. The European Green Deal will require a radical change in all sectors of the European economy and, above all, the decarbonization of the energy sector. All European countries are going to abandon coal generation by 2035-2038.
What is on the agenda is to increase the share of renewables and to develop the use of hydrogen energy. The outlined plans require huge financial investments estimated at 1 trillion euros over the next 10 years. Those funds are supposed to be raised by the so-called Carbon border adjustment mechanism – a tax on goods from countries that do not share the EU goals and do not take similar measures to combat CO2 emissions, and where the production chain includes the generation of electricity from fossil fuels.
The EU green policy is aimed at trade protectionism, not climate protection. It seems that the primary task of the new EU green policy is not a concern for the future of the planet, but a pretty cold calculation to maintain a high standard of living and to increase the competitiveness of their own economies at the expense of resource-rich countries with a cheaper labour. All stories and speculations about the threats of global warming and the harm of fossil fuels look like competent, well-elaborated PR activities.
Myths and reality of climate changes
Fluctuations in temperature and concentration of greenhouse gases took place many times in the history of our planet. Those fluctuations have been confirmed by scientific research of various sediments, ice cores, etc. In addition, chronicles and paintings preserved evidence of various temperature cycles in Europe in the 10th-19th centuries, long before a modern industrial society has been formed and the intensive use of fossil fuels has been started.
Eco-coal is a coal with low content of harmful elements and detrimental impurities. Scientists have researched the Medieval Warm Period in the Northern Hemisphere in the 10th-13th centuries. During this period with mild winters and relatively warm and even weather, Europe witnessed the growth of population, the expansion of agricultural land and an increase in yields. Specifically, grain crops in Norway were harvested as far as the Arctic Circle; chronicles mention winemaking in the south of Scotland during this time. Because of the glaciers shrinkage, the Vikings permanently populated Iceland (870) and Greenland, which was covered with vegetation when it was first discovered by the Norse Vikings led by Eric the Red (986). Consequently, the island got its name with a meaning “Green Land”.
Then came Little Ice Age which lasted over 14th—19th centuries. A stable snow cover began to form in England starting from the fall of 1313, and in France – from the fall of 1314, for the first time since the middle of the 9th century. Heavy rains and unusually harsh winters killed crops and froze fruit orchards in England, Scotland, Northern France and Germany. Scotland and Northern Germany stopped growing grapes and producing wine.
The average annual temperature in the 17th century in Europe reached multi-year lows. Greenland – the “Green Land” – started to be covered with glaciers, and Viking settlements disappeared from the island. Folks were sledging along the Thames and the Danube. The Moskva River was a safe site for holding fairs for half a year. Even the southern seas were frozen. Severe and long winters became common occurrence in the south of Europe, the Bosphorus was repeatedly frozen within the period from 1621 till 1669.
The last temperature rise cycle began around 1700, and it could not be a matter of industrial impact in those days. The CO2 emissions rise caused by human activities began around 1850 (Figure 1). Thus, the temperature rise within the period from 1700 to 1850 could in no way be attributed to the man impact. A closer look to timespan from 1850 onwards reveals no positive correlation between CO2 emissions deriving from human activity and temperature rise during the period under review. The periods of growth in temperature were alternated with the periods of its decline despite the continuous increase in CO2 concentration. Furthermore, the period of growth in 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 have the same slope, which means the same rate of warming, while the increase in human-made CO2 concentration is not constant and significantly accelerates only after 1945.
Figure 1. Air temperature vs CO2 emissions.
After stumbling up against temperature’s inconvenient dependence on CO2, or, rather, lack thereof, the so-called climate establishment chose to make some adjustments to inconvenient “historical data.” In order to do so, over the course of the last several years, the moment of the start of the latest warming cycle was gradually reconsidered – it was moved to 1910 in order to explain the increase in temperature by an increase in CO2 concentration, the temperature peak during the Medieval Warm Period disappeared and the temperatures of the last century were raised exaggeratedly high. As a result, the famous hockey stick graph, demonstrating a sharp increase in temperature since the beginning of the 20th century at the same time as an increase of CO2, came to be. Later, in 2006, geophysicist David Deming announced at a meeting of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that in workplace correspondence a leading climatologist insinuated the following to him word for word: “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.”
The press often circulates the opinion that scientists have reached a «consensus» on the issue of global warming. However, this is far from the case. Scientists from China, Russia, and India have repeatedly cited scientific evidence that there is no clear evidence linking human-induced increases in CO2 concentration to global warming. Western climate scholars are often forced to keep pace with the policies of government-funded institutions. Dissenters at best don’t get promoted, at worst they get fired. Propaganda sounds at the highest level of government. It is enough to recall Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, in which a politician convinces viewers that temperature increases are directly correlated with, and even dependent on, rising CO2 concentrations. Except to mention that changes in temperature occur substantially earlier than corresponding changes in CO2 concentration, i.e. the increase in temperature or warming leads to an increase in the concentration of CO2, rather than vice versa.
Presently, we measure temperature with land thermometers, but their data are hardly comparable with those used to estimate the temperature centuries ago. As a result it is not possible to assert that the current temperature is higher or even the same than that in the Medieval Warm Period.
We are still missing unbiased data and impartial in-depth analysis of the subject. Actually all contemporary data on climate are censored and intentionally misinterpreted just in order to mislead people and allow the climate establishment to make their views on applied technologies dominating.
We are now experiencing a phase of global warming that is likely to revert to a cooling phase in a few decades. Many scientists have suggested that there is no convincing scientific evidence that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases may cause catastrophic warming of the Earth and the climate destruction in the foreseeable future. For example, the ocean, which covers 4/5 of the planet’s surface, emits almost 100 times as much carbon into the atmosphere every year as all industry on Earth combined. The reason for that is changes in temperature on the planet. However, despite a number of facts that contradict the theory of anthropogenic impact on global warming, the issue has long since moved from the scientific field to the political field and has become an instrument of economic warfare.
Unbiased approach to energy mix
This is not to say, of course, that there is no need to develop the use of renewable energy and to improve energy technologies. You just have to understand that every energy technology, whether coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, solar or wind, has both advantages and disadvantages. It is important to find the right balance in their use in each case.
For example, natural gas makes up a similar amount of greenhouse gas emissions as coal, if we take into account all gas losses happening from the moment of its production till combustion rather than the amount of CO2 emitted during combustion only.
The output of hydropower plants depends on annual precipitation, which varies from year to year. Solar and wind power plants cannot provide sustainable and continuous energy supply.
The world needs coal. To ensure its failure-free operation, accumulators are required, which means energy generation from renewables needs functional backup power systems, no matter what the weather is.
A striking example of consequences due to blind trust in renewables is rolling power outages in California during an extreme heatwave in August 2020. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has been warning for many years that growing dependence on unreliable renewables may lead to interruptions with power supply. Currently, renewables provide for 36% of power needs for California, and the Democratic Party is intent on increasing it up to 60% and 100% by 2030 and 2045 respectively. Along with increasing the role of renewables California was abandoning gas-fueled power plants, shut down one of two nuclear power stations and made up the power deficiency by importing energy from neighboring states which were also developing renewables and closing coal-fired power plants. As a result, when in 2020 the US west Coast faced the heatwave, the capacity of renewables was not enough to handle sudden increase in load. The neighboring states were not able to share energy as they were also lacking it, while traditional and reliable coal-fired plants were shut down. Therefore, to supply the state with enough hydroelectricity, they had to urgently open Glen Canyon Dam floodgates on the Colorado River. They were lucky that storage reservoirs held enough water after somewhat snowy winter.
Developing battery production technologies will definitely help address the issue with the disrupted wind and solar power generation, but it will cost additional money and time.
According to calculations one 85 kWh Tesla’s battery needs 25-50 tonnes of various ores to be mined and processed in order to extract copper, nickel, cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements. In addition, it takes 10-18 MWh of energy to build a battery from extracted materials. It means it will emit at least 15-20 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere under the condition that 50% of renewables are in use. Moreover, one battery contains the same amount of energy as 30 kg of coal! As a result, the process of mining necessary materials and building a battery will produce much more greenhouse gases than if we generated the same amount of energy from a pile of coal, to say nothing of the cost.
According to Energy Information Administration capital expenses on the construction of a solar power plant with the battery system are at least 50% higher than in case of a new gas-fueled power plant. Besides, any gas or coal-fueled power plant has a longer lifecycle (30+ years) compared to battery life (10+ years).
Also, used batteries, solar panels and turbines should be utilized after the expiration date. For example, based on IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) and IEA (International Energy Agency) calculations, up to 8 million tonnes of photovoltaics waste may accumulate globally by 2030, and by 2050 the volumes of end-of-life solar panels will have increased up to 60-78 million tonnes.
Many more industries pose a significantly greater threat to the environment than coal sector. These words are provided not against the development of renewable energy technologies. But it should be borne in mind that there is a huge number of much more hazardous industries than coal mining, such as, for example, plastic production. Every year from 8 to 13 million tonnes of plastic waste gets in the World ocean. Just 570 thousand tonnes of plastic are accumulated in the Mediterranean Sea annually. Based on WWF calculations, it equals to 33800 plastic bottles getting in the sea, while every bottle will decompose during at least 500 years. Disposable diapers are known to decompose from 250 to 500 years. However, few of modern parents want to get the experience of earlier generations in repeated use of diapers. And how many million tonnes of additional medical waste will have to be recycled as a consequence of coronavirus pandemic? Polyethylene gloves and masks will also decompose during many hundreds of years unless relevant disposal technologies are applied.
It does not mean that the issues of climate and environment pollution should be neglected or ignored. On the contrary, they should be brought into focus of close consideration, but fanaticism of individual countries that declared whole industries hazardous for its own political and economic benefits is unacceptable. Moreover, developing countries cannot afford expensive shifting from fossil fuels to renewables in power sector and other industries as they have to solve more serious problems such as poverty for example.
Under those circumstances, coal turns out to be a reliable source of energy for both developing countries and advanced economies. Developing countries, which require more and more energy due to the increase in population, simply do not have enough funds to invest in costly green technologies, but they still need to ensure high economic growth. Developed countries need reliable backup replacement in case renewable energy sources cannot handle the load.
Green side of black coal
Looks paradoxical, but hard or black coal might be green as it can have low content of harmful elements and detrimental impurities, which means low level of emissions to the atmosphere. In comparison to other coal grades, green coal or, differently, eco-coal allows consumers to burn it with significantly less harmful emissions whatever technology they apply.
Although such coal is rather considered as rare premium coal, some companies are able to supply it. One of those companies is EcoCarbon (https://ecocarbonltd.com/), a global trader of high-quality multi-origin coal. The company offers to the international market only eco-grades, which stand out for their unique quality characteristics. Low content of sulphur in coal, supplied by the company, result in lower SO2 emissions, while low ash levels limit emissions of toxic elements and metals both in slag and in fly ash, which is carried along with smoke into the atmosphere. The content of radioactive elements, such as uranium and thorium, is also at the low level, which ensures the safe use of coal.
Figure 2. EcoCarbon coal sales, mio t.
Eco-coal: turning b(l)ack into green. According to the corporate policies, all participants involved in coal supply chain undertake to introduce methods and technologies that promote careful and efficient use of natural resources, prevent pollution, provide emission control and mine reclamation.
Being an eco-friendly company committed to the principles of Ethical coal, EcoCarbon is determined to minimize any negative impact on the environment and to comply with applicable laws, regulations and other environmental management requirements applied in different countries and conformed to the local communities.