Jennifer Kho aat Red Herring on the trials and tribulations in cleaning up coal.
As countries reach for more energy independence, coal’s reign is only likely to grow. Global coal consumption is expected to nearly double from 5.4 billion short tons in 2003 to 10.6 billion short tons in 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Association (EIA) International Energy Outlook for 2006.
The data borders on scary: A single 500-megawatt-per-year coal plant produces as much carbon dioxide as 800,000 cars. Coal plants also emit mercury, and methane emissions from coal mining made up an estimated 9.3 percent of the total in 2005, according to the EIA.
And it’s not just China and developing nations that use coal for energy. According to the EIA, the United States has the largest recoverable coal reserves—enough to last more than 200 years—followed by Russia, China, India, and Australia.
After all, coal’s biggest appeal is its price. In 2005, the latest date available from the EIA, coal cost an average of $1.54 per million Btus [British thermal units, standard units of energy], petroleum cost $6.48 per million Btus, and natural gas cost $8.20 per million Btus.
The biggest VC deal in 2006 was a $30-million investment in GreatPoint Energy by Advanced Technology Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
But even if research succeeds in turning coal into a zero-emission fuel, its critics won’t be assuaged. “Mining coal is dirty work, so you can’t get ‘clean coal’ unless you ignore the fact of getting coal, which is ridiculous,” Mr. Wilder says.
Mr. Perlman counters that the purists ignore reality. “It’s easy to say, ‘we never want to dig anything up again,’ but the reality is that coal is increasing as a fuel supply,” he says. “We think we have a realistic way of converting the dirtiest of commercial fuels into the cleanest of commercial fuels, and we think this is the only way to really make a big difference to environmental issues and global warming.”