The Dominance of Coal-Fueled Power Plants

The Dominance of Coal-Fueled Power Plants

Coal is one of the most reliable energy sources in the world. This natural resource is mainly used as fuel in power plants. Over the last few decades, the popularity of coal in both the developed and developing worlds has been on the rise. If left unchecked, however, increased demand may have adverse effects on the environment because of the harmful emissions produced when coal is burned. To learn more about coal production and how it is used to generate electrical energy, checkout the infographic below created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Online Masters in Electrical Engineering degree program.

The Dominance of Coal-Fueled Power Plants

Coal Production in the United States

Currently, the US is the second largest producer of coal in the world, accounting for 11.7 percent of total global production. There are three coal-producing regions in the United States. The Western Region produces around 530 million short tons of coal every year. On the other hand, the Appalachia Region produces 269 million short tons, while the Inter Region produces 182.9 million short tons. This adds up to around 981.9 million short tons of coal every year. Most of the coal is exported to China, the single largest consumer of coal in the world, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Over 80 percent of coal exported from the US goes to Europe and Asia. While coal demand in Europe has been stagnating in the recent years, the demand from Asian countries has been on the rise. Experts project that the annual global demand for coal will hit 9 billion tons by 2019.

How Coal is used in Power Generation

A coal power plant consists of three basic parts: a boiler, turbine and generator. The boiler has a firebox that burns coal to produce heat. Coal is first ground into a fine powder then mixed with hot air before being fed into the firebox. The mixture is ignited to generate intense heat during combustion. Purified water from a reservoir is then pumped into the boiler where it is superheated to raise steam at a pressure of over 3,500 psi. The high-pressure steam is led to the turbine. The force created by the steam pushes the turbine blades, turning it in the process. The turbine is connected to the generator through a shaft, so the rotary motion is transferred to the generator’s rotor. As the magnetic fields in the generator rotate, electricity is created in the stationery windings that cut the rotating magnetic fields. After passing through the turbines, steam is cooled and condensed to form water, which can either be reused or drained into a river or lake.

In the year 2013, coal exports to China stood at 8.2 million short tons. The country’s demand for coal power accounts for over two thirds of the global increase in coal demand. In India, coal power accounts for over 44 percent of the country’s total power production. In 2015, India is expected to import over 2 million metallurgical tons of coal.

Coal Power in the United States

There are many sources of electrical energy in the country but coal and natural gas plants account for over two thirds of power generated in the country. In the year 2013, coal and natural gas were used to generate 39 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of the country’s power. Despite EPA regulations and retiring coal power plants, coal is still expected to produce 30 percent of the nation’s electrical power by 2030.

Clean Coal Power

When coal is burned, some harmful gases are produced. They include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide among others. These gases can be harmful to the environment. That is why the EPA is targeting coal plants to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions in the country by 30 percent. The following are two technologies that are being implemented with the aim of minimizing carbon emissions attributed to coal power plants.

Carbon Capture and Store (CCS)

In this technology, all the carbon emissions from a coal power plant are captured and stored in geological formations. Alternatively, the gases can be sent deep into the ocean, where they can dissolve under the high pressure exerted by the ocean water. This technology can capture as much as 90 percent of carbon emissions before they leave the smokestack. SaskPower, a coal power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, has already implemented this technology.

Advanced High Efficiency Combustion

Carbon emissions from coal power plants can be reduced by burning coal more efficiently with the help of new technologies. Using computerized controls and highly efficient turbines can also help to increase the efficiency of coal plants, thereby reducing the demand for coal fuel. These measures can be very helpful as far as cutting down on carbon emissions is concerned.

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