Archive for February 21, 2005

This is pretty cool: Electricity from waste coal.

February 21, 2005 Leave a comment

Growing up in Pennsylvania, one thing you learn about is the coal industry. The enormous deposits of anthracite coal in Pennsylvania, especially western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia make the U.S. into the Saudi Arabia of coal. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, coal mining was one of the chief industries of the state along with steel. With the mining came an enormous amount of waste coal (referred to as “boney” coal) that was dumped in huge multi-million ton piles. Boney is a mixture of coal, rock and clay that is unsuitable for burning in a traditional coal furnace, so it was abandoned as worthless. Over time, rain has leached acidic waste from the piles into the nearby creeks and streams, killing the fish and turning the streams orange. It's an environmental problem that nobody has had a really good answer on how to deal with it.

Not anymore, though. Houston-based Reliant Energy has built a new power plant in New Florence, PA that is specifically designed to burn this worst-of-the-worst fuel in a safe manner. Because it's a new plant, it had to comply with a host of regulations enacted over the past couple of decades to make coal-burning plants cleaner and it has managed to comply with the regs while still burning this waste. One of the reasons that the plant was built was because of a new state law requiring that by 2020, 18 percent of electricity sold in the state must come from “alternative” sources. The plant qualifies because it helps get rid of an environmental problem. Reliant estimates that, over the next thirty years, the plant will burn and eliminate 100 million tons of boney, which should help the streams and groundwater that have been affected by these piles recover.

All I have to say is, “More like this, please.”

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