Thursday, September 28, 2006

We Work The Black Seam

According to this article from Reuters (link is no longer available), the burning of coal is going to become the Big Problem soon.

"The most important environmental problem in the 21st century is coal, or you could say coal is the most important enemy," Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told Reuters.

"Coal is cheap, it is plentiful and it is quite evenly distributed over the entire planet," he said, noting that oil was more concentrated in a few regions such as the Middle East...

"Coal plays an important geopolitical role, and for the next 300 years it will be plentiful," he said. With oil prices above about $50-$60 a barrel "then it is competitive to go from liquids to coal".

The article later comments that
"Burning a tonne of coal typically releases more than 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere."
I agree that coal is dirtier than oil when it comes to greenhouse gases. However, what I want to know is whether it is dirtier to burn gasolene in private cars or to generate electricity from coal at large power plants and then use that electricity to power cars?

Is it just possible that we're living in an era when burning coal is cleaner than burning petrol? That we're living in the era of the coal-fired car?

When I was a teenager, electric cars were geeky curiosities. Throughout the last 15 years, I've watched them gain more mainstream acceptance, especially the hybrids. This isn't such a crazy idea anymore, not in the era of the Tesla Roadster, which drives like a Lotus but is so silent that testers complain about bushings squeaking, and when the Wrightspeed X1, the world's second fastest-accelerating car, is electric.

We're living in an era when many things, like the 100mpg family car, are technologically possible but not economically feasible, mainly because there's not enough interest in these ideas from the big companies who can afford to take the initial hit, nor from investors willing to finance startups. But when gas gets so expensive that electricity from coal looks reasonable, I think we'll see things change.

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