Coal rank and thoughts on EROEI

PG here; this is a post from HO's Tech Talk series. This one was originally posted 5 FEB 2006. We encourage you, if you're interested, to look back at the entire extensive series under the tech talk tab up top under the banner.

Often when we talk about different fuels, the fuel itself is considered to be something that can easily be defined. However this is really not always the case, and today I would like to talk a little about types of coal, its content and the product size, and why this can make it a bit difficult to assess EROEI.

For those who wonder what is going on, this is a weekend tech talk, where some underlying aspect of fossil fuel energy is discussed. References to earlier posts are given at the end of this one, and the subjects are usually simplified to get across the basic ideas, within a reasonable amount of space.

Back when my grandfather was mining coal, with a pick and a shovel, he would very carefully separate rock from the coal as he picked lumps out from the solid. The reason for this relates to how he was paid. Before he began to fill a tub with coal, he would place a holder and a token with his mark on it at the bottom of the tub. Thus when it got to the surface, the teller would check that the tub only contained coal, and then would give him credit for the tub. But if the tub contained much stone, from the roof, or from layers of rock within the coal, then the tub would not be counted and my grandfather got no credit for it.

Thus the coal that was mined was carefully mined, and sorted before it was moved from the working face, ensuring a fairly high degree of quality control (a man filled perhaps 20 tubs in a shift so losing one or two because of rock content was a big pay cut). When the move was made to machine mining, that degree of quality control was lost. While, at first glance, a coal seam may appear flat it is not, and both the roof and floor contacts roll up and down as a machine mines forward. While a man can adjust to this, a machine that is being steered from behind can only be partially controlled. As a result the picks will often remove small segments of the roof or floor rock, as the machine moves forward. In the same way it is not uncommon to find layers of rock within the coal, and while a man could separate and leave these, the machine will grind these up with the coal and load them out. (This is where there is often a risk of gas ignition in a mine, since the impact of a pick on sandstone, for example, can generate a hot spot that can ignite any methane that is leaking from the coal near that point).

Because it is now much more difficult to separate the rock and coal (which is usually crushed to less than half-an-inch in size) both rock and coal are carried to the surface, and fed into a coal preparation plant. Here, using a combination of methods including gravity separation in a liquid that has a density between that of coal and the rock, the coal is separated from the rock. The waste rock, historically was stored in the large coal tips that dotted the landscape of the Eastern United States, and Europe, while the coal was screened into different sizes and sold.

As coal is used more and more in power stations it is usually further crushed in additional mills to a much smaller size so that it will burn more efficiently in these plants. This is more costly in the energy that it takes to prepare the coal. To understand why consider that there is a physical property called surface energy. Simply it is the strength of the bond that holds two surfaces together. Let us, to work an example, say that it takes 10 units of energy to break the bonds over 1 sq-inch of surface, So that when I split a four-inch block of coal into two pieces then I am creating an additional 16 sq-inches of surface, and to do that I have to put in 16 x 10 = 160 units of energy to make that change. Now if I want to break the piece of coal into quarter-inch pieces, then it will take 15 x 15 x 15 cuts, and take therefore a total of 540,000 units of energy. Breaking the original four-inch piece from the solid would have taken 5 x 16 x 10 = 800 units of energy. In this way you can see that the finer the coal is ground, the more energy that is used in the process. Unfortunately grinding systems are not highly efficient so that there are additional energy costs over and above those needed for the simple surface separation.

The energy balance is then even more complicated when we add the fact that there are a variety of different types of coal. These are generally given a rank based on their carbon content. Thus, for example the lowest ranking coal is brown coal or lignite, and this may only have a carbon content of around 60% and contain a high percentage of water. Thus it has to be dried before it can be effectively used. (Peat, it's historical ancestor is even lower in energy and higher in water content). Moving up the scale, sub-bituminous coal has a carbon content of perhaps 75% and 10% moisture; bituminous coal can go up to 90% carbon and perhaps 5% moisture. The highest rank coal is known as anthracite and this has a carbon content above 90%.

As a result of the difference in carbon content, the heating value of the coal also changes. While numbers and definitions vary somewhat as one moves around the world as a rough guide a ton of Lignite is around 7 million Btu; sub-bituminous 17 - 18 million Btu; Bituminous 21 to 30 million Btu; and Anthracite around 16 million Btu. These values are if the coal has been cleaned of other rocks. The quality of the coal also affects the price. (It should be noted that current spot prices of coal may now be quite different.

There are other issues, however, that also control the price of the coal. These include the sulphur content, since this, in turn, has controlled the amount of scrubbing of the flue gases from power station that has been required to remove the resulting compounds. Since this is an expensive process, in the past it has driven some coal production areas to close, while purchases of lower sulphur coal have increased.

This is a part of a series of talks that has, most recently, dealt with coal mining. Earlier talks in that series dealt with three forms of mining;
Surface Mining
Longwall Mining
Room and Pillar Mining
As usual any concerns, corrections, or questions, should be addressed in comments.

Is there a "realistic" estimate of U.S. coal reserves? I remember reading (but I don't know how accurate my memory is) that M. King Hubbert once protested that a 10 inch coal seam 5,000 feet below ground was being included into reserve figures. Every time I read an article on this topic I get a different number; I've seen anywhere from 200 to 1,000 "years worth" of usable coal.

In short, what's a realistic estimate based on (at least a positive EROI with) CURRENT recovery technology?

I talked about available reserves in the US and Europe here with numbers, and to quote from that piece:

The U.S. resource was considered to be when defined as -more than 1 ft thick for anthracite and bituminous, more than 2.5 ft thick for sub-bituminous, and at depths of less than 6,000 ft.

There are some things that you can do with thin coal seams, methane drainage, in-situ combustion etc, that might make what is now a resource into a reserve, it is circumstance driven.

Then you have to define current technology - in terms of EROI I once mined coal that was less than 2-ft thick, with a pick and shovel, but that was (cough, cough) years ago before the advent of much mechanization. There are places in the world where that technology still prevails, and is EROI efficient.

The most detailed and realistic recent survey on coal that I'm aware of was done last March by the Energy Watch Group. You can download it here.

They claim that in terms of energy content the US peaked in its coal production in 2002, and that "Global coal production to peak around 2025 at 30 percent above present production in the best case."

They also cite somewhat different values for the heating value of different grades of coal (HO: why is your number for anthracite lower than bituminous?):

Anthracite: 30 MJ/kg
Bituminous coal: 18.8–29.3 MJ/kg
Subbituminous coal: 8.3–25 MJ/kg
Lignite: 5.5–14.3 MJ/kg

Here is their summary chart:

At the time I was a bit rushed and couldn't find a site that I could reference with more accurate numbers - what you get for occasionally being in a hurry.

This seems to converge with Kjell Aleklett's analysis:

Global warming exaggerated, insufficient oil, natural gas and coal
by Kjell Aleklett
Published on 18 May 2007 by Dagens Nyheter. Archived on 21 May 2007.

Climate change and global warming has become part of our everyday life, and central to this debate is the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The fossil fuels that we use contain carbon and hydrocarbons, and in the combustion of these fuels, carbon dioxide is released along with energy.

In the present climate debate, however, the amount of available fossil fuels does not appear to be an issue. The problem, as usually perceived, is that we will use excessive amounts in the years ahead. It is not even on the map that the amount of fossil fuels required in order to bring about the feared climate changes may in fact not be available.

Mexico's giant oil field Cantarell is afflicted with problems and the production is in rapid decline. In 2005, the Mexican national oil company Pemex presented two scenarios for the ultimate production; one optimistic in which it was assumed that 50% of the initial oil under ground would ultimately be recoverable, one pessimistic assuming only 30% recoverability. That the trend appears to validate the pessimistic scenario is naturally disastrous for Pemex and the Mexican state, but our climate is the winner.

There is an important decision to be made. Should we regard the oil remaining in the ground as a source that could result in future CO2 emissions, or should we accept that this oil for the time being actually remains in the ground? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers it a resource.


The third fossil source of CO2 emissions is coal. According to a widely held view, the amount of available coal is virtually endless. However, when we do detailed studies of production profiles in the six countries harboring 85% of the world's coal reserves, we discover clear signs of peaking coal production in certain regions. Moreover, we notice a decline in production of the highest quality coal, that is, the coal with the highest energy content per volume. In the US, the world's second largest coal user, the volume of mined coal is increasing while the total energy content is decreasing. Has US already reached "Peak Coal" in terms of energy.


And the US Energy Information Administration claims - we might say reports - that on an energy-content basis United States coal production peaked in 1998 (at least to date). See, Table 1.2

My compilation "Who's talking about the peaking of world oil production" compilation also contains some telling quotes on the coal situation as well as noting that the U.S. is rapidly losing its status as a net coal exporter, imports having tripled since 2000, exports having declined markedly. See

The EIA figures show an undulating plateau for the energy derived from coal for over a decade. Their production figures, for the first 11 months of 2007 show a marked decline (in quantity) over the first 11 months of 2006, which, from a quick scan, could be the first decline in recent times. It could be that the Energy Watch group was right. And yet even a lot of peak oilers continue to trot out the "250 years of coal" mantra. I wonder why.


In metric tons, according to the EIA Annual Coal Report 2006, Table 15, at

the Estimated Recoverable Reserves are 239Gt.

Company reserves taken from Table 5 of the National Mining Association’s coal producer survey at

are 55Gt.

I think it quite likely that future production will be between the company number and the government number. My vote would be 70Gt. The government reserves have repeatedly been revised downward over the last hundred years. The revisions amount to a factor of ten in all. We are due for another downward revision, because the last serious reserves survey was in 1974.


Ignorant, you have really hit upon the difficulty I ran smack into when trying to have an intelligent discussion with Wyoming's newest(appointed senator, John Barrasso who claimed Wyoming had enough coal for 500 years!. But I digress. The US EIA has info on the different reserves of coal. The link is This will get you started. I have an interest in Wyoming coal because Wyoming is my home.For example Sen Barrasso said 500 years.The Wyoming state geologist Lance Cook has stated Wyoming has 38 years. The US EIA says something on the order of 270,000 million tons(I think that would be 270 billion short tons) of recoverable reserves of all types but does not break it down into the various subtypes of recoverable reserves. Looking at reserves logically requires looking at the net energy equation. After all, some reserves are more recoverable than others. Using cheap diesel to recover cheaper coal is one reserve. Using expensive diesel gives you another figure.
I have figures of US production(2006) of 1161 billion tons. The western states produced 619.4 million tons and my home state of Wyoming was 446 million tons.Coal produced 52% of US electricity making Wyoming responsible for 38% , a staggering number for one state. Our senators(Barrasso and Enzi) and single representative(Cubin) are in the pockets of the resource companies and want to dig up the whole state. They are clueless about carbon emmisions, Hg and sulphur pollution, renewable alternatives etc. All they know is that they get huge contributions from the industry.They and their ilk are obstacles to a better world. So what else is new?

This is all a question of reserves vs resources. Resources means that they exist. Thus, 1ft seam at less than 6000 ft depth. Reserves means that it is economically extractable.

It is hard to determine whether a resource is economically extractable. It is common for a company to spend millions of dollars and months of time to hire a third-party engineering firm to determine whether a single deposit is economically extractable. Of course, "economically" varies constantly, due to input costs, technology, taxes, discount rates, selling prices, and many other such factors.

FYI - Professor Charlie Hall has agreed to produce a series of EROEI 'drafts' on various fuels (tar sands, oil shale, etc.) and post these papers on theoildrum. He will start with a short piece (next week?) on "Why EROEI Matters?"

Terrific! I'd sure like to see Charlie Hall's calculations behind the coal bubble on his EROEI chart (posted at TOD several times), it sure seems high in light of this and other posts by HO.

Shouldn't anthracite be 22-28 mbtu ?

The given value for anthracite's heating value is bellow the sub-bituminous. There may be even more errors, since your 22-28 mbtu is still smaller than the given value for bituminous.

Hello PG,

Thxs for this repost by Heading Out, somehow I missed it the first time.

Besides the valuable coal info, it also reminds us that it was just a short time ago that heavy manual labor was a basic requirement in energy harvesting of all forms [food, water, and fuels]. Imagine HO's grandfather's daily output if he was without the wheelbarrow--thus my many postings on our strategic need for wheelbarrows and bicycles postPeak.

Alas, how soon we take energy for granted-- a not so gentle reminder would be for the ubiquitous wallswitch's internal mechanism to require fifty pounds of heave-ho shove to turn on the juice, instead of a mere flick of a finger.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Hello Bob,

Do you think its feasible to combine a bicycle and wheelbarrow with a small electric motor and battery / and or solar panel?

I like your idea of the spiderweb rail riding. Pedal and PV on rail would be a pretty cool combination. I like the idea of using kites to move large ships, but I reckon it could work on rail as the tracks would act like the keel of the boat.

Is going to be one hell of a culture shock this generation was (some times literally) concieved, born and raised in the car!

Hello OMGlikeWTF,

Thxs for responding. Sadly, I am not an engineer/scientist, so I don't have the expertise to do the extensive CAD/CAM, energy efficiency tradeoffs, materials applications, cost analysis, reliability and manufacturability considerations, market studies, etc. I always encourage those with more expertise to improve or refute my basic, crudely outlined concepts.

Yep, I think Spiderwebriding extending outward from the endpoints of Alan Drake's ideas has merit. Hopefully, a bike or wheelbarrow manufacturer is looking at this as a feasible growth opportunity as we go postPeak. Who knows what might happen if we decide that machete' moshpits are NOT the ideal decline path?

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

I was in China a few months ago. They had lots of little electric bicycles, and lots of little electric bicycle delivery carts.

I don't know if you can buy them outside of China. I think they run on lead-acid batteries. I asked my guide how much the bicycles cost and got a number from $100 to $300 for the bicycles. (Probably just a guess on the guide's part.)

I would say it is feasible, especially if you are thinking road transport. Battery replacement will be an issue.


Another indicator of coal quality could be kilograms of CO2 emitted per kilowatt hour of electricity. Apparently this is about 1.0 for bituminous coal but up to 1.5 for high moisture lignite. Advocates of integrated gasification combined cycle say they can not only get these ratios way down but they can later on capture and bury the CO2. However I regard IGCC as a form of bait and switch to get approval for new plant with no real intention to ever install the costly additional equipment.

I think the more interesting issue with coal is non-geological reasons for an early peak. Let's assume that politicians have no stomach for meaningful carbon taxes, that voters will resist coal-to-liquids and neither carbon capture nor underground gasification will scale up. That still leaves declining EROEI, higher coal prices, local NIMBY opposition and the fact that a global economy in recession with expensive oil may demand less coal. For these reasons I think the practical coal peak could occur by 2020, not 2040 as others claim. Climate change has nothing to do with it, just greed and short sightedness.

That depends on what you plan on heating the houses in Pennsylvania with next time we have a half-way severe winter. You might want to revisit what happened back in 1977 - from the DOE website.

In 1977, with the Nation facing its most severe winter in decades, natural gas shortages caused thousands of factory and school closings and threatened cutoffs to residential customers.

Here's an example from yesterday. The heatwave in Melbourne (State pop. 5m) broke 9 GW for the first time as people turned on their ACs. I assume a lot of that came from gas peaking plant which could all be mothballed in a decade. The good citizens of the future will just have to learn to tough it out eg cold baths in heatwaves, indoor wood heaters in cold snaps.

Well that is where the UK, and I suspect Europe, got into the coal business in the first place - after all the good timber was burned up they had to find a substitute, and along came Coal. (several hundred years ago).

You gotta think numerically. You have a gas turbine power plant already paid for, sited, with a pipe leading to it.
You have coal.
So you build a coal gassifier and get CO, H2, light oil, heavy oil, tar, SO2, ashes, and ammonium sulfate for fertiliser.
The SO2 is caught and mixed with CaCO3 to make calcium sulfite and disposed of someplace where it won't crap up the water supply. Maybe by being sent back to the minesite and buried, maybe just dumped into the ocean. Whatever is cheapest.
The CO and H2 go to the gas turbine. The light oil goes to the trucks and mines. The heavy oil goes to a refinery, and the tar is burned in an oil burning power plant, or sent to a ship.
Why not just build a coal burning power plant? Because the coal burning power plant can't be turned off when the power is not needed. The gassifier just runs 24 hours and stores gas for the day or night, whenever the peak electricity demand period is and when you run the gas turbine plant.
I'm a solar power inventor. These guys are my competition and they aren't going to go away just because I want them to. They are going to pump CO2 into the atmosphere until we reduce demand by insulation or solar power or nuclear power or windpower or whatever.

maybe just dumped into the ocean. Whatever is cheapest.

Nothing says loving like "Kill the Earth."

They are going to pump CO2 into the atmosphere until ......

nature says "no, enough" and throws some nasty climate change event(s) at us. I posted this many times before but I am going to repeat it:

[Australian ABC TV's] KERRY O'BRIEN: You said just a couple of weeks ago that there should be a moratorium on building coal fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions is available. But you must know that that's politically unacceptable in many countries China, America, Australia for that matter, because of coal industry jobs and impact on the economy.

[NASA climatologist] JAMES HANSEN: Well, it's going to be realised within the next 10 years or so that we have no choice. We're going to have to bulldoze the old style coal fired power plants....

One such realisation may come when the Arctic summer sea ice is gone which acts as an airconditioner in the Northern hemisphere.

This study says if current trends continue, that moment may arrive already in 2013:

Causes of Changes in Arctic Sea Ice; by Wieslaw Maslowski (Naval Postgraduate School)

Already in 1999, 40% (in words: FOURTY) of the sea ice VOLUME had gone:

Quote: "In summary, ice draft in the 1990s is over a meter thinner than two to four decades earlier. The mean draft has decreased from over 3 m to under 2 m, and volume is down by some 40%. The thinning is remarkable in that it has occurred in a major portion of the perennially ice-covered Arctic Ocean. This is not a case of thicker ice appearing in one region simultaneously with thinner ice appearing in another, induced perhaps by a change in surface winds and ice advection"

Once the Arctic sea ice is gone, no one knows what's going to happen next. The Greenland icesheet would then be surrounded 6 months of the year by ever warming ocean waters which no longer reflect sunlight back to space as ice (and snow on ice) previously did.

But the nasty global warming event could equally come from some pieces of ice sheets breaking off in West Antarctica.

Again James Hansen in the above linked interview:

....and even more concern is West Antarctica because it's now losing mass at about the same rate as Greenland, and [in] West Antarctica, the ice sheet is sitting on rock that is below sea level. So it is potentially much more in danger of collapsing and so we have both the evidence on the ice sheets and from the history of the Earth and it tells us that we're pretty close to a tipping point, so we've got to be very concerned about the ice sheets.

The technology for capturing carbon dioxide in power plants, and for sequestering it underground, exists today, and has been demonstrated. The problem is price, which leads in turn, among other things, to political will. Telling folk you are doubling their electricity bill again does not go over well with voters. (Unless they are voting in another state).

We don't actually understand how the climate works or what the relationship is between temperature and ice cover:;jsessionid=IUQQAI5LLBRHHQFIQ...
For the IPCC'c estimate of 90% probable that global warming is man-made, if, say, you have ten inputs, you would have to have a 99% confidence that each of them was correct.
This is not even remotely true.
For a start, we don't know how much heat is reflected - they are talking about launching a satellite to find out - reflectivity is a far more important input than carbon dioxide.
The we don't know how water vapour varies - the models used weren't able to deal with that - it inputs a lot more to temperature than CO2, once again.
Then, as ably pointed out in an article on this blog, we don't know how much fossil fuel we have to burn anyway - the reaally big effects from CO2 are supposed to kick in next century, so less coal means according to the IPCC's models we wouldn't even hit the lowest of their estimates for GW.
The IPCC doesn't respond when asked about the fossil fuel estimates they have used.
None of which makes me a 'Climate Change Denier' to use the rather objectionable quasi-religious cant.
Until recently, I guessed that on balance, there was probably something in the idea of man-made global warming, although it was pretty obvious that the models and scenarios were basically just doodling with a computer, as the data just wasn't good enough for them to be taken as remotely accurate.
I am now convinced that unless someone comes up with some better reasons to think that the coal reserves hypothesised are in fact likely to be mined, then GW is unlikely.
That doesn't mean that we are out of the woods though, as real resource constraints are perhaps more dangerous than GW, and require prompt action.
It is a shame that whilst some ideas for renewables are sound, for example residential solar thermal panels, there are a lot of pure scams out there, the most notorious of course being ethanol from corn.

The heatwave in Melbourne (State pop. 5m) broke 9 GW for the first time as people turned on their ACs. I assume a lot of that came from gas peaking plant which could all be mothballed in a decade.

What was the temperature? I work nights (so sleep in the days when Sol is at it's most angry), and only switched the air-con on once this year, for about three hours (just long enough for the temperature to subside to below boiling). I don't live in a McMansion (with all the associated design flaws like lack of flow-through, eaves, verendahs etc), so that may help things.

That was the day (Thursday) before temperatures here in Tassie dropped from 35 to 15C in an hour. 100kph winds carried leaves and grass so one spark would have been an inferno. Plenty of fallen branches for the chainsaw though.

It hit 41C, and at night didn't drop below 27C.

In our home with no aircon, we just battened down the hatches - blinds and doors closed early on. So it got to about 31C inside, but the same slow temperature change meant that it was about 29C at night. We definitely used our fan!

But a 50W fan seems a lot better than a 2,500W aircon.

Unlike with water, Victorians haven't really been asked to conserve electricity. There were those daft "carbon balloon" adverts, but all they did was to say to turn off appliances when not in use. That's a significant amount of domestic power use (5-10%), but nothing compared to aircon, which basically triples domestic power use. Most homes have a daytime use of 1,000W, and a night-time use of 200W. Add in aircon or heating at 2,000-5,000W and it really knocks total power use for a six.

Heading Out -

Since the subject today is coal, I have a question about the behavior of mined coal when stored in confined spaces.

I am somewhat of an amateur naval historian, and I know that during the era when all naval vessels were coal-burners, it soon became recognized that coal was subject to spontaneous combustion under certain conditions.

If I understand correctly, freshly mined coal exposes a lot of newly opened surfaces which can undergo some sort of very slow surface oxidation. Many ships had fires in their coal bunkers, and it has been speculated that spontaneous combustion in a coal bunker adjacent to the forward magazine was responsible for the demise of the USS Maine in Havana harbor rather than a Spanish mine.

So I suppose my question is: how well understood is the spontaneous combustion of coal, and what precautions are generally taken to prevent it?

The typical method is to exclude oxygen from the coal surface. In the old coal fired ships, they would vent steam into the bunkers to displace air. Presently there is additives that can be applied at the prep plants. Nowadays there is a better understanding of the conditions that promote the combustion and steps are taken to avoid these.

Rich Walden -

Thanks for the info.

I wasn't aware that there was a practice of venting steam into the bunkers to displace air. However, I would think that would make it a little dicey for one of the 'black gang' to enter a bunker to move coal to the stoking area. I'm sure they had ways around that, though.

Evidently, spontaneous combustion of coal aboard ships was a fairly common problem, because in the US Navy temperature probes were installed in the coal bunkers and these would be read by a crewman several times each watch.

Spontaneous combustion can take place in rather unexpected circumstances. I know that there have been several instances of piles of shredded used tires catching on fire. The problem was traced to heat being generated by the slow oxidation of the freshly exposed steel wires in the tires. Since the piles were very large, there was very little heat dissipation and localized hot spots reached combustion temperature.

Zinc Sulfide ore from the Century mine in Australia will also spontaneously combust.

I know this from my time working at a Zinc Smelter in Tennessee that imported this ore. One of my responsibilities was probing the 30000 MT pile we had to look for hot spots.

I think this applies to any very large pile of material that has a chemical desire to oxidize.

The limiting factor is the rate of diffusion of oxygen to the hot interior to fuel the reaction.

The Century mine started to add an additional coating agent to minimize the risk early on.

Coal dust is a problem, In fact anything that is finely powdered and containg carbon can be problematic. Flour mills are a notable example.

But dont forget the desorbtion of CH4 from newly mined coal (Hence coal bed methane drilling). Though Most CH4 is released long before it gets to the user.

Do they still use vitrinite reflectance against a diamond standard?

Once spent a really great undergraduate summer taking samples from the Great and Little Limestone Coals from stream cuts in Northumbria near the Roman Wall.

Happy days.

Any scheme offered by the coal companies to reduce co2 emissions or any other kind of emissions is highly suspect. They have a history of doing everything in their power to fight all attempts at pollution reduction. Even when finally commanded to do so by law or regulations, they have fought for decades to delay implementation. This administration has been totally in the pocket of the coal companies from day one. Perhaps a Democratic administration would break the mold but I am highly suspicious of both major candidates that talk about the continuance of so called "clean coal". Edwards, I believe has talked about a phase out of coal. Permitting any additional plants that don't actually sequester (not just sequestration ready) will almost guarantee at least 30 years of co2 production from that plant.

The coal industry will fight tooth and nail against any attempts to impose any kind of restrictions on co2. They have fed the fight against the science of global warming. Now that this battle is essentially lost, they will, at best, to pretend to do something about it-- some day.

Peabody coal loves carbon sequestration.

Why?? 30% of a coal plant's energy output is required to produce a 99% compressed CO2 stream.

More demand not less.

Mandatory sequestration now.


And the other 70% is the processed coal which is shipped?
How much would the energy output be required to produce 98% compresed CO2 stream
This is where companies like Denbury Resources and others using CO2 injection could possibly reduce post peak decline rates - my understanding is they are LIMITED currently by not enough CO2 available near the oilfields that need it (like North Sea)

I should have said utilities, not necessarily coal plants. In any event, we need to phase out coal; whether or not sequestration is even feasible is still an open question.

whether or not sequestration is even feasible is still an open question.

This was never discussed here: 1 GW coal fired power plant requires the continuous geo-sequestration of 150 kb/d of liquid CO2. So multiply that figure with the number of coal fired power plants and compare that liquid volume with the oil production capacity of the oil industry. How would the competition work out between the oil industry and a future CO2 industry for geologists, engineers, drilling rigs, pipelines etc just at a time when the oil industry struggles to maintain production and fights the downhill battle after peak oil?

Fractional Flow -

This is exactly the reason why I think carbon sequestration via the compression and subsurface injection of CO2 will never be practiced on a large scale.

It is simply too expensive, too energy-intensive, and represents a waste of valuable capital and energy resources on something whose benefits are questionable in the first place.

In my view, if one must reduce CO2 from stationary power generation, then more nuclear power plants would be a much more sensible path. One must also not forget that carbon sequestration isn't even applicable to those fossil fuels used in transportation.


These environmentalists I read about in the paper think sequestration the latest greatest thing.

But I want people to understand..

1. The coal companies love it because it increases the baseload demand for coal 30%

2. The utilities love it because they work on a "cost plus" basis with the utility regulatory commission.. the more they spend the more they make.. someone else here can explain this better than me.

3. We oil producers love it because we may have an abundant source of cheap CO2 from these coal plants we can inject into our depleted oil fields... may even get paid to do it according to a recent SPE distinguished lecturer we had.

Guess who pays??

Bring on mandatory sequestration now!!!!


The coal companies love it because it increases the baseload demand for coal 30%

The Tragedy of The Investing Commons

The coal industry will fight tooth and nail against any attempts to impose any kind of restrictions on co2

Not really. A consortium of 49 major companies, including the major European coal producer Vattenfall, have produced a serious plan to address emissions. See

Coal producers may have been resistant, but they're not stupid. They can see the writing on the wall as well as anybody else.

If the coal companies like Peabody don't slow roll this, I will be very surprised. Seeing the hand writing on the wall may just mean they will change their rhetoric.

Coal CO2 sequestration might happen in Europe. But that's not where most of the coal is getting used. You think China will start doing CO2 sequestration?

What happens when people figure out that we are running out of coal? Do you think the idea of making it run out at a 30% faster rate will hold any appeal?

Also, the prices of energy are already heading up. People aren't going to want to pay 30% more on top of hugely higher prices.

Also, add on another 30% to the cost of coal electric and nuclear electric becomes competitive. So countries that do not ban nuclear power (most countries besides Germany) will shift to nuclear anyway. I suspect the demand for coal to convert to liquid will raise the price of coal so much that nuclear will become preferred for electric generation anyway.

I hope you've heard of the FutureGen project recently selected for Mattoon, Illinois


Yes, I've read about FutureGen. But I've yet to come across any good figures on the energy costs of CO2 sequestration projected for that particular project.

I also wonder whether FutureGen is far enough along to even know what those energy costs are going to be. Do you know?


Your "this price" link
had a graph on coal stockpiles. I noted that the graph had our stockpiles about 40% higher than in 2005, when the May derailments on the Powder River Basin railroad lines seriously depleted our stockpiles of coal.
Is that why our stockpiles are higher? I don't follow the industry.

Toyota Prius sales pass Ford Explorer
The icon of America's SUV passion falls victim to stubbornly high gas prices and an increasingly stringent regulatory climate.
By the Financial Times

Americans bought more Toyota Prius hybrid gas-electric hatchbacks last year than Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles, the top-selling SUV for more than a decade.

The change of fortune, buried in U.S. vehicle-sales data for 2007 and unthinkable a few years ago, will find an echo at this year's Detroit auto show, which starts Sunday.

While Americans' love for powerful gas guzzlers remains strong, a slowing economy and high gasoline prices are forcing buyers to lower their sights.

The traditional SUV "is a dead market,"

The Long Transition continues.

SUV and light truck sales are still about 50% of the market

Give it a few years.

We're interested the the relation between coal, electricity, and diesel.

We even took two essential non-gas-wasting trips through the Powder River Basin to investigate.

We, of course, continue our essential non-gas-wasting energy investigating senior citizen trips.


Hello Bill,

Please keep em coming--I think all the photographs and details are cool to read. I just loved the cavemen spear-hunting the grocery carts--LOL!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?
UK's coal output falls to pre-industrial levels
By Sean O'Grady, Economics Editor
Published: 12 January 2008

Coal production in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since the industrial revolution, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS's index of production showed that the coal industry recorded its worst ever reading in October, at 42.9 (with 2003 representing the base index level of 100). Annual production is set to fall below 15 million tonnes, a level last seen 200 years ago. Production peaked in 1913 at 287 million tons. The ONS said that UK electricity generators have been turning to coal as the price of natural gas has climbed even more steeply, but that demand has been met by imports from Russia, Australia and elsewhere. Foreign coal accounts for two thirds of UK consumption.

Some special factors adversely affected UK output late in the year, including a fatality and changeovers of coalfaces within pits. Even so, that 2007 will see a 10 per cent fall in output compared with 2006, at a time when coal prices have almost doubled, speaks volumes for the parlous state of the industry, which comprises a mere five deep pits.