Burning coal provides tremendous heat which is used to heat water which changes to high pressure steam which is used to drive a turbine connected to a generator to produce electricity. Electricity is a life enhancing benefit that has enhanced human life wherever it’s available. The data is clear. There are massive benefits from electricity which runs heating and air conditioning units that make skyscrapers possible as well as lighting that extends the useful time of a day thereby lengthening the amount of useful time available to people. Electricity not only supplies people additional time to live by turning the darkness into usable time, it conquers the hostile climate of the earth and provides heat or coolness so people can be more comfortable regardless of the weather.
Electricity is made by burning coal. Without coal your life would be as Thomas Hobbes described life 500 years ago as “poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Electricity when it’s used to control a micro-climate makes life “rich, wonderful, gentle and long”. Coal does that.
Is there a downside? Does burning coal have a downside? Not so much when compared to giving you a longer life. When all of the benefits of electricity are compared to the emissions that go into the atmosphere the benefits are way ahead. In addition the cost to scrub the flue gas compared to the value of the benefits is rather small.
Burning coal emits flue gas which can be converted to gypsum or fertilizer thereby doubling the benefits from generating electricity by burning coal. Flue gas contains sulfur dioxide which can be bubbled thru calcium carbonate (limestone) to produce CaSO4 which is the gypsum that’s used in drywall. It can also be used in cement and fertilizer. Though gypsum occurs naturally (and even lends its name to a town in Colorado with a history of gypsum mining and processing), synthetic gypsum has advantages in that it doesn’t have to be mined, and it recycles what would otherwise be a waste product that power plants would have to pay to dispose of in landfills. Use of synthetic gypsum has also reduced costs for drywall manufacturers.
Flue gas also contains carbon dioxide, CO2, which in solid form is DRY ICE. As a gas it’s used to put the fizz in soda and beer. There is a minor amount of CO2 in the air. If the amount is increased 100 times is can be fatal. The chance of that happening or the probability of that happening is virtually zero. CO2 is also an effective fertilizer for plants. Plants convert CO2 into sugars like glucose C6H12O6. Sugar is essential to plant growth. There’s lots of natural CO2 in the air, about 300 parts per million and there’s CO2 from burning coal. There’s not much CO2 added to the air by burning coal. Cars add more CO2 than all of the coal-fired power plants and catalytic converters and engine controls remove or convert about 90% of the CO2 but here’s a shocker. The ozone hole helps the greenhouse gases like CO2 escape the atmosphere which add to the safety of using coal to generate electricity.
CO can be fatal but it rarely is because it’s so well controlled. If coal is burning correctly no CO is generated. The largest amount of CO comes from cars. Using computers to control the amount of gasoline being used by the engine eliminates most CO. Adding alcohol to the gasoline just about makes it perfect but an engine can run a bit richer in the winter so more alcohol is added to the gasoline in the winter. It’s called the “Wintertime Oxygenated Fuels Program” and it’s mandatory. It adds cost to the gasoline and it makes the gasoline and hence the engine lose power which makes gasoline even more expensive in the winter but the cars provide even more climate mastery in the winter because in addition to being useful to transport people and stuff it provides a wonderfully comfortable warm space in severe weather.