As gas prices rise the UK government thinks that switching to "clean coal" (sometimes called "green coal") is the solution. The necessary rider to this kind of technology is that most of the carbon will be captured at the other end and stored long-term, in natural underground cavities, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere as CO2. The Royal Society (Britain's Academy of Sciences) has endorsed a call from the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) that there should be "bold leadership" in the matter of using coal as a source of energy but noted the government "appears paralysed".
A coal-fired power station produces around twice the amount of CO2 that a gas-fired station does of equivalent generating capacity, and if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is fitted as well, the process requires another 10 - 40% worth of fuel to be burned. Put another way, it might take building a third station for every two to power the CCS for them all. The EAC heard evidence that there may be five or six new coal-fired stations built in the U.K. by 2015, although this does appear dubious since it takes around 10 years to build one.
The EAC has told the government that it must set a clear date by which companies must implement CCS or close their coal-plants down. It stresses that clean coal is a "fig leaf" whereby the government is able to claim green credentials in developing a low-carbon future (in line with EU greenhouse-gas targets) despite the fact there is no guarantee that CCS will will installed, which is an untried technology as yet, on the significant scale, and is also going to be expensive. Now that much is guaranteed.
"Unless there is a dramatic technological development, coal should be seen as the last resort, even with the promise of CCS", so concludes the EAC report. Tim Jones, climate policy officer with the World Development Movement, commented: "The government should not be relying on CCS - an unproven technology - to justify new coal power stations."
There is an issue too, of where this coal might come from since Britain only produces around a third of the coal it uses and hence a dependency on imported fuel remains.
"Clean deadline call on coal power." By Richard Black. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7518311.stm