A monthly exploration into the world of sustainability in the built environment with commentary and input from UCEM’s Principal and academics.
The issue of coal consumption
Posted on: 10 November, 2022
The UK has a long history with coal consumption stretching back to the 1800s. Despite many thinking that the 1970’s saw the end of coal consumption in the UK, the country is still dependent on the ‘dirtiest fossil fuel’, and with the growing energy crisis, that dependency is likely to grow.
Coal is called the ‘dirtiest fossil fuel’ for a reason. It is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel that humans burn, and it accounts for 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average temperatures.
One emerging alternative that might be of interest is the use of coal substitutes. Two UK-led examples could be promising. CoalSwitch, developed by the Active Energy Group is based on waste biomass. SERF, developed by Helvellyn Group, performs in a similar way to coal, but with (according to the manufacturer) significant reductions in CO2 emissions. Both substitutes are intended to be used in existing stations, so could provide a means of using current infrastructure, but with a lower burn impact on the planet. These are, however, emerging alternatives and, therefore, it remains to be seen whether or not the lifecycle impacts are lower than coal. Nonetheless, coal substitution is a promising avenue of exploration, especially if it can be scaled for use in other industrial and domestic settings.
What is the solution?
The concerns over just how effective alternatives are in reducing overall impacts highlight one of the most complex facets of this climate crisis issue. We know that we must reduce emissions in order to stand any chance of limiting global warming to the targeted 1.5%. We can identify the practices that are currently contributing to those emissions and set targets for amending those practices, including the phasing out of electricity generation from coal. What we cannot so easily do is determine the full impact of the alternatives.
There is no magic wand we can wave, no guaranteed ‘easy fix’. It is vitally important that we work together on a global scale so that we can, collectively, get closer to finding solutions.