In 2011, President Obama set a U.S. energy target: produce 80 percent of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. Reaching that goal would involve removing two thirds of coal usage in the USA. The US is not on a path to making that happen.
Something new is happening which will be even better.
Let me first quickly explain the coal problem.
How much is 750 million tons of coal per year ?
The Robert W. Scherer Coal Power Plant is near Macon, Georgia. The $2.1 billion facility has four, self-contained 880 megawatt units. This is 3.5 Gigawatts of power. It burns 1,288 tons of coal every hour—11 million tons a year.
The US has the equivalent of 70 times this much coal.
Coal in the USA is usually sent to coal plants in 120-car trains. Each train car carries are roughly 120 tons. Thus the capacity of a modern unit coal train is around 15,000 tons per train.
There are at least thirty-six of these two-mile long coal trains en route to Scherer on the ten-day roundtrip from Wyoming (1800 miles away). Between three and five trains offload at Scherer daily. Coal is dumped from doors in the bottoms of the cars as they travel over an unloading trestle. The trains never stop and a 120-car train unloads in half an half-hour.
Over 300 two mile long trains of coal every day.
CO2 produced is almost double the weight of the coal
The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is produced from burning a fuel weighs more than the amount of the fuel itself, because during complete combustion, each carbon atom in the fuel combines with two oxygen atoms in the air to make CO2. The addition of two oxygen atoms to each carbon atom forms CO2, which has an atomic weight of 44—roughly 3.6667 times the atomic weight of the carbon, which is 12.
Subbituminous coal is on average 51% carbon, so the carbon in a short ton (2,000 pounds) weighs 1,020 pounds. The carbon dioxide emissions from burning a short ton of subbituminous coal are approximately 3,740 pounds, or about 3.67 times the weight of the carbon in a short ton of coal, and 1.87 times the weight of a short ton of coal.
Deaths are from particulates from the burning of coal which cause cancer and lung disease
Air pollution in the USA causes about 200,000 early deaths per year. Over 40,000 of those would be attributed to coal. Other studies indicate US air pollution deaths are only 38,000 per year.
Burning coal has the worst health impact of any source of air pollution in China and caused 366,000 premature deaths in 2013.
A Global Burden of Disease study examining deaths in 2013, which estimated that PM 2.5 contributed to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide, with 64 percent of those in China, India and other developing countries in Asia. Premature deaths due to PM 2.5 exposure were also high in Eastern Europe. A larger study on 2013 deaths was published last year by The Lancet, a British medical journal.
That study estimated the number of premature deaths in China in 2013 related to PM 2.5 exposure at 916,000, out of a population of 1.4 billion. Researchers found that outdoor air pollution was the fifth leading cause of premature deaths in China, behind high blood pressure, smoking, high consumption of sodium and low consumption of fruit. Household air pollution was the sixth leading cause.
A 2015 study calculated that the annual toll of outdoor air pollution in China is 95 percent likely to fall between 700,000 and 2.2 million deaths, and their estimate of 1.6 million a year is the midpoint of that range.
China uses 6 times as much coal as the USA
China uses about 6 times as much coal as the USA. China’s coal plants are more polluting that the US coal plants.
China will make Nuclear Pool Reactors that are supersized TRIGA research reactors
There are about 70 TRIGA (training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics) pool type reactors at Universities. 35 TRIGA reactors have been installed at locations across the United States. A further 35 reactors have been installed in other countries.
TRIGA is a pool-type reactor that can be installed without a containment building, and is designed for use by scientific institutions and universities for purposes such as undergraduate and graduate education, private commercial research, non-destructive testing and isotope production. TRIGA reactors have been safely used since 1958.
TRIGA and other pool reactors are 6 meters to 9 meters (20′ to 30′) deep and 1.8 meters to 3.6 meters (6′ to 12′) in diameter.
China will make deep pool reactors. Each steel-and-concrete reactor pool will measure about 10 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep, and holds up to 1,800 tonnes of water.
So they will make it 3 times larger in diameter and over twice as deep with 20 times the volume.
A nuclear core is submerged in the water and can create up to 400 megawatts of heat to water to about 90 degrees Celsius for distribution through the city’s public.
The first reactor will cost $200 million and will be built in Mongolia in starting next year. It will be completed within three years. Construction will be fast because no 600 ton iron dome forging is needed and no turbine is needed for converting heat to electricity. The system will only produce heat for buildings.
Transmitting hot water for buildings through pipes in common in Northern Europe and Russia. Stockholm is almost completely heated with district heating.
Two or three pool reactors in Beijing are being scaled up for office building heating demonstrations.
A single reactor can produce enough energy to heat 10 million square meters of living space within a 35km range (22 mile). Two or three reactors would be enough heat a mid-sized city, though bigger metropolitan centers like Beijing would require more units.
China will build over 300 of these reactors to provide heat for people in cold northern cities. By eliminating winter coal heating, China will be able to not burn about 500 to 600 million tons of coal. This would be more than the two-thirds coal elimination target that President Obama hoped for by 2035.
China should be able to stop the use of coal for winter heating within a decade.
Construction of city wide networks of heat pipes are just the kind of construction which China has shown to have mastered. China builds a new Los Angeles worth of city every year.
Deep concrete pools are also trivial for China.
The total cost of about $60 billion is far less than proposed plans in the USA.
US plans have tended to be in the $30-100 billion per year range over 20 years to get to 30% emission reductions.
This is better because
– the equivalent of US coal usage will be removed in ten years and not twenty
– China will pay for it all to happen
– global coal usage and global emissions will be improved
– China’s coal is more polluting so more air and water pollution will be removed
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.