The newsLINK Group - Where Does All That Coal Go
Editorial Library Category: Mining Topics: Mining, Coal Title: Where Does All That Coal Go? Author: newsLINK Staff Synopsis: The U.S. mines more than a billion tons of coal every year, second only to China. And there is still a lot of coal left to be mined; in fact, scientists estimate that U.S. coal reserves have more energy in them than all the oil reserves in the entire world, and that if the U.S. continues to use its coal at the current rate, the supply is large enough to last more than 250 years. Editorial: Where Does All That Coal Go? 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ thenewslinkgroup.com │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 The U.S. mines more than a billion tons of coal every year, second only to China. And there is still a lot of coal left to be mined; in fact, scientists estimate that U.S. coal reserves have more energy in them than all the oil reserves in the entire world, and that if the U.S. continues to use its coal at the current rate, the supply is large enough to last more than 250 years. Since 1986, the top-producing coal state has been Wyoming, providing about 40 percent of the coal used in the U.S. In fact, Wyoming mines produced 438,380,012 tons of coal in 2011. Its northern neighbor, Montana, has the most coal reserves of any state, amounting to about 120 billion tons, and is estimated to have one fourth of all the recoverable coal reserves in the U.S. The obvious thing to do with coal is to burn it, and that is certainly one of its current primary uses. We burn coal to make more than 50 percent of the electricity that we produce. At the same time, electricity production is far from its only use. There is an estimate that every person in the U.S. uses 3.8 tons of coal per year. What do we use it for? Sometimes we use it indirectly by putting coal byproducts to work. Fly Ash When coal burns, it leaves ash behind. Some of the particles are so fine that they rise with the flue gases while the coal is burning. These particles are called fly ash. The ashes that don’t rise are called bottom ash. As the flue gases rise, they go through filters on the way, and the job of the filters is to remove as much fly ash as possible. In the U.S., we are currently able to remove more than 99 percent of the fly ash. The fly ash generally gets stored either at coal power plants or in landfills. There is a lot of it. In 2005, about 42 percent was recycled; in 2006, that had risen to 43 percent, and many people want to see that number increase even more. Not all fly ash is the same, the same way that coal is not all the same. The coal on the east coast is older than the coal in the western part of the country. Younger coal makes Class C fly ash, and older coal makes Class F fly ash. However, all fly ash does large amounts of two ingredients, silicon dioxide and calcium oxide. Fly ash can be used in cement, and it is also an inexpensive filler in bowling balls, golf balls, linoleum, plastics, tennis rackets, and screwdriver handles. According to Lisa Widawsky, a lawyer who works with the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C., safely putting fly ash to work is a matter of science, not law. Concrete is a particularly good place to use fly ash. For one thing, there was a study done in 2009 at Ohio State University that found concrete made with fly ash emits the same amount of mercury vapor as concrete made without fly ash, even though the replacement was 55 percent. The resulting cement is stronger and is more durable as well. According to Alan Kren, who is a senior associate with a California engineering firm called Rutherford & Chekene, every pound of fly ash used to make concrete means that CO 2 emissions are also reduced by a pound. In 2007, the fly ash used to make concrete reduced CO 2 remissions by 15 million tons. He doesn’t stop at that, though. Kren says environmentalists who oppose fly ash have good motives, but they don’t understand the science, and they also don’t understand fly ash and concrete. It could also be said is that finding safe uses for fly ash certainly beats making the ash and then just storing it. Bruce King, a professional engineer and consultant, is in agreement with that idea. According to King, we make a bucket of ash every year for every person in the U.S., and we do need to make use of it. What are his credentials? He’s the director of the Ecological Building Network in San Rafael, California, and has become an expert at working with green, alternative building materials.
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