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EU Energy Commissioner Calls for Development of Sustainable Coal Technologies

In a speech today in Gliwice, Poland to a conference on the future EU energy mix, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that while the EU’s newly abundant coal reserves could offer security of supply, coal use must be accompanied by a reduced environmental impact, which means lower emissions.

The condition of the EU25 is very different from the earlier EU15, Piebalgs noted. “Declining coal production in the EU has been bolstered by that of Poland, the world’s 7th largest coal producer. Not only has this raised the relative importance of coal in the EU, but it has also reinforced the need for Europe to value its indigenous resources.

Faced with the rise in oil prices and new uncertainties over its dependence upon natural gas imported from Russia, Europeans are looking at a variety of approaches for develop a sustainable internal energy market.

The primary message is a clear one. If coal can be demonstrated to be secure, competitive and sustainable, then it has a place in the future European energy mix. The Green Paper does not prescribe the future of individual fuels, but it challenges each of them to prove that they can make a valuable contribution to Europe’s core objectives. From this perspective, the outlook for coal is more positive today than it has been for many years. The Green Paper recognises that coal and lignite account for around one-third of the EU’s electricity production, and that this is due to reliable access to sources and to stable prices. Europe’s own abundant coal reserves offer security of supply.

However, the challenge of global climate change means that coal use must be accompanied by a reduced environmental impact, which means lower emissions.

—Commissioner Piebalgs

The European Commission is making provisions to include the full spectrum of clean coal technologies in its 7th Framework Program for research. Piebalgs will propose to the Commission a communication on clean coal designed to assist the search for the right new policies to support investment and demonstration zero-emission coal-fired power generation and increased efficiencies (exceeding 50%) for the power generation portion of the plants.

But coal can also play other important roles that should not be undermined. There is potential for coal to provide the flexibility needed to complement other energy sources. Coal already complements the use of renewable biomass through co-combustion and combustion with waste. It already provides responsive power generation as back-up capacity for wind power. Both of these uses can serve to reinforce the European energy mix, and there are other opportunities to be explored. These include the use of coal combustion plants to pioneer carbon dioxide storage techniques that could dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions; the conversion of Coal-To-Liquid fuels and chemical products so that future oil price spikes are reduced; and the use of coal to kick-start hydrogen production for transport.

The challenge, however, is that considerable investment is required. It is no secret that new investment is necessary throughout the energy industry, and this is no different for coal. Carbon dioxide intensive processes will be hardly compatible with combating climate change, wherever alternatives exist.

Therefore, we would like to challenge researchers, industrialists and Member States to demonstrate how coal can contribute to sustainable, secure and competitive energy for Europe. It is without saying that these measures are not the only ones that should be encouraged at EU level and by Member States...We need to work notably in favour of a truly internal energy market, in support of the diversification of energy sources, including further commitments for renewable energy and the application of a coherent external energy policy.


shaun mann

people throw the word "sustainable" around as if it can be made to mean anything they want.

sustainable - in an environmental resource management sense - means taking the resource out of the system at the same rate that it is created

so, in the case of coal, we have to look at how many hundreds of millions of year it took to created the stock of resource we presently have, assume that more is being created at this constant rate, then use it at this rate or less. through this means, there will always be more coal for future generations to use.

this isn't a very popular definition of "sustainable," though

Rafael Seidl

Coal to kick-start hydrogen production? Wasn't the appeal of hydrogen supposed to be zero greenhouse gases?

If you must use coal in transportation for reasons of national energy security, perhaps CTL with a compensating carbon sink would be a more appropriate place to start. In principle, that sink could be anywhere in the world, in reforestation, spent oil & gas fields or even algae farms on the surface of the oceans. It could also take the form of renewable energy in other sectors of the economy such that the combined CO2 footprint is at least no worse than for the same amount of useable energy from the present mix of oil & gas.

Technologically, the problem of limiting greenhouse gases is complex (i.e. expensive) but at least it is not as intractable as the alternative: dealing with mountains of additional radioactive waste. In the (very) long run, conservation and renewables are the only realistic option anyhow. The EU would be wise to start focussing on these today, in preference to coal and nuclear.

richard schumacher

By the end of the Century the world's population will be nine billion. In the name of social justice all of those people should have a Western European standard of living. Providing that, even with Western European energy efficiency, will require about eight times today's rate of world energy production. It is impossible to achieve that solely through improved efficiency and renewables. We will need vastly expanded nuclear, wind, and ultimately space-based Solar power.

If CO2 sequestration proves workable then coal would be fine. The great danger is that CO2 sequestration will prove *un*workable, in which case we will be shit out of luck unless we have other sources in place. But if we do have those other sources then why take the risk of coal at all?


I don't think it is very likely that everyone will have a Western European or American standard of living by the end of the century. It is quite possible to live with less. People do it all the time in Latin American and Africa and I don't mean the ones in refugee camps. Europeans and especially Americans will have to reduce their consumption, probably kicking and screaming all the way.


We don't have enough planets for everyone to have a Western European standard of living. Everyone must cut back and we need to reduce population. Nature will take care of much of the population if we don't choose to do it volunatarily.

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