Toxic Emissions

Power Efficiency Guide

Ultimate Guide to Power Efficiency

Get Instant Access

Coal-fired power plants account for more than two thirds of sulfur dioxide and about one fifth of nitrogen oxide emissions in the U.S. Sulfur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere to form sulfate particles, which in addition to causing acid rain, contribute to fine particulate pollution, a contaminant linked to thousands of premature deaths from lung disease nationwide. Nitrogen oxides combine with hydrocarbons to form smog-causing ground-level ozone.

Coal-burning plants also emit approximately 48 metric tons of mercury a year in America. This highly toxic element persists in the ecosystem. After transforming into methyl mercury, it accumulates in the tissues of fishes. Ingested mercury is particularly detrimental to fetuses and young infants exposed during periods of rapid brain growth, causing developmental and neurological damage.


Our calculations indicate that a prompt commitment to carbon capture and storage (CCS) would make it possible to meet global energy demands while limiting the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to 450 parts per million by volume (ppmv). This goal could be attained if, by midcentury, sequestration is applied for all coal use and about a quarter of natural gas use, while energy efficiency increases rapidly and carbon-free energy sources expand sevenfold. Under these conditions, overall fossil-fuel consumption could expand modestly from today: by midcentury, coal use could be somewhat higher than at present, oil use would be down by a fifth and natural gas use would expand by half.

To realize this pathway, growth rates for fossil-fuel use would have to be reduced now, and CCS must begin for coal early in the next decade and for natural gas early in the next quarter of a century. The top graph below depicts the energy provided by the various sources if this mitigation path were followed. The bottom graph shows total quantities of carbon extracted from the earth (emissions plus storage).


Additional carbon-free energy needed to satisfy demand

Natural gas with CCS Natural gas with CO2 vented Coal with CCS Coal with CO2 vented

2010 2030 2050 2070


2010 2030 2050 2070

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment