Don’t hang up your picks and shovels just yet, fellas.
A new chemical process could make Cape Breton coal the
environmentally friendly fuel of the future. A scientist at
the Los Alomos National Laboratory has discovered a method to
extract energy from coal without burning it.
“Holy jumpin’s,” said Kevin Murphy, president of the Cape
Breton Miners’ Co-operative.
“If you don’t even have to burn it and you can get energy
from it, that would be wonderful.”
The process, developed by physicist Hans-Joachim Ziock,
involves using gas streams to strip hydrogen and carbon from
coal, which are then reacted with water to make even more
hydrogen and a waste stream of carbon dioxide gas. The
hydrogen will power a fuel cell, which chemically converts it
into heat and water.
“So there is no combustion to produce the electricity,”
Ziock said in an interview from his lab in New Mexico. “Coal
can be consumed completely cleanly.”
None of the contaminants in coal will be released to the
atmosphere through the process, said Ziock, who hopes to
capture the carbon dioxide in a carbon-based rock similar to
limestone and bury it again.
“This particular process is in a theory stage,” he
Zeca Corp. of Alberta hopes to licence the technology and
build a pilot plant within five years.
Greenhouse gases are transparent to rays from the sun, but
prevent those rays from being bounced back into space.
Scientists say the buildup of such gases is causing the
Earth’s temperature to rise, melting glaciers and disrupting
The most important greenhouse gas is carbon monoxide,
produced by the burning of coal, oil and gas. The
controversial Kyoto protocol would force the world’s nations
to steadily reduce the amount of carbon monoxide they pump
into the atmosphere.
Ziock estimates his process will be 11/2 times as expensive
as simply burning coal.
“It’s always cheaper to throw your garbage out the window
than it is to pay somebody to take care of it,” he said. “What
we have here is a process which extracts the garbage, and then
actually handles it.”
The coal field that lies beneath the mothballed Donkin Mine
holds an estimated 800 million tonnes. Murphy’s co-operative
is hoping to see the mine back in operation by 2003, employing
about 200 people.
“That mine is going to last a hell of a long time,” he
Any process that could transfer coal into clean energy
without burning it might help to keep miners employed, Murphy
“It would certainly be something to look at,” he said.
“Coal does have a bad reputation with the environment,
let’s face it.”
Much of Cape Breton’s coal is sulphurous.
But Ziock believes even that coal could be used to make
energy without burning.
“It should not cause a real problem,” he said.