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The Coal Conundrum

While some scientists search desperately for a new fuel to use in cars and power plants that will free us from dependence on Middle Eastern oil while producing fewer emissions, other researchers are trying to find ways to use a fuel we have PLENTY of right here at home: coal.

More than half of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal, but it bring pollution with it. Our demand for electricity expected to double by 2050?can "dirty" coal be used cleanly?

It may be possible if gasification is used. Researcher George Muntean says, "Coal gasification offers one of the most versatile and clean ways to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen and other valuable energy products." Rather than burning coal directly, gasification breaks down coal into its basic chemical constituents using high temperature and pressure. Because of this, carbon dioxide can be captured from a gas stream far more easily than from the smokestacks of a conventional coal plant.

"If we plan to use our domestic supply of coal to produce energy, and do so in a way that does not intensify atmospheric CO2 concentrations, gasification is critical," Muntean says.

We could also export coal for gassification to heavy-polluters like China, which would help our economy. Researcher S.K. Sundaram says, "Advances in gasification will help us meet demand for clean energy worldwide. Science and technology are paving the way for cleaner coal for future generations."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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