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# Is coal running out?

Dave Summers (Heading Out) has a rebuttal to the recently reinvigorated claim that coal will peak soon after oil: Future Coal Supplies - more, not less!.

I also read, but didn't note the link and can't now find it, that a coal-water-slurry with very small coal particles (5 microns?) can be run in a standard diesel engine.

So the temptation to keep burning coal is going to be hard to resist in tough economic times. We need something better.

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edited November 2010

I was shocked when streamfortyseven suggested "peak coal" around 2075 or maybe even earlier. He gave some references, but I didn't believe them. I'm more inclined to trust the estimates Nathan gave. The curve on top here is the "business as usual" projection:

All the others are scenarios where we deliberate limit carbon burning.

It's incredibly important to understand these issues, so the wide range of opinions is a bit unnerving. I want to keep studying them, and put a lot more information about these questions onto the Azimuth Project!

Comment Source:I was shocked when streamfortyseven suggested ["peak coal" around 2075](http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/this-weeks-finds-week-305/#comment-2477) or [maybe even earlier](http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/this-weeks-finds-week-305/#comment-2478). He gave some references, but I didn't believe them. I'm more inclined to trust the estimates [Nathan gave](http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/this-weeks-finds-week-305/#comment-2469). The curve on top here is the "business as usual" projection: <img src = "http://img64.imageshack.us/img64/1271/ecp2300.png" alt = ""/> All the others are scenarios where we deliberate limit carbon burning. It's incredibly important to understand these issues, so the wide range of opinions is a bit unnerving. I want to keep studying them, and put a lot more information about these questions onto the Azimuth Project!
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Maybe the key word is 'cheap'?

The end of cheap coal, last week in Nature.

Comment Source:Maybe the key word is 'cheap'? [The end of cheap coal](http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7322/full/468367a.html), last week in Nature.
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It really depends on how much demand increases. There is a lot of coal out there, but a lot of it is hard to get to, and therefore more expensive. The high-end BAU scenarios assume that we get desperate enough for energy that we dig out all that coal, even when it becomes costly, even assuming some deployment of non-fossil energy.

If you don't think demand will increase that much, or alternatives will be much cheaper than the hard-to-get coal, or legislation forbids getting all the coal (e.g., by mountain-top removal and other environmentally destructive practices) ... or if you just think there's less coal out there than is estimated by some ... then coal production could peak earlier.

I don't know what the most realistic assumption is. I'm not sure I believe an emissions scenario as large as RCP8.5, which depends not just on coal but on tar sands and oil shales. I would believe a scenario that got up to 4xCO2 (~1100 ppm). I did talk to an energy engineering professor (and former coal miner) once about coal, and he thought we'd burn it all, even the hard to get stuff.

Comment Source:It really depends on how much demand increases. There is a lot of coal out there, but a lot of it is hard to get to, and therefore more expensive. The high-end BAU scenarios assume that we get desperate enough for energy that we dig out all that coal, even when it becomes costly, even assuming some deployment of non-fossil energy. If you don't think demand will increase that much, or alternatives will be much cheaper than the hard-to-get coal, or legislation forbids getting all the coal (e.g., by mountain-top removal and other environmentally destructive practices) ... or if you just think there's less coal out there than is estimated by some ... then coal production could peak earlier. I don't know what the most realistic assumption is. I'm not sure I believe an emissions scenario as large as RCP8.5, which depends not just on coal but on tar sands and oil shales. I would believe a scenario that got up to 4xCO2 (~1100 ppm). I did talk to an energy engineering professor (and former coal miner) once about coal, and he thought we'd burn it all, even the hard to get stuff.
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From the 23 November 2010 International Herald Tribune:

Even as developed countries close or limit the construction of coal-fired power plants out of concern over pollution and climate-warming emissions, coal has found a rapidly expanding market elsewhere - in Asia, particularly China.

At ports in Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa, ships are lining up to to load coal for furnaces in China, which has evolved virtually overnight from a coal exporter into one of the world's leading purchasers.

Traditionally, coal is burned near where it is mined - particularly so-called thermal or steaming coal, used for heat and electricity. But in the past few years, long-distance international coal exports have been surging because of China's galloping economy, which now burns more than half of the 6 billion tons of coal used globally each year.

As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more.

And the rush to feed this new Asian market has helped double the price of coal over the past five years...

Comment Source:From the 23 November 2010 <i>International Herald Tribune</i>: > Even as developed countries close or limit the construction of coal-fired power plants out of concern over pollution and climate-warming emissions, coal has found a rapidly expanding market elsewhere - in Asia, particularly China. >At ports in Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa, ships are lining up to to load coal for furnaces in China, which has evolved virtually overnight from a coal exporter into one of the world's leading purchasers. >Traditionally, coal is burned near where it is mined - particularly so-called thermal or steaming coal, used for heat and electricity. But in the past few years, long-distance international coal exports have been surging because of China's galloping economy, which now burns more than half of the 6 billion tons of coal used globally each year. >As a result, not only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway around the globe are spewing still more. >And the rush to feed this new Asian market has helped double the price of coal over the past five years...