Hard coal: origin, problems and alternatives

Hard coal is one of the fossil energy sources, as well as Lignite or Petroleum and Natural gas. The designation fossil means that the history of the formation of these fuels goes back to the age of the earth, when man did not yet exist.

The knowledge magazine Spektrum reports that fern forests grew on marshy ground in today’s Europe about 350 million years ago. Fallen plant parts ended up like this in the muddy water. The normal decomposition process requires air, which the remains of the plants in the water did not have. This is how a sludge was formed. Over millions of years, more and more layers have been deposited. The weight of the earth’s layers and higher temperatures at these depths acted on the sludge – Hard coal was created.

Hard coal is compressed by pressure and heat to such an extent that mainly only the Carbon left over from the primeval plants. According to the spectrum, hard coal is 78 to 90 percent carbon. Resins and plant fibers are found only in traces.

When hard coal burns, it releases energy in the form of heat free, but also the climate-damaging Carbon dioxide. According to the knowledge portal Welt der Physik, carbon dioxide (CO2) rises to the top layer of the atmosphere. There the greenhouse gases like a burning glass for the sun’s rays, and are thus Global warming jointly responsible .

Coal-fired power plants pollute the air with even more toxic exhaust gases from the coal. These include:

  • Nitrogen oxides
  • sulfur dioxide
  • particulate matter
  • Traces of mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium

Energy from hard coal harms people and nature

Hard coal pollutes the air with toxic exhaust gases

Each burned hard coal means that also climate-damaging greenhouse gases, fine dust and toxic smog escape into the air. This makes coal as an energy source problematic for health, the environment and the climate.

Health damage:

  • mine: Coal dust in the tunnels settles in the miners’ lungs. It can cause respiratory problems and also lung cancer. The "dust lung" or "miner’s disease" is considered a typical occupational disease.
  • Power plantsAccording to the Federal Environment Agency, the toxic smog from smokestacks mainly damages the lungs. Asthma, bronchitis or lung cancer are the typical diseases. In addition, it can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and high blood pressure. The Heinrich Boll Foundation speaks of 18.200 to 23.000 deaths in Europe every year or so that can be attributed to the polluted air breathed by hard coal and lignite-fired power plants.

Environmental damage:

  • The ground sags: Especially abandoned tunnels collapse again and again. According to WDR, for example, in the Siegerland region, houses collapse again and again due to mining, and highways sag.
  • Dangers from waterr: Above collapsed mine tunnel, earth sinks over large area. The ground can thus lie deeper than the original riverbeds. Water pumps are used against it. Without the pumps, rivers in the Ruhr area would flow in other directions and flood cities. These pumps are expected to work for eternity. In the Ruhr region, these costs of eternity are paid by the former operator of the coal mines from a special fund reserved for this purpose.

Climate damage:

  • greenhouse gases: Coal-fired power plants are the biggest climate polluters. According to the Federal Environment Agency, they cause about half of the energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Why it’s so hard to get out of the coal business

The Phasing out coal and the Energy transition has been a topic of controversial discussion for years – but it’s not really getting anywhere.

As recently as 2017, for example, the Federal Environmental Agency admonished the speedy end for coal-fired power plants on. Coal-fired power plants alone were the largest polluters Of greenhouse emissions. Thus they endangered the agreed Climate targets.

When people talk about coal-fired power, they often mean a collective term for hard coal and lignite. For both types Germany has Own Occurrence – from coalfields in the Ruhr area and Saarland.

In the event of a coal phase-out, the politicians see a double problem:

  1. Energy turnaround – The energy source hard coal needs replacement by renewable energies, such as solar or wind energy. There must not be any gaps in supply.
  2. Structural change – New jobs are to be created for the people in the coal regions. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ruhr region and Saarland were. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these were true boom regions to which many people moved. They found work in mines and the metal industry.

Hard coal and the slow phase-out

This is how far the coal phase-out has come:

The phase-out of mining has been achieved – In 2007, the German government decided to end the mining of hard coal. Over the next ten years, the mines gradually ceased operations. However, this does not mean that in Power plants no more hard coal burns. Germany now buys the hard coal for electricity from abroad. According to the German federal government, Germany is one of the world’s biggest importers.

The exit from coal power is still to come – In 2018, the federal government set up a special commission for this purpose. She is tasked with developing proposals on how to reconcile the energy transition and structural change. This group of experts is better known under the name "Coal Commission" than under its official name – "Growth, Structural Change and Employment". In January 2019, the coal commission delivered its report to the government.

Coal phase-out: According to the recommendations, by 2038 at the latest, even the last coal-fired power plant (including lignite) will be able to close down. If all goes well, the commission also considers an exit by 2035 possible.

  • Involved environmental protection organizations, such as BUND or Greenpeace, however, expect an even earlier "out" for the coal-fired power plants.
  • Government’s monitoring report confirms that power supply will be secure even in 2030. The Frauenhofer Institute, which is involved, explains that its model calculations assume that 80 percent solar and wind power are. From this, a possible phase-out for coal-fired power for 2030 could be derived.

Structural changeThe Structural Strengthening Act will bring 40 billion euros in subsidies to coal regions. The money is supposed to create promising jobs.

Coal phase-out: What you can do

Becomes altogether less power needed, green energy sources can more easily absorb the demand. However, the development is going in the opposite direction: According to the Federal Environment Agency, electricity consumption has been increasing almost every year since the 1990s.

This is what you can do Phasing out coal power to advance:

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