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bad coal for clean power

MONSTER MASHER: Coal handling equipment at Tutuka power station. PIc. Joel Avni. © Sowetan.
MONSTER MASHER: Coal handling equipment at Tutuka power station. PIc. Joel Avni. © Sowetan.

Inside story by Joel Avni and Tebogo Manama

Inside story by Joel Avni and Tebogo Manama

Eskom believes it has found a technology that will power our homes and economy for centuries at far less cost than current methods and without battering our blasted environment any further.

Coal now powers more than 90percent of our generating stations. But the filthy fuel that powered the industrial revolution has brought health and environmental misery to Mpumalanga and wherever else it is consumed.

Burning coal belches vast quantities of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the air, risking the health of all in its path. Nevertheless, demand from industrial powerhouses such as India and China has pushed prices into the stratosphere and we now export even the low-grade supplies once reserved for Eskom's power stations.

In common with the rest of the world, South Africa has turned its attention back to nuclear. These power stations have never fulfilled their promise of providing us with electricity "too cheap to meter", but their brooding threat was adjudged safer than the certainty of being roasted alive under a blanket of greenhouse gases emitted by coal fires. At least half the new capacity Eskom plans to bring online by 2025 will come from nukes.

The technology for environmentally safe power from renewable energy sources such as wind, water and sun are still too expensive to replace coal and nukes.

So, what is the new wonder fuel that will help power South Africa into a brave new future where we won't have to switch off the lights and cut back the industries that offer the hope of a better life for all?


Better yet, it is the coal that is too poor or difficult to mine commercially. Instead of mining and transporting it to power stations to foul our country and planet, it will be left in place underground where it will be converted into clean fuel with less risk to health and environment.

The magic comes in transforming the coal into gas underground, with little risk of polluting the water table, or the land and air above the coalfield. The gas will be piped to neighbouring power stations to produce electricity.

Traditional coal-fired stations convert only about a third of the energy in their fuel into electricity. Gas-powered stations will operate at about 50percent efficiency at about 70percent of the cost of a conventional plant. They will also be 20percent cheaper to build.

And many of the waste by-products can be used as feedstock for chemical industries such as Sasol.

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