Can Coal Really Be Clean?

Candidates Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Hold Second Presidential Debate At Washington University

During the second presidential debate, an American internet sensation emerged because of his seemingly important question. Kenneth Bone asked, “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job layoffs?” Of course the candidates answered the question by attacking the past decisions of the other candidate’s career based on some sort of energy situation. But Donald Trump also mentioned a very intriguing idea by saying, “There is a thing called clean coal.” I have never heard of coal being clean so I decided to look into it.


When Donald Trump mentioned clean coal, we can only assume that he is talking about the most common process in which carbon dioxide emitted by coal burning power plants is captured and stored. This is a new process that is still in the experimental phase and is extremely costly. An example is Southern Company’s Kemper clean coal plant in Mississippi. This plant has costed near to $7 billion dollars, millions of which are from federal grants. Southern Company is now delaying the project again and raising the projected cost, even though the project is already $4 billion dollars over budget. Another clean coal project, that was in the works for over a decade, is FutureGen. It was so expensive that both the Bush and Obama Administrations cut federal support for it; it was never built. No major U.S. clean coal plant is operational. Clean coal technology does not exist yet as an affordable and environmentally friendly energy. Even if it did exist, the captured carbon dioxide would be used in a non-environmentally friendly manner. A company called NRG Energy plans on selling the captured carbon monoxide to oil companies to help stunt the production of oil from underperforming wells. This is ironic because we found a way to make burning coal into an environmentally safe energy source, but we use the product of clean coal to ultimately increase the burning of another fossil fuel; oil.

Enough about the science of it. We learned about how politicians and media can effect what we see and believe on the news in class. Our society has the tendency to agree with the ideas of politicians without doing any research on the subject matter. This gets dangerous when the subject matter is science related. I think communicating science is very difficult as a politician; there are many facts that you must know before you say something and you have to have accurate research to back it up. In this case of false communication, Donald Trump answered a question about clean energy with a new scientific technology to possibly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions. He implied that it is a fix to our pollution problem, but he actually was ill-informed on the matter. Due to his fans and the people that follow him during the election, I assume that many of those people believe that there is such thing as clean coal that can be used as clean energy. Clean coal is one of countless examples of miscommunication of science issues. Politicians and news providers will propose new scientific studies with false, little, or no information to support what they say. We need to be more educated and investigative when it comes to communicating in science so that we can be smart enough to correctly research that what we hear and see is actually true.

David Lehn



4 thoughts on “Can Coal Really Be Clean?

  1. Thank you for posting this! Its so relevant with this election and everyone seems to be so threatened whenever alternatives to coal are brought up when in fact more people are hired (and paid better) by green-energy innovators than coal plants!

    Victoria Obermeyer


  2. I had never heard of clean coal until now. How it has been miscommunicated is concerning because trump will unlikely support if he gets elected. It seems to expensive and is a major step that would require a lot of cuts to be able to afford. It seems possible, but i doubt we will be much of this within the next 4years.

    Chandler B


  3. It would be great if clean coal was an effective way of cutting carbon dioxide emissions! but unfortunately as you have described it is expensive and the effects of the process are negligible in reducing carbon dioxide.whats even worse is that people believe that this process will work because no one takes the time to look up the process for them selves

    Tom walters


  4. The whole idea of “clean coal” is absolutely pointless to me because you have other sources of proven renewable clean resources available. The whole issue with coal is that it is the dirtiest of all the fossil fuels. It gives off the most carbon dioxide and the fact that they think they an “store” the carbon dioxide is worrisome. If you store it you have to make sure that it doesn’t get released by some accident or miscalculation. And this really concerns me because the fact that it is dirty isn’t even the main problem with coal. Coal is a non-renewable resource meaning we will run out of it some day because it takes thousands of years to produce and we are consuming it much faster than it is being made so the fact that Trump even wants to continue backing coal is just infuriating as a person who cares about the environment.
    Elizabeth Mullett


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