Saturday, 31 May 2008
The Energy Crisis: Coal Is A Solution Again
(photo of old underground mining machinery thanks to Oracle Foundation ThinkQuest)
Britain sits on coal: hundreds of years' worth at annual consumption levels . The technology for CO2 sequestration already exists and is in use in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea oilfields to increase oil recovery. In addition to pumping CO2 underground beneath impermeable rock strata, there also exists technology to grow algae using CO2 bubbled through water as described here, here and here.
In the 1960's the technologies to extract oil from the North Sea did not exist. However, by the late 1970's advances in rig design, drilling techniques and equipment, unmanned submersibles and deep sea diving meant that extracting oil and bringing it ashore was, in conjunction with a higher oil price, both feasible and economical.
Britain has a world-class biotechnology industry to develop better strains of algae, a world class robotics industry to, say, develop unmanned coalmining machinery to exploit reserves more efficiently or exploit previously unmineable seams. Energy generation from coal might take place entirely underground with perhaps, extremophile bacteria consuming the coal , or controlled combustion warming water pipes. Alternatively, coal could be converted into liquid fuel. Local combined heat and powerplants could ease the strain on the National Grid whilst it is upgraded. Whatever method is used it is inevitable that efficiency will increase massively as it did in the first Steam Age when Watt improved on Newcomen's engines.
The question of energy and energy security must be given the high priority it requires. Energy is just as vital a part of national security as food production and IT/comms.
In conclusion, renewable energy generation like solar and wind power are only feasible if energy consumption and therefore, standard of living drops considerably. Oil and gas have to be imported from insecure or hostile parts of the world (before I turn the tap on ,what exactly didn't you like about our Eurovision entry?) and nuclear power is expensive, high maintenance and takes a long time to commission. I'm not arguing that coal should be the only means of heat and power generation but it should be the dominant player given Britain's geographical inheritance.