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Pollution from Coal Burning: IEACCC

  • 17 Feb 2021
  • 6 min read

Why in News

A study by the International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre (IEACCC) has stated that coal burning is responsible for heavy air pollution in India.

Key Points

  • Findings:
    • Pollution from Coal-Based Thermal Power Stations:
      • Coal-based thermal power stations contribute over half sulphur dioxide (SO2), 30% oxides of nitrogen (NOx), about 20% particulate matter (PM), etc.
      • Persistent burning of coal in thermal power stations and a delay in implementation of latest carbon capture storage technology are among major reasons of air pollution in India.
    • Pollution from Other Sectors:
      • Transport and other industrial sectors stand second to coal-based thermal power stations as a contributor to air pollution.

  • Suggestions:
    • Retirement of Old Fleet of Power Stations:
      • To limit pollution and improve the fleet efficiency by adopting clean coal technology.
    • Investment in Cleaner and Advanced Technology:
      • The most new advanced technology plants in India - such as Mundra and Sassan in Gujarat are struggling financially, causing stakeholders to lose confidence in investing in cleaner and advanced technology.
    • Launch More Ambitious Schemes:
      • The current energy efficiency schemes, including performance and achieve trade scheme, efficiency standards scheme and carbon pricing schemes, are not ambitious enough to drive significant improvement.
    • Adopting Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS):
      • It is equally important to reduce emissions. It suggested India to include it as a part of its climate commitment.
      • CCUS is the process of capturing waste CO2, transporting it to a storage site and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere.

Coal Burning and Pollution

  • Coal Formation:
    • Formed deep underground over thousands of years of heat and pressure, coal is a carbon-rich black rock that releases energy when burned.
  • Air Pollution:
    • When coal is burned, it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants.
    • They include mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and various other heavy metals.
    • Health impacts can range from asthma and breathing difficulties, to brain damage, heart problems, cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death.
  • Water Pollution:
    • The coal-fired power plants produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash every year.
      • More than half of that waste ends up in ponds, lakes, landfills, and other sites where, over time, it can contaminate waterways and drinking water supplies.
    • Other water impacts include acid rock drainage from coal mines, the destruction of mountain streams and valleys by mountaintop removal mining, and the energy-water collisions that occur when coal plants rely too heavily on local water supplies.
  • Climate Change:
    • Coal is a large contributor to Global Warming.
  • Initiatives to Control Emissions from Power Plants:
    • Exploring CCUS:
      • India is exploring its potential, as a plant at the industrial port of Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin has begun capturing CO2 from its own coal-powered boiler and using it to make baking soda.
    • Emission Standard:
      • India has issued orders for thermal power plants to comply with emissions standards for installing Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units that cut emissions of toxic sulphur dioxide.
    • Graded Action Plan:
      • The Ministry of Power has proposed a "graded action plan," whereby areas where plants are located would be graded according to the severity of pollution, with Region 1 referring to critically polluted areas, and Region 5 being the least polluted.

International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre

  • About:
  • Members:
    • It has 17 members, made up of contracting parties and sponsoring organisations.
    • India's Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) is a sponsoring organisation.
  • Location:
    • Based in London with a team of engineers, scientists and other experts.
  • Support:
    • It is supported financially by national governments (contracting parties) and by corporate industrial organisations.
  • Mission:
    • To provide independent information and analysis on how coal can become a cleaner source of energy, compatible with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
    • To address the role of coal in the energy trilemma and the need to balance security of supply, affordability and environmental issues.
    • To focus on reducing emissions of CO2 and other pollutants from coal use through High Efficiency, Low Emissions (HELE) technologies.


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