Negative Effects of Coal Fired Power Plants

Negative Effects of Coal Fired Power Plants

The Truth about Coal as an Energy Resource:

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Coal is one of the world’s most impure sources of fuel. It has many different impurities ranging from metals like uranium and thorium to iron and aluminum, not to forget sulfur. When coal is combusted, other harmful substances result, like the oxides of carbon, sulfur and nitrogen, and substances of carcinogenic and mutagenic nature. (Jenkins, 1983)

As the world moves on and the energy needs of the ever increasing populations touches heights, people are finding new ways of producing cheap and abundant energy to fulfill their electricity and other energy supported needs. In such a search for energy providing resources, the most common misconception seen in today’s population is their reliability on coal and the fact that they believe it to be cheap. But this is nothing but a misconception because coal is not cheap rather it is expensive and secondly, it emits all these harmful substances which have detrimental long lasting effects on the human body. The burning of coal leads to the emission of sulphur dioxide, the gas which plays a vital role in the formation of acid rain. Moreover, it even emits mercury, which is a harmful component in isolation. Global warming is already an issue for the world and thanks to the burning of coal, the amount of carbon dioxide that they burn in isolation equals that of all vehicles together. The environmental costs of coal are very large and thus, even if it was cheap, which it is not, then using it as an energy resource would always end up in a win-lose situation where the public is losing out on its health and environment safety. (Emsperger, 2003)

This does not mean that the demand of coal is falling. Rather it is rising as the global warming rises and the need to function air conditioners rises. Other factors like population growth and the fact that most of the world is now moving towards the trend of bigger houses, it is likely that the demand is rising at a very fast rate. And researchers say that the carbon dioxide that is emitted from the coal burning is not easy to control and condense. If efforts are made to remove the carbon dioxide from the whole process of coal fired power plants, this would only lead to the vanishing of 25% energy, which is a lot when the whole world is dependent on energy production by this fossil fuel coal. (Cuffe, 1967)

Using coal as the energy resource means that we are negating all the efforts that are being made to combat the most ferocious issue facing the world: global warming. Many governments, companies, businesses, and laws are bent upon removing and bringing world global warming to a minimum, but if the amount of carbon dioxide that these coal fired power plants produces keeps on going on for many years, these steps will remain futile.

Coal’s negative effects and harmful costs begin the minute their search is started. They do not start when their burning is done, rather the mountains and hills are damaged when efforts are made to dig out the coal and extract it. The societies that live surrounding these mountains is then really disturbed because of all the mining, they get deprived of drinking water and other important utilities like health and safety. (Emsperger, 2003)

The coal is never “clean”. Energies should not be wasted over the making of machines which will reduce the impact of dirty coal or make it clean. Rather, new ways of producing energy should be sought because coal is turning out to be very harmful in many ways possible. (Mendelsohn, 1979)

The whole process of using a coal-fired power plant is dangerous and unhealthy from step one to step last. It releases toxic mercury in abundant amounts and also emits large quantities of carbon dioxide. Right now, what needs to be done is to focus on increasing our efficiency and renewing our components, rather than thinking about how can dirty coal be cleaned up and utilized. (Jenkins, 1983)

Researchers and archaeologists claim that the amount of coal supply available underground is abundant, but then the problem arises when it has to be mined. Many destructive techniques are used to extract out the coal. In such a case, it is better to not dig out the coal than destroy the mountains and the communities that live beside it.

Coal has always been used to reduce the dependency that the world has formed on oil. And that is the reason that liquid coal was introduced. But liquid coal is also not a practical and efficient substitution for oil. Liquid coal plants are not only costly but they are also complex. They require large amounts of inputs, both in terms of money and coal, to produce very small quantities of outputs in the form of synthetic fuels. Even coal mining requires to be escalated by a hefty amount of 40% if liquid coal plants have to be set up. Liquid coal increases the effects of double warming almost double the amount as compared to if natural gas is used as an energy producer. (Mendelsohn, 1979)

How Do Coal-Fired Power Plants Work?

A coal fired power plant is the most inefficient source of energy; it is costly and environmentally hazardous. This is how it works:

Firstly the coal is dig from the mines and is supplied to the location where the coal-fired power plant is set up. This supply is made through a highway truck, railways or a barge. At times, the plant is set up near the place where the mining will be done and this saves the costs that will be involved in transporting the coal to the site of the coal-fired power plant. In this plant, the first machine that the coal has to go through is the coal hopper where it is crushed in such a way so that its size comes down to only five centimeters. Then the coal is sent to a generating plant with the help of a conveyor belt. (Jenkins, 1983)

The second step is that of pulverization, also known as crushing, where the coal is turned into fine powder, is then amalgamated with air and blown into the furnace or boiler, whichever is available and sent to the next step for combustion. (Mendelsohn, 1979)

In the third step, the coal is put into a boiler, where this amalgamated mixture of coal and air immediately ignites into a flame. Through the channels of tube-like substances, purified water in the abundance of million liters is sent into the boiler so that it turns into steam due to the ignition that is inside and this steam is used to spin the turbine which creates electricity.

The above mentioned step leads to the burning of coal, which produces three harmful substances that is carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The boiler expels these gases. At the bottom of the boiler falls a lot of bottom ash which is removed automatically. The light substance, fly ash, leaves the boiler with the sizzling gases. At this point in time, an electrostatic precipitator is at work which removed 99.4% of this light fly ash before these gases are emitted into the atmosphere. (Hendriks, 1994)

In the next step, the water which was present in the boiler tubes turns steam by taking the heat from the boiler itself. This steam, which has a lot of high pressure condensed within itself, moves to the turbine, which spins rapidly. This spinning is caused because of the high pressure and leads the shaft to turn inside the generator, causing electricity to get generated.

The next step is to cool this steam which is done by passing cooling water through the condensers in the plant. The steam travels separate pipes to serve the purpose of cooling themselves. Because the steam is hotter than the cold of the cooling water, the steam manages to heat up the cooling water, which condenses to form pure water and goes back to the boiler so that the whole process can start again. The cooling water is then let out of the plant.

Water is purified to make sure that there is no corrosion inside the plant. Waste water is sent out of the plants and into the ponds that have been formed to hold them. Ash is ultimately collected in bins. Fly ash and bottom ash is collected in disposal sites. If there is appropriate market demand, then the fly ash can be sold to the cement industry for construction purposes.

After the electricity is generated with the help of coal-fired power plants, their voltage has to be increased so that they can travel through transmission lines. This process of increasing the voltage is accomplished by the use of transformers. After the electricity is distributed to electricity delivering stations in cities and towns, their voltage again has to be reduced so that they can be given to the end user.

Through this whole process, the fossil fuel coal is used to generate energy in the form of electricity.

The Costs Involved: Material and Immaterial

It is the most common misconception among people that coal is the most affordable sources of energy. In fact, coal is very expensive. The cost of the coal is touching skies at this point in time and this difference in prices has become more and more prominent since the past some years. In some cases, the cost of setting up a coal-fired power plant has increased by more than 50% as compared to what it was a few years ago. Estimating the costs of a plant, it can be said that it costs more than a billion dollars to set up one plant. For example, the Norborne, MO plant costs 1.7 billion dollars when it was set up. The costs of coal are expected to rise even further in the future because of the many regulations that will be set up on the emission of carbon dioxide. For the future of our upcoming generations, it would be useless to invest in new coal-fired power plants because their pre-set up, set up and running costs are too high. It is better to invest in efficiencies and renewable for the future energy needs. (Jenkins, 1983)

The above mentioned are just the material or the financial costs. Other immaterial costs include those which are to human life, to wildlife and that to the safety of the environment in which we live. The sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that the coal-fired power plant produces has detrimental effects to the human being. The human beings can face fatal diseases like asthma or lung cancer. Statistics say that around 12000 miners have lost their lives because of the black lung disease which results by working in a coal mine. And because of these horrifying consequences of working in a coal mine, the employment rate has decreased by a total of 55%. (Mendelsohn, 1979)

The fact is not that well known but it is thought that the coal-fired power plant might also be responsible for emitting radioactive harmful substances like uranium and thorium and all the daughters of uranium are then accumulated by the process of disintegration and then released. They are the radium, radon and polonium. The Americans who have their residence near coal-fired power plants are constantly in the danger because they are exposed to high quantities of radiation doses. Those people who live near nuclear power plants which work by abiding to Government rules and regulations are comparatively safer. This leads to the conclusion that coal combustion might be even dangerous to human life than the nuclear power. Coal combustion even has the strong concept of background radiation, more than that produced by nuclear power. And if these radiations are tried to be brought under control, it would only increase the costs, both capital and operating of the coal-fired power plant. In 1978, research was even published which concretely mentioned that it is the coal-fired power plants all over the world which are responsible for majority of the radioactive substance which is released into the atmosphere and damages the environment. (Hendriks, 1994)

The societies are destroyed because of the mining that is done for the extraction of the coal and the habitat in which the wildlife has formed their homes often gets destroyed because of the irresponsible mining process only. Then the most important environmental hazard that it causes is that of global warming. These all immaterial costs can also be known as the hidden costs of coal and the results of making a coal-fired power plant work.

Other facts and figures which directly imply on the amount of costs that are involved with running a coal-fired power plant are: 90 million gallon of waste is produced on an annual basis during the process of preparing the coal so that it can be burned. Furthermore, when mountains are dug into, so that coal can be extracted, a process known as mountaintop removal mining is done. Due to this process, so many streams have been destroyed by either getting buried by the debris or getting polluted altogether. These streams make up to 1200 miles. (Jenkins, 1983)

Environmental Costs:

The first and foremost environmental costs is that of the global and climatic warming which is resulting because of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide and various other greenhouse gases that the process of turning coal into electricity produces. The coal-fired power plant produces these gases in an ample amount and they are dispersed into the atmosphere, thus fully contributing to the global warming.             (Emsperger, 2003)

Secondly, the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that the coal-fired power plant produces is responsible for acid rain. Acid rain, in turn, has many adverse effects on many things like soils, human health, forests, vegetation, animals living in the water and on the water present in ponds, lakes and oceans itself. For the human health, acid rain can even cause premature death due to cancer. Acid rain can also damage old buildings and monuments which are historical in nature. (Lewis, 1978)


In conclusion, it can be said that investing in newer and better coal-fired power plants is the worst investment to make because they are very expensive and are not even producing that much energy to balance the negative outcomes that it possesses in so many ways. Moreover, nowadays countries are moving towards energy resources which are fully efficient and which can also be renewed. That is, renewable energy. This energy can be used more than once, which makes it more than cost effective and easy to use as well.

The use of coal as an energy production source is very detrimental, from all aspects possible. Even the transportation of coal is made through railroad mostly and the railways are the biggest source of soot and smog pollution. Thus, whether it is digging the coal, transporting the coal, preparing the coal to be sent into the coal-fired power plant, running the coal-fired power plant itself or the resultant emissions that it gives, the usage of coal leaves a big negative impact. Therefore, the usage of coal should be abandoned as soon as possible and smarter and wiser decisions should be taken in the direction of energy production so that they can benefit the future generations to come.
Works Cited

Jenkins, S. Coal Fired Power Plants and the Aquatic Environment. Elsevier Science Ltd. 1983
Emsperger, Werner. Clean and Efficient Coal Fired Power Plants. Development Towards Advanced… ASME Press. 2003
Lewis, Robert. The Bioenvironmental Impact of a Coal-Fired Plant: Third Interim…U.S. Environmental Research Laboratory. 1978
Jenkins, S. Airborne Pollutants from Coal Fired Power Plants. Pergamon Press. 1983
Cuffe, Stanley. Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare [National Center for Air Pollution Control] 1967
Hesketh, Howard. Second Symposium on Integrated Environmental Controls for Coal Fired Power Plants. American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 1983
Hendriks, Chris. Carbon Dioxide Removal from Coal-Fired Power Plants. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 1994
Mendelsohn, Robert. Towards Efficient Regulation of Air Pollution from Coal Fired Power Plants. Garland Pub. 1979
Coal. Coal is Plentiful and Polluting. 2003. 24 June 2008 <>

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