President Trump did a solid job in trolling the media with his speech in Phoenix, but as he is wont to do, Trump was rather imprecise in his description of policy — in this case, his explanation of clean coal.
Trump was touting how his administration has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”
“And it’s just been announced that a second brand-new coal mine where they’re going to take out clean coal — meaning they’re taking out coal, they’re going to clean it — is opening in the state of Pennsylvania,” Trump said.
The president is certainly right to be promoting clean coal — and touting the return of the coal industry, which suffered immeasurably under President Obama — but the way he described it is not entirely accurate.
To be fair, it is typical for ash and soot to be washed away or “cleaned” from coal; there is also a process called coal washing, where liquid and crushed coal are mixed in order to purge certain minerals from the coal.
Low-NOx (nitrogen oxide) burners reduce the creation of nitrogen oxides, a cause of ground-level ozone, by restricting oxygen and manipulating the combustion process. Electrostatic precipitators remove particulates that aggravate asthma and cause respiratory ailments by charging particles with an electrical field and then capturing them on collection plates.
Gasification avoids burning coal altogether. With integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) systems, steam and hot pressurized air or oxygen combine with coal in a reaction that forces carbon molecules apart. The resulting syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is then cleaned and burned in a gas turbine to make electricity. The heat energy from the gas turbine also powers a steam turbine. Since IGCC power plants create two forms of energy, they have the potential to reach a fuel efficiency of 50 percent [source: U.S. Department of Energy].
Additionally, there are processes involved in removing carbon dioxide from coal and then storing it. Some coal is “cleaned” of its carbon dioxide using steam; some is burned with oxygen. Once the carbon dioxide is removed, it is then injected into the Earth or stored in liquid, where it dissolves over a period of time.
Sources of renewable energy are still years away from reaching a point where they are so cheap and efficient that Americans can rely on them without turning to fossil fuels, so clean coal is going to be a crucial source of energy going forward, as we bridge the gap to more long-term solutions.
Trump should certainly be applauded for promoting it and ending the Obama administration’s war on coal, but the president makes it seem a bit like washing the coal — like with a sprinkler or a washcloth — is all that’s required to produce clean coal, when producing clean coal is a complex and often lengthy process. Churning out clean coal involves time and effort.
Trump has a strange habit of raising critical points in his speeches, but seems to want to dilute major policy issues down to an overly simplistic, imprecise description. While this might help Trump communicate his policies better to much of his base — who, of course, aren’t full time energy policy analysts — his habit often has an opposite effect, turning attention away from the issue and spotlighting Trump’s “gaffe” instead.
The president would have a much easier time in getting his agenda through and hyping himself if he wasn’t so sloppy with the facts.