article A new study has found that coal-fired power plants emit far fewer pollutants than they used to and can be replaced without much disruption.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at emissions from US coal-burning power plants, and compared them with emissions from natural gas, oil and other alternatives.
It found that the vast majority of the pollution emitted from US power plants is no longer harmful to the environment, but there are still risks to the health of the planet.
“The coal-fire power plants we looked at emitted far less CO2 than natural gas and oil plants that burn coal,” said the study’s lead author, Steven Stauffer of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
“The vast majority is gone, and we are now talking about a reduction of 2 per cent of total emissions.”
This was a surprising finding, given that US coal plants produce roughly one-third of the US electricity.
But the paper also found that it’s possible to replace the coal-fed electricity in a variety of ways.
Coal-fired plants can be converted to use natural gas or other fuels, and natural gas can be burned for electricity.
And when it comes to natural gas-fired energy sources, the paper found that natural gas plants produce much cleaner emissions than coal plants.
“Natural gas plants emit very little CO2,” Staufer told New Scientist.
“Natural gas is a relatively low-carbon source.
It produces a very low amount of methane gas, which is an important greenhouse gas.”
But it’s important to note that it takes decades for natural gas to become more expensive to produce, which means the reduction in CO2 emissions will take time.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in these emissions estimates, so there is an expectation that they are underestimates,” he said.
The paper looked at two scenarios: a coal-powered power plant that emits fewer pollutants, and a gas-powered plant that produces a larger proportion of pollution.
Stauffer said that while coal-power plants were responsible for the largest percentage of pollution emissions, they’re only responsible for around 5 per cent.
“Coal is the most polluting of all fuels, so it’s an important step to take to reduce CO2 levels,” he explained.
“But natural gas is also an important source of energy, so we need to make sure that the amount of natural gas in the mix is comparable to the amount in coal.”
The paper also looked at the effect that natural-gas power plants might have on the climate.
Stauff said that although natural gas power plants are less carbon-intensive than coal- and coal-generated plants, the emissions from these plants might still cause significant harm.
“If we want to reduce the climate impact of natural-gases, we need a gas power plant with a higher emission intensity,” he added.
The researchers also found a possible way to replace coal-fueled power plants that doesn’t require any major change to the way that electricity is generated.
“We could replace the electricity with gas, and then replace that with renewables,” Struffer said.
“And that’s the kind of technology we would want to develop, because it’s cheap, and it’s environmentally friendly.”