Clean vs dirty energy. Image: Bilanol Shutterstock
How many trees would it take to offset the pollution produced by burning coal in the United States? Many, before we sensed it and now we have it clear.
While in the US electricity consumption does not decrease, alarms go off caused by the burning of fossil fuels to obtain that energy.
The solutions to offset the effects of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere include capturing and storing carbon or bio-sequestration. This technology uses plants to absorb and store carbon emissions. Another way is to use photovoltaic solar energy to convert sunlight directly into electricity, with less environmental impact.
The energy zero emissions has been offered as a way of compensating for the production of carbon dioxide at the same time as power generation is maintained with coal. This is done through the capture and storage of carbon in saline aquifers, or with biosequestration through the planting of trees and other plants to absorb and store carbon.
In a new study published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, researchers at Michigan Technological University looked at how much land would be needed to offset the greenhouse gases emitted by conventional coal plants or carbon-sequestered coal plants and then neutralize the remaining contamination with biosequestration. They then compared them to what is needed to offset the greenhouse gases produced by making solar panels.
For the first time, researchers have shown that there is no comparison. It’s not even close.
In fact, coal-fired power plants require 13 times more land to be carbon neutral than to make solar panels.
“ We know that climate change is a reality, but we don’t want to live like cavemen, ” says Joshua Pearce, professor of materials science and electrical engineering and engineering at Michigan Tech. “ We need a method of making electricity carbon-neutral. It doesn’t make any sense to use coal when solar energy is available, especially with this data . “
Too big to solve: Emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The researchers reached these conclusions by comparing more than 100 different data sources. They claim that a 1GW coal plant will need a new forest larger than the state of Maryland to neutralize all of its carbon emissions.
The researchers also found that applying the best of biosequestration methods for all greenhouse gases produced by coal-fired power plants in the USA would mean using 62% of the arable land for this purpose, or 89% with a roof. normal forest.
By comparison, solar cells require 13 times less land to become carbon neutral and five times less than carbon at best.
” If your goal is to produce electricity without emitting carbon into the atmosphere, you shouldn’t use coal plants, ” says Pearce. Not only is it not realistic to capture all of the carbon dioxide they emit, but burning coal also releases other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other particulates into the air, causing 52,000 premature deaths a year.
Solar energy is better, always.
Pearce says they weren’t generous with the coal-fired power plants, in the sense of how they calculated the efficiency of carbon capture and storage. But they also did not consider the new techniques that make solar gardens more efficient, nor did they consider the use of more efficient black silicon solar cells, the placement of mirrors between rows of panels so that the light that falls between them can also be absorbed, or the planting of crops between the rows of panels ( agrovoltaica ) to achieve a more efficient use of the land.
Pearce says that research should focus on improving the efficiency of solar panels and solar plants, not on capturing carbon from fossil fuel-fired plants in an attempt to convert to zero-emission energy, and not when this data show that it is unrealistic to fight climate change.