Jeff Middlebrook: No economically viable alternative to coal |

Jeff Middlebrook: No economically viable alternative to coal

No economically viable alternative to coal

The Holy Grail for all of us who care is that someday we can derive most if not all of our power needs from low-carbon processes. With the coal burning power plant industry collapsing in America it appears that a major contributor of CO2 to the atmosphere is coming to an end, at least here in America. This is good.

However there is no economically viable alternative to using coal to produce steel at economies of scale. Some people are touting a hydrogen process and an electrolysis process to replace coal in making steel, but neither are anywhere close to being competitive with coal, and the best estimates from those who know is that it might be 2050 before any process can compete with coal in making steel. In addition, coal is a key component in the production of Portland cement, and there are no alternatives on the proverbial drawing board for replacing coal in that process.

Why are hydrogen and electrolysis not competitive with coal in making steel? Because both of these alternatives require massive investments of fossil fuels in order to create and power them, which is tantamount to self-defeating alternatives.

It all comes down to the inescapable fact that the laws of physics cannot be violated, not even by wishful thinking.

In addition, all of our millions of synthetic products come from fossil fuels. It’s not just plastic trash bags and plastic bottles (the much despised components of particle pollution in our oceans), it’s our clothing fabrics, car parts, sports equipment, medical and scientific equipment, tires, batteries, solar cells, wind generators and on and on and on ad infinitum. To abandon fossil fuels entirely would catapult all of humanity back into the times of our distant ancestors, and it would lead to a catastrophic collapse of civilization as we know it. Few of us would survive.

I’m going to have a bumper sticker made that says “Love Your Carbon Molecules!”

Jeff Middlebrook


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