26 Power Engineering International July-August 2017 www.PowerEngineeringInt.com
Mapping coal plant
Mapping software can
be used to bridge the
gap between the science
needed to understand
air pollution and the
engineering required to
mitigate it, writes
Since we began extracting and burning coal on a large scale back in the 17th century, it has proved to be both a blessing and a curse – providing cheap energy for millions on one hand,
but blighting our environment on the other.
Tackling the emissions produced through
coal production is a challenge we need to
rise to – until viable energy alternatives are
implemented on a wide scale – to protect our
health, our planet and our businesses,
The World Health Organization estimates
that ambient (outdoor) air pollution in both
cities and rural areas caused three million
premature deaths worldwide in 2012 (the
latest fgures available), and despite some
efforts, things won’t have improved since. For
instance, London breached its annual air
pollution limits just fve days into 2017.
Alongside the fatalities, many millions more
people are affected by respiratory diseases
caused by air pollution. There is also a strong
correlation between exposure to air pollution
and cardiovascular diseases. At the other end
of the scale, air pollution can cause temporary
ailments like headaches and skin rashes.
That’s enough problems without even
delving into the climate change debate.
Coal, of course, is not the only source of air
pollution, but it is considered to be the most
signifcant by some degree. Burning coal is
the biggest single source of carbon dioxide
emissions from human activity according
to international environmental organization
Greenpeace. It reports many harmful
pollutants in the air from coal, which pose a
serious threat to our health and environment,
including issues such as smog and acid rain.
The continuous nature of energy production
in coal plants just adds to the problem.
A changing approach
Across the world, alternatives to coal power
are being explored and developed. Along
with solar and wind power initiatives, there are
various trials of new batteries that can store
renewable energy and increase reliability.
In China, where air pollution has become
a signifcant public health issue in some areas,
not least Beijing, they will begin turning coal
plants into nuclear reactors next year, but we
are a long way from reducing our reliance on
coal, which is used for 44 per cent of electricity
generation in the US, for example.
As coal plants are to continue, emissions
need to be reduced, so it is important to fully
understand where they come from and where
they go following release. The source of the
outputs of the plant may be largely obvious,
but the dispersion after that is also important if
it is to be effectively mitigated.
Emissions dispersion is important to measure