Coal makes a comeback

As oil prices rise, coal will emerge as the fuel of the future. This depressing assessment is the collective judgment of international power company executives, expressed in a recent survey. Interestingly, the same execs cited greenhouse-gas emissions as one of their top concerns, and assumed there would be a push to develop “clean coal” technology — or as we like to call it, “magic coal, with a pony.” In Britain, a couple of energy companies are in fact working to develop coal-powered plants that would capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, but their schemes are moving nowhere fast. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the chemical industry is leaping lustily on the coal bandwagon, hoping that coal gasification can be used to more cheaply produce many of its raw materials, which are now oil- and gas-based. “Coal is easy to access, it’s in politically stable regions, and the technologies exist to eradicate environmental impacts,” says the CEO of one American chemical company. We’re skeptical, but then again, we’re not The Decider.