Coal Conversion Technologies: Some Health and Environmental Effects

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Science  09 Nov 1979:
Vol. 206, Issue 4419, pp. 654-662
DOI: 10.1126/science.206.4419.654


Several technologies to convert coal to liquid and gaseous fuels are being developed in the United States, some with support from the Department of Energy. Substitution of these technologies for those currently being used will produce different health and environmental hazards. In this article, selected health and environmental effects of four coal conversion and four existing technologies are compared. For each technology, the emission estimates for complete fuel cycles, including all steps in fuel use from extraction to the end use of space and water heating by electricity or direct combustion, were prepared by means of the Brookhaven Energy System Network Simulator model. Quantitative occupational health and safety estimates are presented for the extraction, transportation, distribution, processing, and conversion activities associated with each technology; also included are some public health damage estimates arising from fuel transportation and air pollution impacts. Qualitative estimates of health damage due to polycyclic organic matter and reduced sulfur are discussed. In general, energy inefficiencies, environmental residuals, and hence implied environmental effects and health damage increase in the order: (i) direct combustion of natural gas and oil, (ii) direct combustion of synthetic gas and oil, (iii) central-station electric power produced from synthetic gas, (iv) central-station electric power produced from coal, and (v) central-station electric power produced by the combustion of synthetic liquid fuels. The compliance and conflict of these technologies with the amendments of the Clean Air Act and other legislation are discussed.