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Home > Innovation and New Technology > Issues > Future of the Coal Industry

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The Future of the Coal Industry 

Keenbirn Collieries, c.1940.Many people say that coal is on the way out, to be replaced with the more clean and efficient natural gas. But coal companies are convinced that won't be happening in the near future. They argue that other sources of electricity, such as hydro and wind power, are the way of the future, but the related technologies are too far off in the future to compete with coal. Experts say that there are around 120 years left of coal at current production rates with current technologies, and many fewer years for natural gas. Few people realize that 90 percent of Alberta's electricity is generated from coal!

The question is: should coal in Alberta continue to be mined when it is so much more harmful to the environment than other sources, such as hydro and nuclear? With all the talk about climate change and global warming lately, this is a hot topic. The facts state that coal emits Carbon Dioxide, which is very harmful to the environment and contributes significantly to climate change. Environmentalists argue that there are other, more environmentally sound, options such as natural gas, or hydro and nuclear power, which are the primary sources of electricity for many other provinces in Canada. In fact, many companies have listened to these arguments and are switching from coal to natural gas.

Some groups, such as the Alberta government, argue that putting a halt to this industry would cause a loss of millions, or possibly billions, of dollars in revenue and significant job losses as well. After all, Alberta is Canada's largest coal-producing province, as half of the country's coal comes from Alberta. As well, production of electricity is only one of the uses of Alberta coal: the export market also brings significant dollars to the province. Alberta exports to many countries such as Brazil, Chile and many in Europe. With many fewer reserves of natural gas than coal in Alberta, it might be wise to keep large factories from burning up the super-efficient fuel, and instead keep it for use in homes where it would last much longer.

One solution to this problem comes in the form of a new technology called gasification. In this process coal is transformed into a natural gas-type product, which burns cleaner like real natural gas.

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