[Marxism] Vaclav Smil on Trump's promise to bring back coal jobs

DW dwaltersmia at gmail.com
Thu Mar 30 08:13:40 MDT 2017


The article doesn't give a complete picture of coal use, IMO, in the US or
China.

The major use of coal in the United States is electricity generation. 90%
of coal use is for this purpose and 9% is for coking coal. As the article
states coal use is approx 36% of of US generation. In China it's 75% of
generation and over 50% for use in steel making. Much of the electricity
produced from coal is also used in the conversion of pig iron into steel
and then steel into finished projects.

But the article leaves out important information on U.S. energy production.
It leaves out both hydro and nuclear though, hydro is often rolled into
renewables:

    Coal = 33%
    Natural gas = 33%
    Nuclear = 20%
    Hydropower = 6%
    Other renewables = 7%
        Biomass = 1.6%
        Geothermal = 0.4%
        Solar = 0.6%
        Wind = 4.7%
    Petroleum = 1%
    Other gases = <1%

These are from the late numbers from Energy Information Agency, the most
authoritative data parsing agency/institution on energy there is. They
correctly pull out of 'renewables' hydro electric power to give a more
accurate information spread on U.S. electrical energy generation. And
nuclear still sits there at 20%.

A few things to consider:

 Vaclav Smil notes that natural gas is half as dirty from a GHG emission
POV than coal. That's accurate and no one disputes this except the gas
industry itself, which gives a CO2 effluent number of "200 grams of CO2 per
mmbtu" instead of the wildly accepted 400(+/-) to coal's 800. The gas
industry pulls this out of their rich collective asses since there is not a
single independent analysis of gas combustion that brings this down to this
level. So, it's simply dirty...but not as dirty as coal. Contrast that with
hydro, solar, wind and nuclear and the numbers come down to 20-30 grams of
CO2 per unit of energy. If one promotes natural gas then one is promoting
GHG emissions. This is a major problem for those climate activists who put
the closing of nuclear ahead of prioritizing the climate. [The state of
Vermont now, which was close to 90% carbon free is now about only 10%
carbon free since they got rid of their one nuclear plant...as every single
MW of power that was produced by nuclear was replaced with...natural gas.]

The gas industry likes to promote itself as 'clean'. Everything is cleaner
than coal so it's not saying very much. Oh...and the reason in *most
places* they are building so much natural gas generation in the form of gas
turbine generators is because of the low price of gas, and that, folks, is
due entirely to the rise, massive rise, of...fracking. This is what's
facing California as it will move in around 7 years to shutdown it's last
nuclear plant. It states it will replace "much" of this with 'solar and
win'. The gas industry came up with that one. A huh....

Another important issue, one that is as important with regards to coal as
the rise of natural gas is the making of steel itself as the article
suggests. While it's true that coal in the US isn't used for making pig
iron as much as any more as it was 30 years ago..it IS in China. The US
simply off-shored the capital for this "primary industry" to Taiwan, Japan,
Korea and then China starting decades ago. The industry, as such, is still
needed or we don't have any steel at all. I know of no process that can
turn iron ore into steel without the use of coal. This is going to be a
major problem for primary steel producers. I'm not optimistic about this.

However, steel is the most recycled material in the world. Fully 90% of all
steel products come from recycled scrap steel. Wanna guess who buys the
*majority* of the worlds steel? China. And they are also the biggest
producers of pig iron. All those 100s of thousands of wind turbines are
made of steel...tons and tons of it per single large wind turbine. What to
do? We will *always* need extractive industries because at some point
material gets warn down and can't be recycled. . .from copper to aluminum
to...steel.

David Walters



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