Will Hydrogen Economy Make Coal King Again?

Using coal to power a post-oil world presents significant technological and environmental challenges.

Published: 22-Mar-2005

Western Pennsylvania is coal country, so it stands to reason that it would be home to one of the world's leading facilities for research on how to get the most out of the energy-rich black rock.

Nestled in the hills of South Park, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, has four research divisions: the Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil, the Strategic Center for Coal, the Office of Advanced Initiatives and the Office of Science, Technology and Analysis. But the greater part of the laboratory's research, by far, is devoted to coal.

From 1882, when it fueled the nation's first electric power plant -- Thomas Edison's Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan -- to the 1970s, when it was tagged as a major source of pollution, coal was the dominant provider of energy for America's electricity. Now the race is on to develop "clean coal" technologies that will allow a renewed use of coal without harming the environment.

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