This week: Clean energy There was news this week of an innovative power plant created in Spremberg, eastern Germany, by the Swedish electricity provider Vattenfall. It is a pilot plant described as the world's first 'clean' coal-fired power station. The idea of a 'clean' coal power plant is certainly not new, with US President George W. Bush announcing in 2003 a similar initiative to build a zero-emissions coal-fuelled power plant. The project was called FutureGen, but due to unexpected cost escalations the project funding was cut this year. The new power plant is designed to extract the carbon dioxide waste product from coal burning. This is done by burning lignite in oxygen-rich air from which the nitrogen has been extracted. This produces a stream of carbon dioxide and water vapour that is recycled back into the boiler. This process is repeated and the plant is able to concentrate the carbon dioxide. Particulate matter and sulfur is removed and the water vapour is condensed out so that up to 98 per cent of the carbon dioxide is removed. This carbon dioxide is cooled to minus 28 degrees Celsius and liquefied. For now it is stored, with plans next year to transport and pump it into a depleted natural gas reservoir. In the future the company hopes to pipe this waste carbon dioxide directly underground. This is still a pilot project and produces a relatively small amount of energy, but with some tweaking they hope to improve the efficiency of the plant in the near future. Vattenfall is hoping that this three-year experiment in 'clean' coal will yield enough data to build a larger production plant. It is an interesting idea and seems on the surface to be cleaner than traditional coal power plants but I doubt that it will solve any of our global energy, greenhouse gas emission and environmental problems. The process of enriching the oxygen but extracting the nitrogen is an energy costly process and will drastically decrease the efficiency of the power plant. It is said the use of such a power plant will erase the energy production efficiency gains of the past 50 years and increase the rate of consumption of fossil fuels by 33 per cent. The power plant cost will double and this will push up prices paid by the consumer by 20 to 90 per cent. The process of carbon dioxide storage is still unreliable and a small leak will undermine the whole process. The system doesn't solve our dependence on fossil fuels and the depredation of strip mining, which is very destructive. In the United States alone, about 400,000 hectares of forest is destroyed by strip mining. In the Appalachia mountain range more than 450 mountains have been levelled, with their surrounding forests and streams annihilated, in the past 20 years. The use of explosives is extensive in coal mining, their destructive power equivalent to several atomic bombs. The process of mining is very dangerous. Hence my use of quotation marks around the word 'clean' before the word 'coal', because it is a misleading use of the word. Coal use and mining is never clean and 'clean coal power' is an oxymoron. The future of power production lies away from fossil fuels or burning any form of biofuel, which releases noxious and greenhouse gases. If we humans care to save ourselves from ourselves, the future as I see it lies in hydropower, wind energy, solar energy and ocean energy. Wind power alone has the potential to produce five times the current global energy production or 40 times the current energy demands. It has zero emissions and is renewable. The energy cost in its production is returned in only three months of use. Wide swathes of land need to be used, but the use of offshore wind-powered turbines eliminates this need. With the new, slower rotation wind turbines, even bird deaths from the spinning propellers can be minimised. Since water is so much denser than air, the energy yield from even a small amount of water movement can be immense. If we are able to harness the energy of the oceans without disrupting the ecologically delicate coastlines, we could have a source of abundant energy. Then there is solar energy. It is estimated the amount of solar energy that strikes the Earth in a day is enough to run our insatiable need for power for a whole year. Current use of solar energy has mainly been limited to remote areas where connection to a power grid isn't feasible. So places like Africa and outback Australia have seen prolific use of solar power. There are a few large-scale photovoltaic power plants around the world, including a significant one in Australia. An Australian company called Solar Systems has built a unique solar grid that uses new technology able to concentrate the Sun's rays 500-fold. The solar plant is connected to the national power grid and produces enough power for 45,000 homes - with zero emissions. Hope for a better environment isn't out of our reach.