Exporting US Coal to Asia Could Cut Emissions

by | Aug 21, 2014

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South KoreaExporting US coal to power plants in South Korea could lead to a 21 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions compared to burning it domestically, according to a Duke University-led study.

The superior energy efficiency of South Korea’s newer coal-fired power plants would offset the large amount of emissions produced by shipping the coal such a distance.

For the reduction to occur, US plants would need to replace the exported coal with natural gas, and in South Korea the imported coal would need to replace other coal as the power source.

To conduct the analysis, researchers performed lifecycle air-emissions and economic assessments of two scenarios. In one, coal continued to be burned domestically in the US Northwest for power generation at power plants retrofitted to meet EPA emissions standards. In the other, coal was shipped to South Korea.

For the export scenario, they focused on the Morrow Pacific Project in Oregon planned by Ambre Energy. Under the project, Ambre would ship 8.8 million tons of Powder River Basin coal each year to Asian markets using rails, river barges and ocean vessels.

In the export scenario, emissions of equivalent carbon dioxide dropped 21 percent, and other harmful emissions, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, also dropped.

In addition, the export scenario would generate more than $25 billion in direct and indirect economic activity in the US, and would also directly or indirectly create nearly $6 billion in total employee compensation, $742 million in new tax revenues and about $4.7 billion in profits for all sectors involved.

According to the researchers, further studies are needed to assess the export scenario’s full environmental impacts, including water use, land use, the loss or degradation of vital fish and wildlife habitats, and risks associated with extraction and wastewater disposal of US shale gas deposits.

The study comes at a time when many countries are closing coal-fired power plants, and the practice of exporting coal from the US has come under fire.

Photo Credit: South Korea via Shutterstock

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