The Kemper County power plant in Mississippi.

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Clean Coal Technology

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Technology holds the promise of enabling coal power plants, which produce much of the world’s electricity, to run more cleanly, emitting far less of the pollution that causes climate change. But these projects have been difficult to make a reality because they are complicated and expensive. Here is a quick primer.

What is “clean coal”?

The term “clean coal” has been popularized by the coal industry, electric utilities and policy makers. It refers to the hopeful notion that technology will enable power plants to burn coal but release far less pollution. C.C.S., which

The Kemper County power plant in Mississippi. Credit Josh Haner

The Kemper County power plant in Mississippi. Credit Josh Haner

stands for carbon capture and storage, or carbon capture and sequestration, is a type of clean coal technology that would prevent carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaust from entering the atmosphere from power plants that burn coal, natural gas and biomass, or other sources of carbon emissions like iron or steel factories and oil refineries. Since the early 2000s, there has been a wave of optimism that this technology could play a vital role in slowing climate change by cleaning up some of the biggest emitters of carbon pollution. Now there is significant skepticism that the technology can be scaled up affordably, reliably and soon enough to make a difference.

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