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Coal-fired power plants: Producing electricity or Pollutants?

Coal-fired power plants: Producing electricity or Pollutants?

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We are all quite familiar with power plants that generate electricity to suit our daily needs. Based on the primary source of energy we can observe various types of power plants such as Nuclear power stations, hydroelectric power plants, coal-fired power plants, diesel-fired power plants, geothermal power plants, gas-fired power plants, solar power plants, wind power plants.

 

The primary source of the power plants is basically two types one is renewable source another one is non-renewable. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable primary energy sources such as coal, oil, or natural gas because they replenish slowly and hence once it will end. Renewable resources replenish naturally over a short period.

Renewable energy resources are solar, wind, water (hydro), biomass, geothermal, etc. Power plants that use non-renewable energy sources have a significant environmental impact.

A coal-fired power station generates electricity by burning coal as its primary fuel. Coal is the worst fossil fuel and consists mainly of carbon, harming the environment and human health. Coal is used as a critical energy source in most countries because of its reliability, affordability, abundance.



According to studies, a typical coal power station of 500MW produces around 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge each year. In terms of artificial climate change implications, the use and burning of power plants account for 46% of CO2 emissions globally.

Furthermore, coal is responsible for up to 72 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from the energy industry. Because the particles produced from coal-fired power plants can move and deposit trace metals miles distant from their originating source, coal-based power plants have substantial detrimental effects on the surrounding ecosystem.

Coal power plant waste harms the ground surface and adjacent water quality. Around 75% of coal power plant waste gets dumped in unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills. The trash is also deposited straight into local water bodies, harming aquatic plants and fauna by causing thermal pollution.

The air pollution produced by coal-fired power plants impacts coal workers’ health and the health of the general public. Coal-fired power plants release pollutants into the atmosphere, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, etc.

These pollutants cause acid rain, which harms soil, vegetation, aquatic systems, buildings, and human health by causing lung ailments, respiratory diseases, and early death, to mention a few.



According to a study conducted in the United States, around 4,000 coal miners died between 1968 and 2011 due to pollution caused by coal-fired power plants, with others suffering the long-term impacts of the pollutants.

In power plant waste, toxic chemicals like arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium mingle with drinking water sources, causing severe harm to human organs and the neurological system.

The surrounding ecosystem is also negatively impacted by greenhouse gas emissions, mining devastation, the generation of millions of tons of garbage, and harmful substance emissions from coal-fired power plants, all of which contribute to smog, acid rain, global warming, and air toxics.

In Bangladesh, there are currently 149 power plants. Seventy-one plants use heavy fuel oil (HFO) or high-speed diesel (HSD), 67 plants that use gas, seven plants that use solar power coal, and three plants that use coal. Only one of the plants produces hydroelectricity.

Only one of the plants produces hydroelectricity. One of the power plants is only a joint venture, government-owned 57, and independent power plants are 71(IPP).

The goal, however, was to create five gigawatts (GW) of electricity from 29 coal-fired power plants. Our Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, recently authorized a proposal to dismantle ten coal-fired power plant projects previously approved.

A 522MW plant in Munshiganj, a 282MW plant in Dhaka, a 282MW plant in Chittagong, 1,320MW in Moheskhali, 1,320MW in Ashuganj, a 700MW Singapore-Bangladesh joint-venture, a 1,200MW CPGCL-Sumitomo Corporation joint-venture, and a 1,320MW Bangladesh-Malaysia joint-venture are among the ten projects.

Construction work on five coal-fired power stations, on the other hand, will continue. One unit of the 1,320MW power plant in Payra, Patuakhali, is now operational, and work on the 1,320MW plant in Rampal, 1,224MW in Chittagong, 307MW in Barguna, 1,200MW in Matarbari, and 1,200MW in Cox’s Bazar is also starting.

Apart from the Payra plant, Bangladesh has two other coal-fired power stations in operation. One is a 525 MW plant in Barapukuria, Dinajpur, and the other is the Bangladesh-China Power Company Ltd, a 50:50 joint venture between the state-owned North-West Power Generation Company Ltd and China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation, which has a 1,244MW facility with two 622MW units. According to BPDB data from June 22, seven of the plants had already retired.



The most contentious power project is the Rampal plant, located near the Sundarbans in Bagerhat’s Rampal Upazila, alongside the Poshur River. The proposed power plant will burn around 4.75 million tonnes of coal yearly, producing approximately 0.3 million tons of ashes and about 0.5 million tons of sludge and liquid waste.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US-based NGO, it also produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), a critical factor in global warming, as well as other harmful chemicals and airborne particles.

Another study, on the Air Quality, Health, and Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Coal Power Cluster in Chittagong Region, Bangladesh reveals that the development of the world’s biggest coal-fired power plant cluster,  with a total capacity of 8,720MW, will most likely increase vulnerability to diseases in Bangladesh.

Over a 30-year operating life, air pollutant emissions from 16 units of nine plants would be accountable for a predicted 20,789 to 45,467 deaths (approx. 30,139) in the region.

Around 8,000 of the estimated 30,139 fatalities will cause by ischemic heart disease, more than 6,000 by stroke, and more than 4,000 by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Almost 3,000 individuals would die as a result of lower respiratory infections, and over 1,000 would die as a result of lung cancer.

Various environmental organizations have come forward to speak out against the financing of coal-fired power projects. ADB just declared that it would no longer finance coal-fired power facilities.

Many countries, such as the Netherlands and Finland, are converting to renewable energy sources for the mother environment. However, there was still a lot more work to be done to shut down coal-fired power facilities.

A coal-fired power plant endangers environmental and human health locally and worldwide. Still, most countries, particularly the developing ones, continue to build them despite the severity, which requires halting immediately.

Source:

  1. Environmental Impact of Coal based Power Plant of Rampal on the Sundarbans and Surrounding areas (Dr. Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, Professor, Environmental Science Discipline, Khulna University, Khulna-9208)
  2. Dhaka tribune
  3. Power plants: Banglapedia and other internet sources.

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