104 Cars of Coal

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by FL_Prius_Driver, Jan 6, 2008.

  1. FL_Prius_Driver

    FL_Prius_Driver Senior Member

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    Recently, while visiting family in East Tennessee, we were stopped by a train carrying a 104 railroad cars of coal. I asked my son (as a way of teaching him) how many of the carloads was burned by the receiving power plant in one day. His answer was "one or two". He was quite suprised, as well as the rest of the passengers in the car, that that answer was every single one of the 104 is burned in one day.

    Now think of how many coal plants there are in the world.
     
  2. Marvinh

    Marvinh Marvin

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    My brother lives in Gillette, Wyoming. What is the connection you ask? Gillette, Wyoming has many coal strip mines and the coal trains leave every day with their loads. And the strip mines look like the surface of the moon. And they are 50-200 below grade level.

    Marvin
     
  3. Skywalker

    Skywalker New Member

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    Proof?
     
  4. FL_Prius_Driver

    FL_Prius_Driver Senior Member

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    Proof of what? That a coal plant uses coal?
     
  5. road__rider

    road__rider Junior Member

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    Proof?

    I work at a coal fired power plant. We have 2 - 700 Mega watt units. Together at full load we burn around 20,000 tons of coal a day.

    The coal cars contain about 100 tons each. A coal train has around 100 cars in a train, up to 110 or so.

    Proof enough?
     
  6. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Blimey. It's really amazing how much coal there is, considering how faster we literally burn through it.

    Road Rider, what's the efficiency of the plant you work at?
     
  7. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    You can calculate that directly and still come up with a trainload a day.

    It takes about a pound of coal to produce a KWH of electricity, on average. At that rate, the number of coal cars per day for 2 700 MW generators running flat out would be:

    ((2 x 700 x 1,000,000 x 24)/1000)/2000)/120) = 140 coal cars.
    That's
    ((watt-hours)/convert to KWH)/convert to tons)/convert to cars)

    Close enough to actual observation.
     
  8. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    My favorite statistic is how many lbs of coal an old-fashioned incandescent 100 watt bulb will consume in its lifetime. Answer: about 150 lbs (for 1500 hours of life). That's a bit of a cheat because it assumes all-coal electrical generation, but it makes the point.

    That's the reason I advise people not to wait until those bulbs burn out before switching to compact fluorescents. You think you're saving the materials and effort that went into that old bulb. But in the meantime, you're spending pounds of coal to save the couple of ounces of materials in the bulb. It goes against the grain, but just throw them away.

    OK, final stat of the day:
    Quarterly Coal Report - U.S. Coal Consumption by End-Use Sector

    In 2007, US electrical power generation used just over 1 billion short tons (ie, tons) of coal, which would be 2 trillion pounds of coal, which I calculate as 6600 lbs of coal per person in the US, per year, for electricity.

    I see broken-up coal listed at around 60 lbs/cu ft. If I did the arithmetic right, if you had to pile that in your yard, a family of four would require a conical pile of coal 8 ft tall and 16 feet wide, for a year. A little less than the volume of four cords of firewood.

    This is a lesson that I learned heating with wood this year. The more my arms ached from splitting and hauling wood, the more conservation-minded I got. I imagine if you had to move that coal around a bucket at a time to light your house, you'd remember to turn out the lights when you left a room.
     
  9. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    It depends on where you get the coal from too. Western coal is less energy rich than eastern coal, though it is somewhat cleaner as well. If we just switched to IGCC coal plants we'd save an enormous amount of coal each year because the plants are considerably more efficient that the old plants. It wouldn't be cheap, however. IGCC has numerous advantages and if we're going to keep using coal we ought to force the replacement of old plants with IGCC plants while requiring much more efficient materials products in building codes.

    Totally agree about replacing the bulbs. It's a sunk cost. Bin the incandescents and start saving money NOW!

    Chogan, did you buy one of those EPA rated woodstoves? Those things rock. If I had the money, I'd install one in our house and then drive up into the Nat'l forest and log beetle kill for fire wood. Our gas bill would plummet.
     
  10. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    Yes, that's about all you can buy these days anyway. I bought the cleanest thing I could get, a small Lopi fireplace insert. Couldn't be more pleased with it. It's rated at just under 80% efficiency, which is as good as you'd get from a modern gas furnace (other than condensing furnaces). As far as I can tell, the claims about reduced particular emission from new stoves are plausible. The stove is rated at 1.9 grams of particulates an hour. (Versus maybe 50 or 60 from an open fireplace, 30 to 50 from an old non-airtight woodstove). With seasoned wood and a little sense in feeding it, the only time you see visible smoke is at startup. Other than that all you see at the chimney cap is heat shimmer. It's not the healthiest thing to have in the house, but ... sure is nice to look at a fire. Probably not the healthiest thing for the surrounding air quality either, but few people heat with wood here and our worst pollution problems are due to summertime auto exhaust. Pretty much heats the whole house -- room with the fireplace is cozy, rest of the house is ... tolerable. The only thing I didn't anticipate was the effort -- a cord of oak weighs about 2 tons, I'll burn between 1 and 2 cords in a winter, and every pound of that has to be picked up and moved at least 3 times from start to finish. My elbows ached the entire winter. But wood's renewable, it's carbon-neutral on a decade-long timescale, and around here it's just a waste product -- a lot of downed trees end up in the landfill. Where they'll oxidize back to C02 same as they would in my stove, just a little slower. I even managed to justify the capital cost -- I'm substituting wear-and-tear on a simple machine (the woodstove) for wear-and-tear on a complex machine (a furnace). Kind of like substituting bicycle miles for auto miles -- you probably save capital cost in the long run even if you buy a really nice bike. (Actually, that just makes me feel better about having bought it -- I'm pretty sure the net capital and maintenance cost of the stove, over its lifetime, has to be at least a few hundred dollars a year.)
     
  11. qbee42

    qbee42 My other car is a boat

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    Wood fired heat is very common around here. Many people use a small detached building to house a wood fired boiler, then pipe the heat underground to their house. That gets the mess and risk of fire out of the main dwelling. More often it is a plain old cheap wood stove with a bit of fire resistant material pasted to the wall behind it. House fires are not uncommon here in the winter.

    We have a standard brick fireplace. We also have a Franklin stove set into brick in our den. Both serve to provide ambiance while sucking heat up the chimney, although they have been pressed into service as a heat source during power failures.

    Tom
     
  12. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Chogan, do you have a blower on your stove? Here in CO we just have pine and some aspen. Of course, pine is a HELLUVA lot easy to split than Oak, but I'm sure that Oak burns more cleanly.
     
  13. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    Yes. I got a fireplace insert, and with those, a blower is pretty much required to get the heat out into the room. It'll work fine without the blower, but it won't heat anywhere near as well without it.

    On pine-vs-oak, the advice in this area is not to burn pine due to the faster creosote buildup in the chimney/liner with pine. And around here, even if you can find pine firewood, the price difference does not come close to making up the heat value difference versus oak. My take on it is that the raw material is essentially free, and what you pay for, for a cord, is the labor cost of cutting-splitting-hauling the wood. So pine just doesn't make it on the market if there are other hardwoods available. But if that's what you've got, that's what you've got. You just have to get your chimney or chimney liner swept more often.
     
  14. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    If you're knackered from splitting oak, which I know is a pain in the arse (I grew up in GA and split loads of oak), you might consider getting a hydraulic splitter to spare yer bones and muscles.
     
  15. Darwood

    Darwood Senior Member

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    I have a Lopi insert as well, and man, is that thing awesome! I don't even have a blower on it, but it heats the basement just fine. The best part about it, is the ease of maintaining the fire. In my other traditional fireplace (the big wasteful kind), you have to constantly manage the fire. In the Lopi, once it's going, you just add wood once in a while. No need to strategically place logs and move them around to keep it going. Just throw it in! It also burns about 25% less wood than the other fireplace while adding heat to the house instead of sucking it up the chimney.
     
  16. miscrms

    miscrms Plug Envious Member

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    It really is sad. I'm a firm believer in plug in transportation, but this is certainly a big problem that needs to be dealt with. We have friends in eastern Kentucky we visited last summer in the heart of Coal country. Of the 1200 acres the family had, ~400 acres was stolen outright by the coal companies via forged signatures, ~400 acres the coal company owned the mineral rights to anyway, and about 400 acres the family still has managed to hang onto. They have proof of the stolen acres. The grand father who supposedly signed it had an accident in which he lost several fingers, drastically changing his signature. The date on the documents is several years after the accident, and yet the signature matches his pre-accident signature. Of course no court/judge/lawyer within a 100 miles has any interest in hearing the case. The second 400 acres was strip mined, turning it from pristine forested mountains into flat polluted grass land and given back to the family. The cost of coal certainly goes far beyond the air pollution issues most people worry about.

    Rob
     
  17. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Indeed. If we "leveled" the playing field coal would be a lot more expensive. As it is, it's getting increasingly expensive, which is a good thing.
     
  18. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    Thought about it, but it's mostly just the sheer moving the wood around that generates the hurt. Splitting is the icing on the cake. Plus, my son (age 12) likes splitting wood. So that's part of his chores. When all is said and done, given current trends, I'd rather he learn to use an axe than I avoid joint pain.
     
  19. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Righto mate. I actually enjoy splitting wood too, but pine is more fun than oak, IMO.
     
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