Courtesy Reuters

Expanding World Use of Coal

Last year this article would have started with a call to double world coal production by the year 2000 as a response to the inevitable leveling off of world oil production. Today, however, experience in 1979 alone has lowered expectations of future OPEC oil production and reinforced the trend to a slowing down of nuclear energy capacity. Hence, it now appears that world coal production must at least triple by the end of this century if we are to have adequate energy supplies to accommodate even moderate levels of economic growth.

Such a level of increased coal use would require the movement in world trade of at least 700 million tons of coal a year-the energy equivalent of about the current level of oil production from Saudi Arabia, 9.5 million barrels of oil per day. It would require an annual coal production increase of five percent. In quantitative terms these are major targets, yet they are modest in terms of the vital objective of assuring the future of the world economy.

We have the tools at hand to achieve such expansion. Coal is widely available; the technology for coal production, transport, use and conversion into synthetics is known and is constantly improving. Why, then, does further growth of this promising fuel of the future seem to be stalled? Why is there a 20 percent overcapacity in the United States today, resulting in 20,000 unemployed miners? Why do potential European and Japanese coal importers suspect that major producers such as the United States and Australia will not in fact export significant quantities of coal in the future? And why do major producers not believe that possible importers will not expand their coal usage to handle increased quantities in their energy systems?

These are difficult questions. To answer them one must inspect each part of the coal system-from production to transport to eventual use, domestically and internationally. The potential is clearly there. The major limitation is our ability to handle the difficult institutional, political and environmental issues. All are

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