Could Electric Cars Save the Coal Industry?

North Dakota has just 266 electric cars, the fewest of any state in America, reports the Washington Post. But the state's biggest booster for electric cars may be: the coal industry: The thinking is straightforward: More electric cars would mean more of a market for the [lower carbon] lignite coal that produces most of North Dakota's electricity, and if a long-shot project to store carbon emissions in deep underground wells works out, it might even result in cleaner air as well. "EVs will be soaking up electricity," said Jason Bohrer, head of a coal trade group that has launched a statewide campaign to promote electric vehicles and charging stations along North Dakota's vast distances. "So coal power plants, our most resilient and available power plants, can continue to be online...." In North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia — and in the nine other states where coal is the main fuel for electric power plants — electric cars will still rely on the combustion of ancient carbon-based deposits for their energy unless other sources of power come to the fore... [C]oal remains by far the main fuel for power plants worldwide, and a recent surge in its price suggests that demand is not waning. Without an intensive turn to carbon capture — a technically feasible but commercially unproven technology — electric vehicles may not be able to make that much of a difference in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions... [A] carbon capture experiment at the Milton R. Young Generation Station adjacent to the BNI mine, devised by a partnership of scientists and the Minnkota Power Cooperative, could make coal more attractive in the clean-energy future — if it works. The idea, known as Project Tundra, is to scrub the carbon dioxide out of the plant's exhaust smoke, condense it and inject it into deep wells... Carbon capture has been a popular idea within the coal, oil and gas sectors for years now. The technology is not out of reach. Plenty of pilot projects have been launched. But so far no one has been able to make it a paying proposition. A pioneering $7.5 billion carbon capture power plant in Mississippi was razed with dynamite on Oct. 9 after its owners wrote it off as an 11-year-old economic failure. North Dakota hopes to break through that last barrier, for both coal and oil... If Project Tundra can show that stuffing carbon dioxide back into the earth is economically feasible, he said, "it's opening the door for a CO2 economy. It gives the lignite [coal] industry a way to survive." His group has launched a promotional campaign called Drive Electric North Dakota, which sponsors promotional events, conducts public attitude surveys and lobbies for EVs in the state capital... Clean-air advocates range from dubious to dismissive. The promise of electric vehicles wasn't that they would spur more coal mining — or oil extraction... And unproven though it may be, critics contend, the publicity surrounding carbon capture has created a false sense of complacency that world-changing solutions are just around the corner. The Post also reports that "the oil sector, too, is putting its chips on carbon capture... "

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