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MIT: The Future of Coal

November 1, 2007



This MIT study examines the role of coal as an energy source in a world where constraints on carbon emissions are adopted to mitigate gloabal warming. It presumes that the risks of global warming are real, that the world should and will take action to restrict greenhouse gases, and that coal will continue to play a large and indispensable role in a greenhouse gas constrained world. The challenge for governments and industry is to find a path that mitigates carbon emissions yet continues to utilize coal to meet urgent energy needs, especially in developing economies. The study aims to identify the measures that should be taken to assure the availability of demonstrated technologies that would facilitate the achievement of carbon emission reduction goals, while continuing to rely on coal to meet a significant fraction of the world’s energy needs.


The risk of adverse climate change from global warming forced in part by growing greenhouse gas emissions is serious. While projections vary, there is now wide acceptance among the scientific community that global warming is occurring, that the human contribution is important, and that the effects may impose significant costs on the world economy. As a result, governments are likely to adopt carbon mitigation policies that will restrict CO 2 emissions; many developed countries have taken the first steps in this direction. For such carbon control policies to work efficiently, national economies will need to have many options available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As our earlier study — The Future of Nuclear Power — concluded, the solution lies not in a single technology but in more effective use of existing fuels and technologies, as well as wider adoption of alternative energy sources. This study —The Future of Coal — addresses one option, the continuing use of coal with reduced CO 2 emissions.

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