Peak coal scenario could have already started

When will production of coal peak? New research published in the journal Nature suggests it will be a lot sooner than thought, with supplies being depleted and no new sources found.
Peak coal scenario could have already started Peak coal scenario could have already started Peak coal scenario could have already started Peak coal scenario could have already started Peak coal scenario could have already started

Image courtesy of PWCS.

Guest Journalist

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. Now a similar scenario is developing for coal and Australia must pay attention.

The most recent edition of the journal contemplates the end of cheap coal, with an analysis of the decline of global coal supplies by Post Carbon Institute fellows David Fridley and Richard Heinberg.

The estimates for global peak coal production vary wildly. Many coal associations suggest the peak could occur in 200 years or more, while scholarly estimates predict the peak to occur as early as 2010. Research in 2009 by the University of Newcastle in Australia concluded global coal production could peak sometime between 2010 and 2048.

The Wall Street Journal also reports Beijing is considering capping domestic coal output in 2011-2015, partly over concerns miners are running down reserves too quickly in a bid to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy.

There is a silver lining though, said Kjell Aleklett, world president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and a professor of physics at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. There are simply not enough fossil fuels left to reach the business-as-usual scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a warming of 6 degrees C by 2010.

“All the emissions scenarios that have been put forward over the last 10 years are wrong,” he said.

As of 2005, the top coal-producing countries were China (44%), the US (20%), India (8%) and Australia (7%). All are experiencing significant increases in coal production. The IPCC forecast to 2100 assumes worldwide production of coal could rise 10 times higher than today. ''That can never happen,'' says Aleklett, who expects coal production to peak around 2030 and says China is peaking about now.

He has been working with a Newcastle University team studying peak fossil fuel production, led by Geoff Evans and culminating in a 2010 doctoral thesis by engineer Steve Mohr. Taking into account supply and demand, Mohr's ''best-guess'' estimates put peak oil production in 2011-12, peak coal production by 2019 and peak gas production between 2028-2047.

The Energy Watch Group (EWG) predicts Chinese coal reserves will peak around 2015, followed by a steep decline after 2020. The US Energy Information Administration thinks China’s coal production will continue to rise through 2030.

First published on WME Environmental Management News

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