Toxins from coal-fired stations can be treated, say academics

Construction News

Potential pollutant releases from coal-fired power plants can be treated and prevented, engineering lecturers from Chulalongkorn University said yesterday.

Amid a fierce protest by some environmental and activist groups against the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’s plan to build a coal-fired power station in Krabi province, members of Chulalongkorn’s faculty of engineering held a press conference to express their academic viewpoint on the country’s fuel-options policy.

Chaiyapron Puprasert, head of the environmental engineering department at the university, said that while the faculty would not jump to any conclusions on the contentious issue, from the technical angle, pollutants from coal-fired power plants could be treated.

“We won’t cover the social and tourism aspects, because they are not the areas in which we have expertise,” he said.

“Technically, the pollutants can be treated, but that is only half of the picture, the other half being the monitoring of the procedures and operations. This means that local communities and citizens must take more of a role in monitoring the operations of power plants,” he stressed.

Pinyo Meechumna, a lecturer at the university’s mining and petroleum engineering department, said renewables such as wind, biomass and solar still could be only “supplementary” sources of energy, and most countries still had to depend on nuclear, coal or natural gas as the major fuel choices for their power stations.

In the case of Thailand, the country already relies too much on natural gas, which currently runs power plants satisfying about 70 per cent of total electricity consumption, while a major accident at a nuclear power plant could cause wide-ranging impacts, as happened at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, in 1986 and Fukushima, in Japan, in 2011, he said.

“Coal is good in that it is cheap and non-volatile, and there are coal reserves in 100 countries that can last for more than 200 years at the current rate of consumption. It is also a fuel that is not bound to geopolitical factors like oil, the main reserves of which are concentrated in the Middle East.

“On the negative side, coal releases more greenhouse gases. There is no fuel that is perfect,” he explained.

Bundhit Eua-arporn, dean of Chula’s engineering faculty, said it was time for Thailand to set the guidelines for ensuring a fine balance in its energy policy, which had to take into account the “3Es+1S” aspects, namely environment, energy security and economic, plus social acceptance.

“The ‘S’ is subjective since each group [within society] can take a different view, but I’m confident that if society has awareness, each will consider the data and facts and revisit their beliefs,” he said.

The dean added that Thailand’s choices would not necessarily be the same as those in other countries, and that the optimum overall position would not necessarily satisfy all parties.

Sirima Panyametheekul, a lecturer at the university’s environmental engineering department, said that even if Thailand did not build any more power plants and had to import more electricity from neighbouring countries, it still could not escape potential environmental impacts.

“If you don’t take any power from plants within this country, and you want to buy electricity from other countries, you would still have to breathe any air flowing in from Malaysia [for example],” she said.

Malaysia’s power tariff is cheaper than Thailand’s because most of its new power plants are coal-fired stations, said Pinyo from the mining and petroleum engineering department.

Germany or Denmark, meanwhile, can use a great deal of renewable power since their charges are more than three times those in the Kingdom.

“If Thais paid the same power prices as in Germany, we could do the same as them,” said Pinyo.

Renewable is like a supplementary food; it’s not a main course and it’s usually more expensive.”