COVID-19: The days are numbered for the United States coal industry
The coal industry in the US is seeking financial support from the government following the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused a further decline in the industry.
In the past decade, the use and demand for coal has tanked amid competition from low-cost natural gas and expanded renewable energy sources. As schools and businesses have shut off during the United States’ lockdown, demand from coal-firing plants has dropped even further, so low that Travis Deti, head of the Wyoming Mining Association, has been working the phones to try and strike a deal with the nation's government. By the end of 2020, the annual demand for electricity across the United States of America is expected to be 3% lower than last year.
Due to concerns regarding the spread of the virus, some coal operations have slowed or paused operations altogether. In the most productive coal region in the U.S. — Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin — companies are staggering shifts and running more buses to and from mining towns to create more space between workers. Although those mines are still operating, numerous companies have temporarily suspended operations across Pennsylvania, Illinois and Virginia to help slow the spread of Coronavirus. As a result of all this, a lot of miners are only working two or three days a week at present.
“We’d take anything right now,” said Deti, whose group represents companies that produce about 40% of the nation’s coal. As the economy continues to take a hit due to the pandemic, more coal companies across the nation are expected to file for bankruptcy unless government support is rolled-out across the country.
Despite Trump's efforts to ‘bring back coal’, alternative sources of energy such as natural gas have become so prevalent that it's throwing away more energy than countries such as Romania consume. Furthermore, renewable energy has also become both more reliable and has reduced considerably in price, by just over a third globally in the past decade but even more in some countries, including the United States.
It’s tough to predict the future of the coal industry, but as alternative energy sources such as natural gas and renewables take charge across the nation and the globe, it’s unlikely that coal will ever be the thriving industry it once was years ago, and the coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted this.
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Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.