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Coal: The Dirtiest Fuel

Summary: Benjamin Kahane, an engineer who designs photovoltaic solar energy systems for SunEdison, summarizes the environmental consequences of coal and its extraction.

Depending on how much pressure and temperature to which it has been subject, coal is a sedimentary or metamorphic rock comprised mostly of carbon. Coal is a fossil fuel used primarily in the generation of electricity. To turn coal into electricity, the rock is pulverized then combusted in a furnace, the heat from which converts water into steam used to spin turbine blades to create electricity.

There are many negative environmental impacts to using coal. Although coal is comprised mostly of carbon, smaller quantities of sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and other heavy metals including mercury also exist in the coal we burn. There are higher and lower qualities of coal, just like petroleum, however the use of lower quality coal is widespread due to more widespread availability. If these harmful byproducts are not removed before or during combustion, they can lead to damaging events such as acid rain, background radiation exposure and cancer in humans and animals. Carbon dioxide emissions are also a cause for concern since carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change.

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Benjamin Kahane is a utility scale project engineer at SunEdison, where he designs photovoltaic solar energy systems. He has provided engineering support for the development of more than 100 megawatts of ground-mounted photovoltaic projects across North America. Kahane previously worked as a project engineer developing photovoltaic installations at Conergy. He earned his master’s degree in sustainable energy engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.

The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL's Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology's Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy. The Guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.

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