Sunday, August 12, 2007

What is Clean Technology?

Often there is some confusion on the term "clean technology". Recently, I read a Reuters article where they talked about 'clean coal', by which they meant using carbon sequestering technology (pumping carbon dioxide deep underground) on emissions from power plants.

First, of all it is is not clean coal. In fact, it has nothing to do with coal. Carbon sequestering has to do with carbon dioxide emissions, regardless of whether the source is coal, oil, natural gas, etc. The term clean coal is usually used in talking about removing sulfur from coal.

Secondly, carbon sequestering is not clean technology. Clean technology is preventing emissions from occurring. Carbon sequestering is about taking the emissions and then pumping them underground. An analogy is wastewater treatment -- we take wastewater and treat it; clean technology would be reducing the amount of wastewater produced, say by changing the process.

We have learned from hazardous waste management, that clean technology (also known as pollution prevention or waste minimization) is much more effective than waste treatment. What I hope is not happening is what happened with the term "waste minimization". Waste minimization started meaning (and the preferred meaning still today) as not producing waste. But then industry started to use the name to include off-site recycling. Then they started using it to mean any treatment technology. I even saw a book that included landfilling of hazardous waste!

Let us get back to basics, start using the environmental language correctly, and quit putting the industrial spin.

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