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Iceland’s Image Blackened by Coal

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Iceland’s Image Blackened by Coal

Black smoke.

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Build-up of heavy industry in Iceland will increase coal usage in the country to 224,000 tons a year by 2018, according to a forecast by Orkustofnun, the National Energy Authority, RÚV reports. An increase of 60 percent in coal burning will then have taken place over a three-year period, RÚV reports. The amount of coal burnt in the country now is as large as it was during the 1920s and 30s.

Although Iceland has an image of unspoiled nature and clean energy, the usage of coal is rapidly increasing, due to its use in heavy industry. Since 1993, its usage has just about doubled.

Two factories have used coal directly in their production; that is, the ferrosilicon plant at Grundartangi, Hvalfjörður, and the cement factory in Akranes, which now has closed.

Coal usage in Iceland is about to increase considerably. In November of last year, production began at the United Silicon smelter in Helguvík, Reykjanesbær, where coal and wood burning is part of the production process. A PCC silicon plant is under construction near Húsavík, North Iceland, where production is expected to begin this fall. Coal will be burnt to produce the silicon metal. According to RÚV, 66,000 tons of coal will be burnt annually in the production of equally much metal at the smelter. In addition, 45,000 tons of wood, expected to be imported, will be needed annually in the production.

In 2015, 139,000 tons of coal were burnt in Iceland. Orkustofnun predicted the usage would soar to 161,000 tons in 2016 and to 181,000 tons in 2017. By 2018, coal usage is expected to reach 224,000 tons, bringing the increase in three years to 60 percent.

Let’s look at coal usage in Iceland in an international context. China uses more coal than most countries, or 2.03 tons per person in 2015. That same year, the usage in the US amounted to 1.63 tons per person. By comparison, Iceland used 0.42 tons of coal per person in 2015, but will increase its use to 0.66 tons per person by 2018.

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