David Rutledge says world coal estimates are too high

No matter what you think of coal as an energy source, the fact may be that we have less to burn than previously believed, according to this scientist.

David Rutledge: Worldwide coal resources may not be as extensive as people thought.

That’s CalTech engineer David Rutledge, who spoke to EarthSky at a recent science meeting. He said governments around the world have overestimated coal reserves or, the amount of coal still available for energy use.

David Rutledge: That estimate, at least for these trends, appears to be high, for coal.

To figure out how high, Rutledge studied trends in countries that have already run out of coal.

David Rutledge: I have the production numbers for all the coal-producing countries of the world back to about 1800.

Rutledge’s study suggests that ultimate coal production – total production for past and future mining – is only 60 percent of what governments around the world estimate. In other words, no matter what you think of coal as an energy source, the fact is we might have less to burn than previously believed, according to this scientist.

David Rutledge: That would be good news for climate change. I think it’s true that the biggest unknown in predicting future climate is the amount of fossil fuel we will burn.

Rutledge added his estimate provides a good reason to develop and transition to alternative fuels.

David Rutledge: You want to get cracking, independent of climate change.


Our thanks to:

David Rutledge
Professor of Electrical Engineering
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, California

Lindsay Patterson