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Is This The End Of China’s Coal Boom?

 China Coal

The End Of China’s Coal Boom,” is a new, must-read chart-filled report from Greenpeace. It documents the response of China to the almost unimaginable life-shortening air pollution caused by its rapid growth in coal use.
 
One of its charts highlights the stunning statistic that over half of the growth in global carbon pollution in the past decade has come just from China’s increase in coal!
 
China Coal4
 
But that kind of growth of coal has more than just climate impacts. It is “draining the country’s arid west of precious water resources,” as Greenpeace itself noted.
 
And then there is the air pollution. Climate Progress has pointed out “when eight-year-olds start getting lung cancer that can be attributed to air pollution, you’ve got a problem. When smog forces schools, roads, and airports to shut down because visibility is less than 50 yards, you’ve got a problem. When a study finds that severe pollution is slashing an average of five-and-a-half years from the life expectancy in northern China, you’ve got a problem.”
The response by the Chinese government has been to require coal burning be cut — in some cases sharply — in China’s heavily populated eastern provinces, as shown in this graphic from the report:
 
China Coal1
 
As Greenpeace’s Li Shuo and Kaisa Kosonen wrote:
Twelve of China’s 34 provinces, that burn 44% of the country’s coal, are committed to control their coal use. Some, like Beijing, have pledged ambitious cuts as steep as 50% in only five years.
 
This puts China and hence the world much closer to the 2°C path, as the report points out. But if we are to have any chance whatsoever of getting anywhere near that essential target, China will have to commit to have coal consumption peak and then start declining in the 2020s. And we Americans will have to get off our butts, too.
 
Chinese coal plant teaser image dailuo/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

 

Editorial Notes: Good news, but is Greenpeace taking into account China's plans for coal gasification?

Coal gasification: The clean energy of the future?
The main technology being used is coal gasification - instead of burning the fossil fuel, it is chemically transformed into synthetic natural gas (SNG).

The process is decades old, but recent rises in the price of gas mean it is now more economically viable. The US has dabbled in the technique, but China is going all out in a bid to satisfy its soaring demand for power and reduce its dependency on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The country's National Energy Administration has laid out plans to produce 50 billion cubic metres of gas from coal by 2020, enough to satisfy more than 10% of China's total gas demand.

Not only does it make economic sense, but it allows China to exploit stranded coal deposits sitting thousands of kilometres from the country's main industrial centres. Transporting gas is, after all, a lot cheaper than transporting coal.

Coal gasification can also help address local pollution problems that have in recent months brought parts of the country to a virtual standstill.

But there are two big problems. First, coal gasification actually produces more CO2 than a traditional coal plant; so not only will China be using more coal, it will be doing so at a greater cost to the environment.

As Laszlo Varro, head of gas, coal and power markets at the International Energy Agency (IEA), says: "[Coal gasification] is attractive from an economic and energy security perspective.

"It can be a nice solution to local pollution, but its overall carbon intensity is worse [than coal mining], so it is not attractive at all from a climate change point of view".

see also Fire in the hole: After fracking comes coal

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