China’s air pollution crack down’s perverse consequence: more coal

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If you want to know how worthless most environment journalism is then do this simple calculation. First add up the number of stories about Tesla published in the last year. Second, add up the number of stories about China’s plans to build large numbers of plants to convert coal into synthetic fuels as part of their drive to reduce air pollution. Then compare the two.

If you have heard of the second one then you probably do not get all of your information on these issues from mainstream environment journalists. Tesla however sold a few thousand cars last year, while China’s plans for coal-synthetic fuel plants are in full flight.

China Daily today reports on a new one under consideration. Here is what it is capable of:

“Once established, each year the base will produce 30 billion cubic meters of coal gas, 6 million tons of coal-liquefied oil, 1.2 million tons of coal-converted olefin (a synthetic fiber made from a polyolefin, such as polypropylene or polyethylene used in wallpaper, ropes and vehicle interiors) and 1 million tons of coal-converted ethylene glycol, according to the province’s deputies to the congress, who asked for the central government’s approval for the base.”

These numbers are far from loose change, and China is planning a lot more of this stuff. The big problem here is of course obvious. Converting coal into another fuel increases the carbon intensity energy consumption. The laws of thermodynamics are hard to get around. So, it now looks increasingly likely that China’s air pollution drive might result in cleaner air around China’s cities, but also dirtier air in the atmosphere.

I hope to explore this in more detail over at the Energy Collective in the next month or so.





4 thoughts on “China’s air pollution crack down’s perverse consequence: more coal

    roddycampbell said:
    March 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

    That’s very interesting. Look forward to that post. I’m assuming some functional gain from the process other than just smog but I’ll wait and read your piece.


      Robert Wilson said:
      March 17, 2014 at 9:24 am

      There are things you can do with gas that you cannot do with solid fuels. Britain used significant amounts of “town gas” made from coal for decades until it started importing natural gas in the 60s.


    julesbollocks said:
    March 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    just to put 6 million tonnes into perspective
    6 million tonnes = 40 million barrels of oil
    China consumption [with a country yet to move to mass car ownership]- 10 million barrels a day

    so this plant will provide 5 days of consumption.

    the other issue is China coal reserves- unchanged since the 1990s the official 120 billion tonnes is unlikely. Estimates are possibly 70 billion tonnes of which the best and easiest seams have been mined- so the reserves also include seams perhaps a few inches thick. With consumption guessed at 4 billion a year and reduced growth rates the peak in coal production is decades away- add more coal going into oil production and peak coal is possible in 2030.

    no wonder China is ramping up renewable and nuclear, unlike the UK and the US they are at least electrified [3500 miles of high speed rail- UK= 64 miles]


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