China, Coal, and Energy: Part I
China needs and must use coal to satisfy its energy demands; at least in the near term. In fact, the entire World needs to use coal until more energy is produced using nuclear, hydro and wind…practical systems that do not generally generate large volumes of CO2. Oil, natural gas, and corn/sugar cane alcohol all produce significant amounts of CO2 in their combustion.
Given the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks and inspired by the comments section of a recent WSJ article inveighing against China’s “obsession” with coal, I concluded it might be interesting to compare America and China’s Coal use and to determine what is being done to mitigate China’s coal demand, which if unchecked- according to an article in Science, as reported in Wired- may result in “carbon dioxide emissions… reach[ing] 8 gigatons a year by 2030.” That amount of emissions would equal current total worldwide carbon pollution.
Statistics below are mostly from the US DOE (Department of Energy). World Rank is in Brackets after #. In some cases, links are to articles elsewhere (such as Reuters) for updated information.
|Total Energy Consumption||73.808 quadrillion BTU(’06) (#2)||99.856 quadrillion BTU (2006) (#1)|
|Total Electricity Consumption
||2.835 trillion kWH (#2)||3.873 trillion kWH (2006) (#1)|
|Coal Production||2584.246 MMST (’06) (#1) 2,772.799 MMST (’07) (#1)||1,112.292 MMST (2006) (#2) 1,128.836 MMST (2007) (#2)|
|Coal As A % Energy Mix||70% (‘06/’09)||350GW (2006)
|Average Sulfur Content (Coal)
|Average Ash Content (Coal)||17% (Attwood)||14.6%|
|Nuclear As A % Energy Mix||1% (‘06) 1.3% (‘07) [9.1GW] 1.1% (‘08)||20.4% (2009)|
|Renewables As A % Energy Mix||>1.5% [9 GW] (’08) + 21.64% Hydro [171.5 GW] (’08)||~1.0 +7% Hydro (’06)
3.6% (Sort of) + 7.1% Hydro (’09)
|Natural Gas As A % Energy Mix [Consumption]
||3% (‘06) 3.5% (‘07) [77.18 billion M3] (#11)||23.2% (2009)[657.2 billion M3] (#1)|
|Coal As A % of CO2 Production||82%||36%|
|Carbon Production||6,017.69 mil metric tons CO2 (’06) (#1)||5,902.75 mil metric tons CO2 (2006) (#2)|
Chinese coal production is very high– twice the level of the United States’ production. All this coal production has led to carbon dioxide production, sulfur dioxide pollution, and coal ash pollution. (Detailed in the NYT’s award-winning “Choking on Growth” series).
Given the amount of coal that China produces, and the relatively higher sulfur and ash content of some Chinese coal (MIT article | summary | Green Leap Forward’s Analysis) , the mere slight CO2 production lead that China has over the US is quite interesting– though that is likely in part due to China’s lower automotive emissions. “In , coal combustion accounted for 82 percent of China’s CO2 emissions, and [only] 36 percent of America’s CO2 emissions.” (MIT, 3)
Chinese coal’s average sulfur content was about 1.1 percent, according to an article by T. Attwood in “Market opportunities for coal gasification in China” (Journal of Cleaner Production 11 (2003) 473–479.) (See also 1998 statistics of 1.1% in Thomson, 192). In contrast, “coking coals produced in the United States have … a relatively low sulfur content of approximately 0.8 percent by weight.” (EIA). In 2003, burned American coal rated a 0.93% sulfur content.
China’s coal also has a relatively high ash content- but that percentage appears to have declined over time. 60% of China’s coal used in the late 1990s had an ash content of 25-35%, and some parts of the country saw ash contents of 40-50% (Thomson, 192). In the 1990s in the US, the rate was 14.86%. Apparently China began using coal with lower ash content in the early-2000s, but the content at 17% was still higher than American ash content (Attwood).
Cleaner Coal Plants?
China’s coal plants have installed technology that allows them to reduce their amount of sulfur emissions. A surprising percentage of China’s coal generation power has been improved with cleaner-coal technologies. By the end of 2007, according to some Chinese estimates, over 270 GW of generating capacity had been installed with some form of FGD [Flue Gas Desulfurization] equipment.” (MIT)[and] “state regulations demand that all new power plants as of January 1, 2004, must be equipped with FGD systems and a series of programs have been initiated to insure retrofitting of FGD systems on older plants by the end of the decade.” (MIT).
“[E]missions levels from Chinese powerplants (sic) … “depend almost entirely on the quality of the coal they use. When they’re hit by price spikes, they buy low-grade coal.” Lower-grade coal, which produces high levels of sulfur emissions, can be obtained locally, whereas the highest-grade anthracite comes mostly from China’s northwest and must travel long distances to the plants, adding greatly to its cost. Contrary to what many outsiders believe, the Chinese state has substantially improved its ability to implement and enforce rules on technology standards. It has been slower, however, to develop such abilities for monitoring the day-to-day operations of energy producers.” (MIT Summary)
Some question whether the cleaning technologies are actually being operated effectively, and argue that “regulatory traction is partial at best. The shortfalls appear particularly serious on the operational side of power plants. That is, the systems are increasingly in place, but whether they are actually operated is another question.” (MIT)
So why does China use so much Coal rather than natural gas or nuclear– which account for 40% US energy, but both of which are negligible in China’s energy-mix, accounting for less than 7% of their energy supply?
And is there any possibility that China will increase the amount of cleaner or non-coal generating sources?
Next week, I will provide some analysis into why China needs to use so much coal and the chances that natural gas, wind, hydroelectric generation may reduce China’s Coal dependency and CO2 emissions.
* The October 2008 MIT article mentioned above analyzing China’s coal power industry is well worth the read.