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China Looking To Back Out Of Coal-To-Gas Plant Buildout?

China may be looking to back out of its previous plans to fast-track a buildout of coal-to-gas plants in the country, according to recent reports.

On the back of a disappointing year for investors in the technology, financial losses, skepticism about the technology’s supposed environmental benefits, and increasing water scarcity issues, Chinese officials have reportedly begun questioning the intelligence of ongoing support.

Image Credit: Flag of China on Yangtze River via Shutterstock.

Previously, the government there had considered the coal-to-gas technology to be one that had a place in the country’s energy mix — perhaps helping to reduce pollution via the use of the relatively clean-burning gas created by the process in urban areas. But there are a number of what may as well be referred to as “environmental trade-offs” with the use of the technology — particularly with regard to water use and carbon emissions. 

Operating said coal-to-gas plants in the northern and western portions of the country — where water scarcity is already an important issue — would use very significant quantities of water and endanger the future habitability of the regions.

There’s also the issue of carbon emissions — said plants release large amounts of CO2, and would actually very notably increase the country’s total emissions.

Finally — though perhaps most importantly — the first plants that entered operation earlier this year have been plagued by numerous technical and financial problems. They just haven’t met the expectations put on them by the technology’s proponents.


 

Commenting on these issues, an engineer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California (who works in cooperative projects with senior staff at China’s Energy Research Institute), David Fridley, stated: “I think the sentiment has greatly changed. They have expressed a lot of skepticism.”

Interestingly, a Chinese news agency recently reported that government officials my actually freeze the approvals for many of these projects during the five-year plan that’ll continue through the year 2020. Under such a freeze, the vast majority of plants currently under construction would be stopped, according to the state-run China State News.

Given the country’s serious pollution problems and its great reliance on dirty coal, it isn’t surprising that the technology was given serious consideration, but it just seems unlikely to ever be a viable commercial approach (not within the next few decades anyways), especially with the cost of solar and wind power continually falling.

It’ll be interesting to see if this withdrawal from a buildout of the technology will result in a stronger push towards renewables and EVs.

Image Credit: Flag of China on Yangtze River via Shutterstock.

 
 
 
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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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