IEA sees China lead the way in developing new cleaner coal technologies

(Beijing) — 20 April 2009

”China’s coal sector has made remarkable progress over the last decade, fuelling rapid economic growth and bringing a better quality of life for China’s citizens”, said Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), today in Beijing at the launch of the new publication, Cleaner Coal in China. Mr. Tanaka noted that China’s coal production now provides more energy to the global economy than the whole of Middle Eastern crude oil production, emphasising that the use of coal on such a scale cannot be ignored. “While we welcome China’s important contribution to global energy supply security, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the environmental concerns associated with coal can be managed, even in these times of economic uncertainty”.

Policy action to widen use of cleaner coal technologies
Growing energy demand and the cost of alternatives mean that global coal use is rising, despite growing concern about its environmental impacts, including climate change. Coal accounts for about 70% of primary energy consumption in China. “The speed and scale of China’s expanding coal use have brought a new urgency to deploying the full range of clean coal technologies, from those that reduce sulphur dioxide and dust emissions, to more advanced technologies with higher efficiency and the potential to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions”, said Mr. Tanaka. Examples of all these technologies exist in China:

  • half of China’s coal-fired power generation capacity is fitted with flue gas desulphurisation (FGD)
  • the 4 000 MW Yuhuan power plant sets a new global benchmark for the efficiency of coal-fired power plants
  • one of the world’s first pilot demonstrations of CO2 capture from a coal-fired power plant is located on the outskirts of Beijing

“China already has most of the technologies the world has to offer. It just needs to use them more effectively and more widely”, Mr. Tanaka affirmed. To do this, more and better-trained people are needed across the coal sector: to adapt technologies to local circumstances; to build, install and operate new equipment; and to staff the independent regulatory authorities that oversee the whole process. Nowhere is this more important than in the administration of coal mine safety. Greater openness to international participation in China’s coal sector would bring improvements through the sharing of best management practices.

“In China’s increasingly open economy, competitive markets must be the primary means of ensuring that resources are used efficiently and cleanly”. Mr. Tanaka said. “Experience in many countries shows this requires well-regulated markets with competition among many players – large and small, domestic and foreign. Environmental benefits come when players see a competitive advantage in being cleaner.” Wider adoption of the “polluter pays” principle would create a market demand for clean technologies and bring down manufacturing and operating costs.

The IEA report states that China and other coal-using nations, despite progress, face persistent difficulties in using coal more cleanly. It is the task of governments to overcome these difficulties and that means strengthening agencies to implement soundly based environmental, health and safety policies. “China’s existing environmental laws are well designed”, Mr. Tanaka emphasised, “but, they need to be better implemented.” Delegation of powers to lower levels of Chinese government, coupled with greater accountability is what the report recommends. He pointed out that immediate and sustainable improvements, for example to local air quality, would flow from the adoption of well-proven technologies and management practices along the entire coal supply chain.

Co-operating on a new generation of cleaner coal technologies
“New technologies are needed worldwide. China’s role in developing them is critical”, Mr. Tanaka declared. Commercial activity, official government-to-government co-operation, R&D partnerships and professional relationships are all needed to make low-carbon energy a reality. Recommendations made in the report offer opportunities for China to grasp, but only if developed countries move quickly to establish markets for technologies that are currently too expensive and not fully demonstrated, such as carbon dioxide capture and storage.

“China has the opportunity to lead in the development of cleaner coal technologies in response to a growing, global market for clean energy”, Mr. Tanaka said.

Finally, Mr. Tanaka urged governments and corporations to accelerate their efforts in working with China and shaping a cleaner future for all.

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