Coal technology development in China

By John W. Byam Jr., P.E.

JB International Inc.

China`s heavy reliance on coal, along with its inefficient patterns of energy use, will make it the largest single producer of climate-warming carbon dioxide by the second decade of the next century. As it surpasses the US and other industrial countries in emissions, China seems certain to come under strong international pressure to curb its reliance on its vast, cheap coal reserves. It may face serious consequences from global warming, as a rise in sea levels inundates coastal zones. Right now, many of its citizens are choking on the air pollution produced by the widespread burning of coal.

Between 1970 and 1990, energy consumption rose 208 percent in China, compared with an average rise of 28 percent in developed countries. More than five million Chinese are now engaged in the largest coal extraction enterprise in human history, feeding China`s enormous thirst for energy and pushing toward fulfillment of the goal of quadrupling the country`s economic output between 1980 and 2000. Last year, China`s mines produced 1.2 billion tons (t) of coal, more than any other country; and the numbers are only growing, perhaps nearly tripling to 3.1 billion t annually by 2020. China will then overtake the US as the largest source of waste gases being pumped into the atmosphere.

Coal development on a vast scale appears inevitable. Already, Beijing`s leaders face a daunting array of demands to build highways, railroads and modern industries to compete for export markets with the developed world and to provide the economic growth that China`s expanding population will expect.

Some improvements will pay for themselves, but with its huge reserves of coal, China regards any energy alternative that costs more or requires more up-front capital as a threat to development.

United Nations Coal Projects in China

Since the Beijing Representative Office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) opened 16 years ago, the program has given great importance to the priority areas of economic and social development to support Chinese government concerns. Grant assistance, valued at more than (US)$420 million, has been provided to China through UNDP technical assistance programs and energy sector development. Coal utilization improvements have been a key area of UNDP focus in recent years.

The UNDP Coal Programme deals with the introduction, transfer and distribution of coal-related technologies to address specific technical and policy matters, including acid rain, combustion efficiency, coal desulfurization, and emission control and covers seven substantive projects and one program management project. It is managed by The China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchange (CICETE). The results have successfully contributed to achieving China`s eighth Five-Year Plan, which covers 1991 to 1995 goals for improved coal mining, utilization and environmental control.

The Coal Utilization Program

By John W. Byam Jr., P.E.

JB International Inc.

The Coal Utilization Program elements include engineering, design, manufacturing, research and modeling practices leading to an increase in the efficient production and use of coal and coal-derived fuels. The projects include:

– Chemicals From Coking Project–will have an impact on national environmental priorities by improving the production of high-value chemicals from the gas production process. The introduction of modern coal gasification systems with low capital cost; the ability to use lower-cost, lower-quality steam coals; and the production of high-value chemicals from the gasification by-products will increase the availability of low-cost gas for household use.

– Circulating Fluid Bed Technology Development Project–includes development of design manuals and a 220-t/hour demonstration boiler at Dalian Chemical Industrial Corp. to improve efficiencies and reduced emissions.

– Hot Gas Cleanup R&D Project–assists the development of combined-cycle coal-gasification technologies that will improve efficiencies and reduce sulfur and carbon-dioxide emissions.

– Control of Environmental Pollution from Coal Combustion Project–demonstrates modeling and management of coal utilization sources and air pollution within a city or region. Decision-makers will evaluate the most cost-effective technologies and locations for new power/heat production facilities. The model considers not only the project`s direct capital costs, but also potential emissions and long-term operating and social costs.

– Deep Coal Bed Methane Recovery Project–improves Chinese industry capabilities and services to reduce emissions by replacing household coal use with methane gas or electricity from deep, coal-seam methane.

– Karst Water and Thick Seam Coal Mining Projects–expected to increase safety and productivity in deep mines, directly affecting the cost of energy production.

The UNDP/CICETE Coal Utilization Programme has created an effective government-industry partnership. Future joint ventures and partnerships between Chinese institutes/industry and foreign participants offer unique opportunities in a rapidly growing market. The resulting commercial potential from these projects also reflects the successful application of UNDP funds to projects with measurable results.