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China has finished building the world’s largest plant designed to use excess methane gas, produced by mining coal, to generate electricity.
The Lu’an Group, which built the plant in eastern Shanxi Province, also owns the nearby Gaohe Coal Mine. Lu’an announced Dec. 30 that it would soon fire up the generator, which has a capacity of 30 megawatts and can use up fully 99 percent of the methane emitted by mining the coal.
Coal mining in China emits more than 10 billion cubic meters of low-concentration methane every year, the equivalent in greenhouse gases of 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Methane, which is not poisonous but can asphyxiate, is a key greenhouse gas which many say contributes significantly to global climate change. It also is normally emitted in the process of underground mining.
To deal with methane, mine operators often capture the gas and liquefy it into methyl alcohol if the methane content of the emission is greater than 30 percent. For concentrations between 10 and 20 percent, the gas is captured and used as fuel for some internal combustion engines.
But fully 81 percent of the emissions have methane concentrations below 10 percent, so low that it can’t be used for direct combustion. So Lu’an’s Methane Gas Research Institute developed a method by which the gas with low methane content can be broken down into carbon dioxide and water at temperatures of more than 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, using the heat and steam to generate electricity.
Jia Jian, the institute’s deputy director, told Xinhua that the company’s methods can help reduce methane emissions by 1.4 million metric tons each year while generating 200 million kilowatt-hours of electricity much more cleanly than by using coal, which has been the fuel of choice in China for decades.
Like many emerging countries, China has long argued that it should be allowed to develop its industries using the same methods – and fuels – that established industrial nations did a century ago. Yet President Xi Jinping startled the world on June 14, 2014, when he told a meeting of government economists that pollution in his country had become so bad that it was time for a Chinese energy “revolution.”
“To ensure national energy security, China needs to take steps to rein in irrational energy use and control the country’s energy consumption by fully implementing energy-saving policies,” Xi said.
While his comments were widely welcomed, they were vague and met with some skepticism. Yet Xi followed up five months later while hosting President Obama in Beijing on Nov. 12. He said China would reach its peak emissions “around 2030” – the first time it had set such a target – and that by then fully 20 percent of its power generation would come from renewable energy.
And, as of Jan. 1, 2015, punishments for Chinese polluters have been increased.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com