China's Coal Future  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm short on time tonight so just a very brief post.

While coal is evil, some places are stuck with the stuff for quite some time, which China being the most depressing example (big population, high economic growth, zero energy security outside coal) and one which would struggle to go all clean energy technology right now (though hopefully that will change over time).

With that in mind, here is Technology Review with part 1 of "China's Coal Future" which looks at the need for cleaning up China's coal consumption (which also applies to the TXU infested parts of the US of course).

To prevent massive pollution and slow its growing contribution to global warming, China will need to make advanced coal technology work on an unprecedented scale.

visitor arriving in Shanghai immediately notices China's technological conundrum. Through the windows of the magnetically levitated train that covers the 30 kilometers from Pudong International Airport to Shanghai at up to 430 kilometers per hour, both the progress the country is making and the price it is paying for it are apparent. Most days, a yellow haze hangs over Shanghai's construction frenzy. Pollution is the leading cause of death in China, killing more than a million people a year. And the primary cause of pollution is also the source of the energy propelling the ultramodern train: coal.

To keep pace with the country's economic growth, ­China's local governments, utilities, and entrepreneurs are building, on average, one coal-fired power plant per week. The power plants emit a steady stream of soot, sulfur dioxide, and other toxic pollutants into the air; they also spew out millions of tons of carbon dioxide. In November, the International Energy Agency projected that China will become the world's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in 2009, overtaking the United States nearly a decade earlier than previously anticipated. Coal is expected to be responsible for three-quarters of that carbon dioxide.

And the problem will get worse. Between now and 2020, China's energy consumption will more than double, according to expert estimates. Ratcheting up energy efficiency, tapping renewable resources with hydro dams and wind turbines, and building nuclear plants can help, but--at least in the coming two decades--only marginally. Since China has very little in the way of oil and gas reserves, its future depends on coal. With 13 percent of the world's proven reserves, China has enough coal to sustain its economic growth for a century or more. The good news is that ­China's leaders saw the coal rush coming in the 1990s and began exploring a range of advanced technologies. Chief among them is coal gasification. "It's the key for clean coal in China," says chemical engineer Li ­Wenhua, who directed advanced coal development for Beijing's national high-tech R&D program (better known in China as the "863" program) from 2001 through 2005.

Gasification transforms coal's complex mix of hydrocarbons into a hydrogen-rich gas known as synthesis gas, or "syngas." Power plants can burn syngas as cleanly as they can natural gas. In addition, with the right catalysts and under the right conditions, the basic chemical building blocks in syngas combine to form the hydrocarbon ingredients of gasoline and diesel fuel. As a result, coal gasification has the potential both to squelch power plants' emission of soot and smog and to decrease China's growing dependence on imported oil. It could even help control emissions of carbon dioxide, which is more easily captured from syngas plants than from conventional coal-fired plants.

Despite China's early anticipation of the need for coal gasification, however, its implementation of the technology in power plants has lagged. The country's electricity producers lack the economic and political incentives to break from their traditional practices. ...

Following on from my Terra Preta post yesterday, I noticed Philip at transect points noting that I hadn't mentioned glomalin (with my excuse being that I'd never heard of it - though this soil science stuff is quite interesting - I'll put in some more links tomorrow).
Peak Energy has a long post on Terra Preta that brings together what has been established on the subject. As of yet, there is no direct mention of the role of glomalin , just a minor mention of the mutualistic fungi that produce it. Glomalin is an unvalidated factor in Terra Preta formation that several of us sense will be demonstrated by soil research as fundamentally important.

Spurred on by back40, I am fascinated with bio-char, Terra Preta's key soil amendment. Last summer I constructed a small charcoal retort out of a cracker tin. I used it to produce small pilot batches of low temperature charcoal. Hoping to transform my simple charcoal into a reasonably bio-char-like material, I am currently composting my bits.


Atmospheric CO2 concentration is expected to increase by 50% near the middle of this century. Indications are strong that rising CO2 effects higher soil organic carbon content in some cases. Glomalin, which accounts for 1/3 of soil carbon, is of particular interest because of its important role in binding soil aggregates and increasing nitrogen use efficiency. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has updated their excellent summary about the CO2 - glomalin relationship. There is a great reference list to dive into.

I also recently noted that no one would mourn the death of Saddam Hussein, least of all Christopher Hitchens - it seems he's actually quite cranky about it though. You just can't please some people !

Levity aside, I hadn't seen the video (and don't intend to) when I wrote that post, and had assumed that it was done appropriately (ignoring the short circuited trial and its avoidance of his worst crimes) rather than just handing him over to a death squad. If my opinion of the Iraq situation and the Bush administration could sink any lower it would - however that isn't really possible. I noticed on the news tonight Dubya was running away from reporters rather than breaking out the jumpsuit and the "mission accomplished" banner - maybe he's starting to get a clue at last - though its probably just another way of avoiding reality...
On Saturday morning, the United States helped to officiate at a human sacrifice.

The disgusting video of Saddam Hussein's last moments on the planet is more than a reminder of the inescapable barbarity of capital punishment and of the intelligible and conventional reasons why it should always be opposed. The zoolike scenes in that dank, filthy shed (it seems that those attending were not even asked to turn off their cell phones or forbidden to use them to record souvenir film) were more like a lynching than an execution. At one point, one of the attending magistrates can be heard appealing for decency and calm, but otherwise the fact must be faced: In spite of his mad invective against "the Persians" and other traitors, the only character with a rag of dignity in the whole scene is the father of all hangmen, Saddam Hussein himself.

How could it have come to this? Did U.S. officials know that the designated "executioners" would be the unwashed goons of Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army"—the same sort of thugs who killed Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf just after the liberation and who indulge in extra-judicial murder of Iraqis every night and day? Did our envoys and representatives ask for any sort of assurances before turning over a prisoner who was being held under the Geneva Conventions? According to the New York Times, there do seem to have been a few insipid misgivings about the timing and the haste, but these appear to have been dissolved soon enough and replaced by a fatalistic passivity that amounts, in theory and practice, to acquiescence in a crude Shiite coup d'├ętat. Thus, far from bringing anything like "closure," the hanging ensures that the poison of Saddamism will stay in the Iraqi bloodstream, mingling with other related infections such as confessional fanaticism and the sort of video sadism that has until now been the prerogative of al-Qaida's dehumanized ghouls. We have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame.


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