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China aims to convert coal into ultra-clean energy resource

China's central government, research institutions and enterprises are pitching in a joint effort to convert the country's rich coal reserves into a clean energy resource by using clean-coal technology.

Sun Yuhan, head of the Institute of Coal Chemistry (ICC) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said that multi-product production embodies the future of China's development of clean-coal technology (CCT).

The transformation of coal into "oil" or other high value-added chemical byproducts via liquidization and gasification to produce clean fuels is still not well applied in China.

According to an ambitious national plan for China's science and technology development published in early February, China will prioritize the development of industrial energy-saving, clean and efficient use, and the multi-product production of coal in the coming 15 years.

China also plans to develop a technique for sealing up carbon dioxide generated in coal combustion to achieve near-zero emission.

For the time being, its CCT technology is not mature enough to catch up with the world level. China's CCT reserve, however, ranks among the first in the world, according to Sun.

Experts predict that China can develop its own coal fueled gasification technology with its own intellectual property rights in five years. The end product is said to be 50 percent cheaper than similar international products.

Chinese companies have also been actively involved in a research and pilot scheme of CCT. Construction has started in coal-rich Shanxi Province by the Shanxi Luan Group on a massive coal liquidization project to get oil from coal.

Meanwhile, the China Huaneng Group, the country's largest coal-fueled power generator, has joined a coalition of global electric utilities and coal companies that is to design, construct and operate the world's first "zero-emission" coal-fueled power plant.

China is among the world's largest coal consuming nations with its coal use expected to reach 2.9 billion tons in 2020.

China has the world's third largest coal reserve base and more than 60 percent of the China's energy still comes from heavily polluting coal.

"Loss from coal combustion each year costs about four percent of China's gross domestic product (GDP)," Sun said.

The United States has launched an initiative, dubbed "Vision 21", for developing the technology essential for ultra-clean, near-zero emission, fossil fuel-based energy plants that will be needed in the coming decades of the 21st century.

Global energy major, British Petroleum, the U.S.-based Texaco Corp., and Air Products, Inc. are currently working on breakthroughs in core technologies and integrated innovations in coal production.

The Chinese firms tend to be more enthusiastic about the "efficient" use of coal than its "clean" usage, as efficiency means lower operating cost for the profit-driven companies, according to Sun.

"Stricter laws and regulations on environmental protection and energy conservation should be enacted to boost CCT technologies and be used in China's privately owned enterprises," Sun said.


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