Drilling, blasting, kicking up black dust and billowing noxious soot and fumes into the air, blackening industrial towns and sickening their populations. This is the picture we have of the Chinese coal industry, epitomized by the shocking conditions documented in Linfen, Shanxi province. According to an article in the Guardian from November 15th ‘such techniques have made China’s mines the deadliest and most inefficient in the world, but they are changing.’

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Open coalmine in Inner Mongolia, photo by Wolfiewolf (Image source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Case in point: Ordos, Inner Mongolia, home to the world’s largest coal company – Shenhua – and most advanced and efficient mine as well as a huge experimental project for carbon capture and storage. The more advanced technology being implemented and developed in Ordos and elsewhere means safer, more efficient, cleaner and less locally polluting coalmines in China, but as the industry carries on expanding at a rapid rate – one new coal fired power plant opens each week in China – greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar. Because despite these new plants being cleaner and safer, ‘almost none of them remove carbon dioxide.’

But it’s not just that there are more new coal fired power plants in China, but that a new fossil fuel is on the rise and its experimental production is taking place in Ordos:

‘With oil prices high, China’s policymakers are hedging their bets by investing in one of the world’s most controversial fuels: coal diesel.’

 

–Guardian

 

Coal diesel, a technology with roots in some of the world’s most unsavory governments – Nazi Germany and Apartheid-era South Africa – is both a huge consumer of water and intense greenhouse gas emitter – 50 to 100% more than oil. Fears of liquid coal, coal diesel and a continued headlong expansion of fossil fuel industries are somewhat mitigated by China’s increased efforts towards sustainability, energy intensity and efficiency, including new ‘carbon capture’ or storage schemes involving coal plants. But the impression is still that any Green initiatives will be greatly overshadowed by prolonged massive industrialization and expansion into the use of fossil fuels, resulting in large increases in greenhouse gas emissions. And how ‘Green’ is carbon capture, or burying CO2 underground anyway? Policy makers in Beijing think it may be too ‘expensive and risky for local environments despite foreign encouragement to pursue such projects. After all, storing carbon isn’t exactly the same as getting rid of it.

Go to the original article ‘The two faces of China’s giant coal industry’ on the Guardian website, which includes an eight minute video report on the story.

Additional resources:
China Daily – Shenhua shows the way to make gas from coal