China’s Synthetic Natural Gas Plants Could Accelerate Climate Change – Businessweek

Northern China’s reliance on burning coal for heat and energy contributes to the heavy haze that shrouds city buildings, especially in winter, and shortens the life spans of northerners as compared with their southern counterparts by as much as five years, according to a recent study (PDF) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A worker moves coal briquettes onto a pedicab at a coal distribution business in Huaibei, central China's Anhui province on January 30, 2013.

Beijing and other Chinese cities won’t see frequent blue skies until coal burning is dramatically curtailed in adjacent industrial regions. In September, China’s State Council released a significant new environmental target: trimming coal’s contribution to overall energy output from 67 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2017, even as the country’s economy and energy demand continue to grow.

STORY: Growing Concerns About Pollution And Public Health In China

Unfortunately, one scheme to limit coal burning by converting China’s plentiful coal supplies into synthetic natural gas (SNG) presents a host of other ecological worries. To date, China’s government has approved construction of nine large SNG plants in northern and western China, which are projected to generate 37 billion cubic meters of gas each year when completed. At least 30 more proposed plants are awaiting approval.

None of these planned plants are located near large Chinese cities, so the emissions generated in producing the gas will not hang directly over metropolises. But that doesn’t mean the coal-to-gas conversion process is clean. According to a new study (PDF) in Nature Climate Change, the entire life cycle of harvesting coal and turning it into gas produces from 36 percent to 82 percent more total greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal directly—depending on whether the gas is used to generate electricity or power vehicles.

While the most-polluting stages of energy generation could be moved farther from China’s population centers—perhaps allowing for more brighter, cleaner days in Beijing—the net effect could be to accelerate global climate change, argue the study’s authors, Chi-Jen Yang and Robert Jackson of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

via China’s Synthetic Natural Gas Plants Could Accelerate Climate Change – Businessweek.

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