Cleaner China coal may yet feed warming

The silos, which are scheduled to start operation in July, are designed to blend cleaner-burning imported coal with China’s own high-polluting domestic coal, which is contaminated with sulphur and dust. Coal blending will produce a mixture that will help electric utilities meet China’s steadily tightening environmental regulations. It will also increase the efficiency of coal-fired plants by slightly reducing the quantity of coal needed. Burning less coal means less greenhouse gases emitted. But critics argue there is a darker side to cleaner coal.

“Anything that makes coal more cost-effective, like blending, which is only enabling China to burn more coal, is bad news for the global struggle against carbon emissions,” said Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. The Chinese government’s decision this month to import more coal in order to reduce power disruptions – and control rising coal prices – ensures that blending will increase rapidly.

Industry executives are quick to promote the practice’s environmental benefits. Blending “is a sound solution to reducing greenhouse gas and pollutants emissions from coal-fired power plants,” said Howard Au, the director and chairman of Petrocom Energy, which owns the blending facility here. But environmentalists worry that by reducing the amount of sulphur and dust emitted from burning coal, blending makes coal more acceptable in the short term and stalls the conversion to cleaner or renewable fuels. Coal, which accounted for 83 per cent of China’s electric capacity last year, remains a particularly dirty form of electrical generation in terms of climate-changing gases. The global warming calculus for coal blending is less clear. Blending makes it easier to feed a power plant with exactly  the right coal mixture at which its boilers work most efficiently. This means the plant can burn less coal and emit less greenhouse gas. Chinese coal, much of which is very old, is tightly compressed, which means it releases a lot of heat when burned and has little moisture left, two desirable features, according to coal traders. But Chinese coal deposits also contain a lot of sulphur and fly ash – dust that is not combustible and contributes to particulate air pollution.

China has led the world in recent years in the construction of high-efficiency coal-fired power plants. These plants heat water to higher temperatures and pressures than earlier designs, so that less coal is burned to produce the same amount of electricity.
But the newer power plants need coal of a precise makeup, making it even harder for China to rely exclusively on domestic coal fields. So China has gone on a twin binge of importing coal and buying coal mines abroad.

Keith Bradsher
New York Times News Service

Blame it all on climate change

India can lose up to four per cent of its agricultural land due to climate change. Scientists concluded this after studying worldwide changes in soil temperature and humidity using international land and climate datasets and remote-sensing land-use maps.

They say regions with relative high latitudes, Russia, China and the US, may see an increase of total arable land by 37–67 per cent, 22–36 per cent and 4–17 per cent respectively. Tropical and sub-tropical regions like South America, Europe and Africa may lose it. This can affect food availability and prices.

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