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Greenpeace warns about Chinese projects

Environmental group forecasts that coal-to-chemicals plants will account for a significant portion of CO2 emissions by 2020

by Jean-François Tremblay
May 3, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 19

Coal-to-chemicals projects that come on-line in China between 2015 and 2020 will be significant contributors to the country’s emissions of CO2, warns the environmental group Greenpeace. Responsible for less than 1% of the country’s CO2 emissions in 2015, coal-to-chemicals plants could be responsible for more than 5% of the total by 2020.

“The coal-to-chemicals industry is one of the major contributors to carbon emissions in China,” the group says.

Carbon king

CO2 emissions from Chinese coal-to-chemicals projects are seen surging.

CO2 emissions per year (millions of metric tons)
Type of production 2015 2020
Coal-to-oil 9 195
Coal gasification 8 378
Coal-to-olefins 68 171
Coal-to-ethanol 6 48
TOTAL 91 792

Note: Estimate for 2020 includes emissions from already built projects, projects under construction, and government-approved but not yet built projects.
Source: Greenpeace

In a new study, Greenpeace estimates carbon emissions by Chinese plants that convert coal into olefins, ethanol, and synthetic oil and gas amounted to 90 million metric tons in 2015. In 2020, assuming that all planned projects go forward, carbon emissions by the coal-to-chemicals sector will surge to 790 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to 8% of the 10 billion metric tons of carbon emissions China reported from all sources in 2015. China’s overall carbon emissions have remained more or less stable since 2013, Greenpeace notes.

The leveling off of China’s emissions in recent years can be credited to less intensive coal use across the country, the group adds. But in the near future, “emissions from coal-to-chemical projects may have a negative impact on China’s carbon reduction policies,” according to the report.

Greenpeace is too pessimistic in its assessment of the impact of future coal-to-chemicals projects, counters DeLome Fair, CEO of Synthesis Energy Systems, a Houston-based supplier of coal gasification technologies that has licensed its process to Chinese operators. The company has also invested in coal gasification plants in China.

“China started taking action several years ago to reduce carbon emissions of coal-to-chemicals projects by putting in place requirements for minimum efficiencies,” Fair says. New plants must abide by stricter emissions guidelines. And she expects Chinese authorities will soon start ordering the shutdown or replacement of older plants that do not meet environmental requirements.



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