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China slows development of coal to gas projects

World Coal,

China will exclude additional coal-to-natural-gas projects from its coal industry's next five-year development plan, according to local media reports.

China Energy News, a state-run newspaper, cited a policymaker as saying that China will complete the construction of approved coal-to-natural-gas plants but will not approve new projects until 2020, aiming to keep its coal-based synthetic natural gas production capacity to 15 billion m3 at the end of the decade.

According to the Scientific American, coal-based synthetic natural gas – a product of converting coal to natural gas through a gasification process – has become a hit in the Chinese coal industry since the country's demand for cleaner fuels soared last year because of mounting pressure to clean up air.

The move away from coal-to-gas projects would see China take a different path to the one it seemed set on taking.

Earlier this year, Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, said in a press conference that "central and western China are rich in coal and have a bigger environmental capacity; we encourage adopting coal-to-gas technology there, and use the produced gas to replace coal needed in the eastern part of the nation."

At another event, Wu Xinxiong, director of China's National Energy Administration, told reporters that the country plans to increase its coal-to-natural-gas production capacity to 50 billion m3 by 2020.

According to a 2014 study from Greenpeace, China currently operates two coal-to-natural-gas demonstration projects, but there are 48 other plants under construction or in the planning stage. Once completed by 2020, those plants will produce 225 billion m3/yr of coal-fueled synthetic natural gas.

Yet the additional construction of such coal to gas projects would also see the release of large amounts of CO2 – which plays a key role in climate change.

Chinese officials also fear the effect such coal to gas plants could have on the country’s water resources.

Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, said that "building coal-to-gas projects is opposite of China's goal to save energy and cut emissions. If the government does not call off the industry expansion now, it will certainly have to do so in the future."

In addition to stopping building new coal-to-gas projects, the policymaker also said in the media report that China will cool down the development of other forms of coal-to-chemicals projects, with a plan to produce 6.6 million t of coal to oil and 15 million t of coal to olefins by 2020.

According to Chinese media, the previous planned production capacities for coal to oil and coal to olefins were 30 million t and 24 million t, respectively.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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