“While the United States spends time figuring out why they can’t do something, China does it”

The Kentucky Chamber’s Director of Public Affairs, Chad Harpole, has joined members of the Kentucky World Trade Center on their China Coal & Mining Trade Mission. The trade mission is a ten-day journey to China where participants will explore some of the most advanced technology in the coal mining industry at the China Coal & Mining Expo. Participants will also have an opportunity to see some of this technology being used in the Inner Mongolia mines, which was China’s largest coal producing region in 2009. Below is an account of his first day on the tour, beginning in the city of Shanghai.

In the United States, particularly in Kentucky, we are getting used to hearing the term “clean coal.”  Some argue there is no such thing as “clean coal,” while others argue it is the key to securing the future of one of the nation’s most abundant resources.  In China, the focus is not only to burn coal cleaner, but to find alternative ways to use the resource to their advantage.  Today’s tour started at East China University of Science and Technology where researchers are working diligently on coal to gas liquefaction.  The Chinese have not only researched and perfected the technology – they’ve made it work to their advantage for commercial applications. The gas produced in these facilities is later used in China’s industrial and agricultural chemical industries for things like fertilizer. While the concept has been in development for years in the U.S., it has never been produced on a large scale. Since 2004, China has built twenty-six coal to gas liquefaction plants, whereas the U.S. has a mere four. This prompted one of the main Chinese researchers to tell the group “while the United States spends time figuring out why they can’t do something, China does it.”

When asked where the funding for such endeavors comes from, researchers told the group a majority of funding was formerly supplied by the Chinese Government. However, the government now takes a lesser role and the primary source of funding for this research comes from licensing agreements between the universities and industry.

The second half of the day was spent at China’s Huaneng Power Group Shidongkou Power Station – a  massive 2500 megawatt per day coal-fired power plant located outside Shanghai.  The sprawling complex really is three separate plants, with the earliest being built in 1992 and the latest in 2009.  The reason for the plant visit was significant – the Chinese have implemented the first large-scale carbon capture project on a coal-fired plant in the world.  The carbon they capture from the emissions is later used in the production of dry ice and other food components, as well as in the construction industry.  What is most impressive is China was able to start construction on the carbon capture plant in September of 2009.  By December of that year, the plant was in use and the test period showed it was capturing 99.7% of the carbon off the stack.  Kentucky will soon have a similar facility, albeit on a smaller scale through a pilot program between E.ON U.S./Kentucky Utilities and the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research.

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