Cleaner Coal Stalling the Conversion to Sustainable Energy?
There have been massive efforts recently to improve the quality of China’s polluted air by blending low-polluting imported coal with dirtier-burning domestic coal. Experts argue that while this will positively effect the air quality in the near-term, it might contribute to faster global warming in the long-term.
China was the world leader investor in clean energy, with $54.4 billion in investments last year. But coal is still China’s main energy source, providing 73% of the energy for the country. Surprisingly, Chinese coal consumption has increased 185% in the past decade. This is compared to only a 17.5% increase for the rest of the world and a 1.6% decrease for coal consumption in the US.
Blending the differing types of coal increases the efficiency of coal-fired plants by reducing the amount of coal necessary and releasing less greenhouse gases. Environmentalists worry that by reducing the amount of sulfur and dust released from burning coal, blending makes coal more tolerable in the short–term and stalls the translation to cleaner, renewable fuels. “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 U.S.-China Relations.
China has also led the world in the construction of coal-fired power plants in recent years, spurring the nation to go from being a massive coal exporter to needing to import immense amounts of coal to meet the needs of the plants. While coal-blending facilities may provide a short-term environmental benefit, they also make it possible for countries like China to plan on consuming a lot more coal for decades into the future. It is important for nations to consider the long-term economic and environmental benefits of converting to renewable energy sources.