Does coal-to-gas power in China make sense?

Posted: August 23, 2014 by oldbrew in Energy

Chinese smog [image credit: BBC]

Chinese smog
[image credit: BBC]

The go-ahead was given recently for 50 coal gasification plants in China. It makes economic sense to them:

‘Due to lower coal prices and higher natural gas prices, coal gas is currently enjoying relatively high profit margins. He Zuoyun, deputy general manager of Sinopec Great Wall Energy and Chemical Co. Ltd, said at a meeting in September 2013 that one-third of natural gas consumption could come from coal gas by 2020.’

The main downside seems to be that the process uses a lot of water:

‘There seems no way to meet water demand for coal gasification, even before other hazards are considered. About 10 tons of water is needed to produce every 1,000 cubic metres of coal gas. Even a conservative estimate gives a water demand of 13.3 million tons of water (cubic metres) to produce annual output of 1.33 billion cubic meters of coal gas at Datang Keqi, one of China’s two currently operational plants. That’s the equivalent of four times Beijing’s daily urban water supply (about 3.1 million cubic metres).’

Critics line up against coal-to-gas power in China | Zhang Chun – China Dialogue.

An explosion at an experimental plant that killed two workers and injured four did nothing for the image of the industry. Presumably lessons were learned though.

On a technical note: ‘Coal gasification is not necessarily cleaner than burning coal, nor does it economise on coal, according to research data presented by South China University of Technology professor, Qian Yu. His study discovered that using coal gasification for urban heating reduces a city’s smog from coal burning for heating by 98%. However, this method consumes 90% more coal.’

Reducing urban smog is a big issue in China. How cutting it by 98% compared to coal ‘is not necessarily cleaner’ is a mystery.

India is looking closely at the coal-to-gas option too.
Govt preparing draft policy on underground coal gasification –

  1. oldbrew says:

    The BBC reported on this a few months ago:

    Coal bed methane is another option. China may have over 30 trillion cubic metres recoverable.

  2. Joe Public says:

    “Coal gasification is not necessarily cleaner than burning coal, nor does it economise on coal …….. ”

    It just shifts the source of pollution to a different location.

  3. Coal is a stop-gap for China. Coal-fired power stations are quicker and easier to build than their preferred energy option: Nuclear. They’re commissioning several new reactors every year. They have about two dozen under construction. (Hope this link works:

    The connected another Fuqing reactor to the grid this week, preparing it for full generating capacity by the end of this year.

  4. jarlgeir says:

    Those arguing against coal-to-gas technology are relying on “facts” from Greenpeace. We do know that Greenpeace has been lying to us consistently over the years about everything else connected to “climate change”. Their facts need to be checked.

    We certainly have no shortage of water on earth, since 70% of it is covered with water with an average depth of 3682 meters. Some of our water is in the wrong place, or contains too much salt (before desalination), but the truth is we have an overabundance of water.

  5. oldbrew says:

    Hi Bernd, this demonstration plant looks interesting. I take ‘modular’ to mean they can construct several small units into one big power station. The demo plant (‘Phase I’) is 200 MW.

    ‘Shidaowan high temperature gas cooled reactor is the first high temperature gas cooled reactor demonstration plant in China’

    Found some more details – they want to expand it to 6.6GW eventually:

    ‘the first in the world to put a reactor with fourth-generation features into commercial use’

  6. I wold have thought that most of the commentators here would know better. Poor combustion in a home fire place for heating and cooking causes much pollution (smog from unburnt carbon). That was the problem in London particularly at the turn of the nineteenth century. Supplying gas to residents for heating and cooking will result in improved air quality in the large cities. Well designed gasification plants have little air pollution and will be located in the country close to sources of coal. Everyone should know that CO2 which people and animals breath out is a clean, colourless gas and is not a pollutant.

  7. oldbrew says:

    Another advantage is that transporting gas in a pipeline is a lot more efficient than clogging the roads up with thousands of coal trucks.

  8. oldbrew:

    The high temperature, gas cooled reactor design owes a lot to the AVR research reactor at Jülich in Germany and the subsequent THTR in Hamm-Uentrop that produced electricity for just 90 days before it died under the weight of irrational regulations.

    [reply] interesting – NB the link says ‘423 days in full service’

  9. catweazle666 says:

    Ah, bring back the Woodall-Duckham continuous retort!

    I worked as a technician on a house of these dinosaurs back in the 1960s, still exactly as it was built by the Victorians, with its atmosphere of carbon monoxide, ammonia and coal tar at something around 85 degrees centigrade, with the flames from the scurfing retorts venting out of unguarded 8 foot by four foot holes in the floor. the top level of a retort house gave a very fair impression of Hell.

    Ah, the joys of the Orsatt apparatus…

    Funnily enough, despite it being bloody dangerous and murderously unhealthy, I quite enjoyed it!

    [reply] each to his own 😉

  10. Curious George says:

    Coal gasification makes sense if you already have a gas pipeline infrastructure – or if your primary need is a supply for a chemical plant. Not if your primary need is energy.

  11. Ed Martin says:

    China should just get one of their colonies to do it. We can do it on the great lakes or Mississippi delta. Why not, we raise their pigs for them.

  12. Dear Tall Bloke
    I get your output from my colleagues in the NZ Climate Science coalition. Underground Coal Gasification is in my technical territory! If you are interested in what the technology is really about and its past and future I can assist, including (yes!!) peer reviewed papers. See for an introduction. And keep up the good work! Dr Len Walker

  13. Has anyone figured out a way to make C to CH4 to electricity more efficient or cost effective that C to electricity? Cannot super-heated steam for turbines be made without CH4? Are pipelines cheaper than railroad shipping? Seams like nonsense! Capture smog, SO2 , and heavy metals where ever the coal is oxidized. The CH4 generates very dirty water,at least for current natural gas.

  14. oldbrew says:

    ‘Are pipelines cheaper than railroad shipping?’

    There aren’t enough railways in China @ Will J – that’s why some of the main roads are full of coal trucks.

    More about the tech here:

  15. Doug Proctor says:

    If it weren’t for the CO2-eco-green horror, all this coal-to-gas, nuclear or solar or wind would be local solutions-as-appropriate for general powering of a human culture. Messy, dynamic, jockeying-for-position ordinary ways of muddling through. It is only the Greenpeace table-thumping, Al Gore-money-making BS that create arguments and problems and anger from ordinary figuring-it-out-ness.