This post originally appeared on Chinafaqs.org on Oct 8, 2010.
Having the intercessional UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in China this week – the last stop before ministers and heads of state meet in Cancun for the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP-16) – provides a timely opportunity for participants to witness firsthand elements of China’s clean energy and climate policies in action.
As China has become a world leader in developing and deploying key technologies needed to capture and sequester carbon, the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) and the Clean Air Task Force organized a site visit to GreenGen – China’s first commercial-scale Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant located in Tianjin, approximately an hour’s drive from the Meijiang Convention Center, where negotiations have been underway. GreenGen – a $1 billion project led by China Huaneng – represents a joint venture between seven other Chinese enterprises and has the support of the Chinese government, including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology. U.S.-based Peabody Energy also joined the project in 2007 as the only foreign investor.
While the Chinese refer to GreenGen as a “research demonstration project,” visiting the site a mere year away from completion of the project’sfirst phase, left our group with little doubt that this project means business. The first phase of the IGCC plant will produce a full-sized plant’s 250 MW of power, heat, and synthetic gas (syngas). Li Liangshi, the Deputy Chief Engineer of China Huaneng in Tianjin, said construction of the plant began in 2009 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.
GreenGen demonstrates multiple IGCC technologies that can hopefully be scaled to simultaneously address several environmental challenges – and not just climate change and energy security. To address criteria air pollutant abatement, GreenGen features pre-combustion technology that will strip pollutants such as SO2 and particulates from the coal syngas, according to Deborah Seligsohn, Principal Advisor to WRI’s Climate and Energy Program. GreenGen’s second phase will implement fuel cell power generation and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for nearly zero-emission power generation. The third phase of the project is planned for completion by 2016, when the plant would produce a total of 650 MW and 3,500 tons of syngas per day.
The presentations by Chinese climate and energy experts here in Tianjin have emphasized the critical nature of technologies like IGCC and CCS for China to achieve its energy and carbon intensity reduction targets, particularly as China will continue to rely on coal for a large portion of energy production. In a presentation on Oct. 5, Professor Jiang Kejun of China’s Energy Research Institute emphasized how crucial CCS is for China to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The emission models for China Prof. Jiang and ERI have been working on assume wide-scale deployment of CCS post 2030.
Returning to the context of the negotiations in Tianjin, a big piece of the discussion has surrounded technology transfer from industrialized countries to developing countries, to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, China shows the capacity to promote two-way exchange in areas like IGCC and CCS. Huaneng’s Mr. Li said that all of the technologies used for the first-phase GreenGen IGCC are manufactured domestically by Chinese companies, with the exception of the Siemens gas turbine . While China has growing capture experience, it is just beginning to try to actually inject CO2, with the first such injection likely to begin at a Shenhua Coal Liquefaction Company project in Inner Mongolia in the next few months. This latter project has received technical support from a number of US technical organizations, many of which are in the newly announced US-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC).
Against the smoggy skyline, I could not help but be impressed by the sheer scale and speed with which GreenGen has emerged within the past year. Seligsohn, who had first visited the site a year ago on a study tour of Chinese CCS sites for American experts, remarked that last year on their visit, the site was nothing more than foundation. Although Mr. Li admitted GreenGen’s price tag was not cheap, he said that if successful, Huaneng plans to roll out many more similar IGCC-CCS plants. And with China continuing to build about 30 power plants a year, according to Jiang, these technologies could have a significant impact on China’s air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
ChinaFAQs Expert Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on Chinese environmental performance measurement, governance, and policy.
Lead photo courtesy of Angel Hsu. Other photos courtesy of Adam Scherr, NRDC.