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Efficient use of resources, cost cuts seen as key to sustainability
China has become the world's largest producer of electricity based on low-carbon coal. The country will continue to promote efficient and environmentally friendly use of coal, in line with the policy to develop clean energy, said a high-ranking Chinese government official.
"China has abundant resources of coal. The several varieties of coal are the main source for energy consumption. Promoting green and efficient coal production and use is equally important as developing new energy," said Liu Baohua, deputy head of the National Energy Administration.
Liu made the remarks at the Taiyuan Energy Low-Carbon Development Forum, which began in the capital city of Shanxi province on Sunday and will end on Tuesday.
In 2017, China's energy industry consumed 4.49 billion metric tons of standard coal, up 2.2-percentage points year-on-year.
Coal consumption accounted for 50.4 percent of total energy sources, down an accumulative 8.1 percentage points in the last five years, according to the NEA.
By the end of 2017, about 658 million kilowatts of installed coal-fired capacity achieved low-carbon emissions, causing less pollution than that of gas-fired power stations, Liu said. Gas-fired power is generally considered a relatively cleaner form of energy.
Wu Lixin, deputy director of the Coal Strategic Planning Research Institute, which is under the China Coal Research Institute, said that over 70 percent of coal-fueled power generation achieved low-carbon emissions as per the Chinese criteria in 2017.
That is the world's strictest, with sulfur dioxide discharged in gas waste less than 50 milligrams per cubic meter and nitrogen oxide less than 50 milligrams per cubic meter.
Total capacity of currently installed coal-fueled electricity generators in China reached 990 million kilowatts in 2017 and topped the global ranks, she said.
"The country is likely to see all coal-fired power generation realize low-carbon emissions by 2020," Wu said.
"Although there is a surging need for clean and renewable energy, efficient and green use of traditional fossil fuels like coals is equally important because they take a major role in China's energy consumption."
China will endeavor to adopt world-leading energy technologies and invest more in research and development for the upgrade of the energy industry, Liu said.
Currently, many Chinese coal producers are upgrading their technologies to achieve green production and efficient use. They are also developing by-products from coal varieties that are less suitable for power generation.
Liu Junyi, deputy general manager of Shanxi Lu'an Mining Group Co Ltd, a leading coal group based in Changzhi, Shanxi province, said many Chinese companies are foraying into modern coal-based chemical production with focus on low emissions and high added value. They use coal to produce oil, olefin, methane, ethylene glycol and dimethyl.
In partnership with scientists from the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, which is under the aegis of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lu'an Mining developed a production line in late 2017 to make synthetic oil using coal.
The production line, the first of its kind in China and part of a pilot project, is expected to start full operation in October. It will produce 350,000 tons of synthetic oil per year, which makes it the largest such facility in Asia, Liu said.
In the past, only foreign companies used to produce high-quality synthetic lubricants consisting of artificial chemical compounds. Market potential for them is huge, Liu said.
Companies such as Shenhua Group are upgrading their technology to produce coal-based chemicals. In the clean energy sector, natural gas and non-fossil fuels account for nearly 21 percent of total energy consumption last year, up 6.3 percentage points over the past five years, a record, he said.
Han Wenke, director of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's economic regulator, said clean and renewable energy should also play a leading role in meeting China's growing demand for energy, and green production and efficient use of coal will facilitate the country's industrial upgrade for overall green economic growth.
Han said China will see a drastic decline in coal consumption after 2020. Coal is expected to take up less than 50 percent of total energy consumption in 2050, and 50 percent in 2050.