Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21,
Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)
Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21, MOST
Deputy Director General,
Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21, MOST
The government of China considers addressing climate change to be of the utmost importance. Therefore, the country is exploring how to best approach low-emissions development through innovation and intends to do so even as it pushes ahead with urbanization and industrialization.
Recently China has placed a major emphasis on the research, development, and demonstration of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCS and CCUS), while also promoting energy conservation and reducing criteria emissions. Based on geography, economics, technical considerations, and other factors, the Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21, responsible for carrying out China’s efforts under the United Nations Agenda 21 plans for sustainable development, has found that there are several optimal opportunities for CCUS in China. The best prospects are focused around pairing key industries responsible for 90% of the country’s emissions from coal use (i.e., coal-fired power, coal-to-chemicals, and steel and cement production) with specific CCUS opportunities to advance low-emissions technology deployment in the country.
CHINA’S ENERGY CHALLENGES
In late June 2015, China officially submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of COP21. The major commitments include peaking carbon emissions by 2030, while striving to do so sooner, and reducing CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 60–65%, compared to 2005 levels. These ambitious commitments demonstrate the country’s desire to be proactive on climate change mitigation. They also support domestic efforts to expand investigation and innovation of low-emissions development models and pathways.
When making its international commitments on climate and working to advance low-emissions technologies, China must take into account that it is a developing country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people. Thus, the country must balance sustainable economic development, poverty eradication, urbanization, industrialization, the desire to improve standards of living, limited resources and energy supplies, and environmental protection. In terms of reducing carbon emissions from coal, China has opted to focus largely on CCUS in the near term to provide some revenue and/or co-benefits from low-emissions technology deployment.
Addressing emissions from the coal-fired power sector is especially important, considering that China has large coal reserves with relatively small reserves of oil and natural gas. The country is working to expand deployment of many low-emission energy options, but it is not possible for China to fundamentally change its coal-based energy mix in the near future. Any drastic change in the energy consumption structure would inevitably worsen China’s energy security and would directly and negatively impact economic growth. Based on forecasts, the proportion of coal, oil, gas, and other energy sources (e.g., nuclear power and renewables) in China’s primary energy mix are expected to be 55%, 20%, 10%, and 15%, respectively, in 2020.1 Therefore, low-emissions coal utilization must be developed and deployed in China.
CCUS is also of high interest to China because it can increase domestic production of valuable resources, such as minerals, oil, natural gas, uranium, and water. Thus, CCUS presents a key opportunity to enable cross-industry collaboration to form a framework for an emerging low-emissions industrial structure, thereby balancing China’s development and environmental objectives.
THE STATUS OF CCUS IN CHINA
The international community, especially developed countries, has also been increasingly interested in CCUS. In addition to the emissions reduction benefits of CCUS, countries such as the U.S., the UK, Australia, and Canada have set their sights on the considerable market benefits offered by this suite of technologies.
China specifically is actively pursuing research, development, and demonstration of CCUS, which is included in five-year plans and other government documents that cover climate change. For example, the importance of developing CCUS was emphasized in documents and national guidelines such as the Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006–2020), the National Program for Addressing Climate Change in China, the 12th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Development, the 12th Five-Year National Plan for Science and Technology Development to Address Climate Change, and the 12th Five-Year Plan for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Technology Development.
There has been recent progress in advancing CCUS in China. Since the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan, China’s government has supported research and development work carried out by domestic colleges, universities, and research institutes as well as large power, petroleum, and coal companies. This work has laid the foundation for a CCUS industry—and includes launching the country’s largest CCS project in operation to date, Shenhua’s 100,000 tonnes/annum (tpa) full-process demonstration project for CO2 capture, transportation, and storage in saline aquifers. Other major research, development, and demonstrations related to CO2 utilization are listed in Table 1.
Today China has developed a pathway for the deployment of CCUS and technologies to use CO2 to produce various resources. However, large-scale full-process demonstration projects over one million tpa in size have yet to be carried out in the country. Thus, to achieve a commercial CCUS industry in the near future the challenges of high costs, lack of maturity of some key technologies, and a lack of complementary facilities and related policies must be addressed. The near-term advancement of the technology is critical.
CCUS CONTRIBUTIONS TO EMISSIONS REDUCTIONS AND INDUSTRIAL TARGETS
In 2013, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21 took the lead in conducting a comprehensive scientific assessment of CCUS technologies in China, and published the results in 2014.1 In this report, the emissions reduction potential and benefits of different CCUS technologies in China were assessed.
Based on the current policies and technology development trends—and as CCUS technology demonstration and industrialization plans are ramping up—enormous potential exists for increased deployment and emissions reductions (see Table 2). If there is expanded policy support and investment for CCUS, greater deployment and the resulting emissions reductions could be achieved sooner, in addition to achieving the broader economic and social benefits.
Considering the large potential revenue and emissions reductions, CCUS should, first and foremost, be applied to reduce emissions from China’s coal-fired power, coal-to-chemicals, and steel and cement production sectors. Integrating CCUS projects could form industrial clusters of emissions reductions across these different industries and reduce net costs.
PRINCIPAL PATHWAYS FOR PROMOTING CCUS IN CHINA
China possesses several characteristics that are important for growing a successful CCUS industry, including CO2 emissions that are largely clustered around industrial centers, diverse geology, proximity of sources and sinks, and commodity prices high enough to help support CCUS projects. Through systematic planning, pathways for CCUS project development in China have been identified.
The first opportunity identified is associated with using CO2 from coal-fired power plants to enhance oil recovery (CO2-EOR) and enhance water recovery (EWR). The water produced in EWR could be further processed to extract valuable minerals, such as lithium salts, potash, and bromine, and also simply to produce usable water (treatment would be required) as many coal-fired power plants are located in regions of the country where water scarcity is higher. There may also be opportunities to use CO2 from some steel and cement production facilities for these purposes.
Another potential CCUS opportunity is to use the relatively pure CO2 from coal conversion processes in China, such as the production of synthetic natural gas, for enhanced coalbed methane (ECBM) production. In addition, the captured CO2 and newly produced methane could be combined with coke oven gas (H2 and CH4) to generate a feedstock to produce syngas, liquid fuels, methanol, etc.
Yet another CCUS opportunity is related to using the lower concentrations of CO2 generated during steel and cement production. Such CO2 could be used for the mineralization of bulk solid wastes (such as slag and phosphogypsum), generating value-added materials. In addition, low-concentration CO2 can be used directly for the cultivation of microalgae. The cultivated microalgae can be used for fertilizer—particularly suitable for treating the saline-alkali and desert soils in China. This would have a co-benefit of increasing carbon fixation in soil. Oils from the microalgae could also be used in fuel production and in the chemical production industries, although this work is quite preliminary.
Although some core CCUS technologies are at an early stage of research and development, these technologies hold value for improving China’s energy security, benefitting the environment, reducing emissions, providing new sources of economic growth, growing emerging strategic industries, and improving national competitiveness.
Based solely on the development status of CCUS today, the potential for emissions reductions and the economic benefits of various CCUS options as forecasted in 2030 are shown in Table 3.1 If there is expanded policy support and constraints in the market are reduced, CCUS technologies that are still being researched, developed, and demonstrated could mature more quickly and enter the market sooner, resulting in even greater benefits.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The development of a CCUS industry is an important way forward for reducing emissions in China. New industrial clusters could potentially develop into foundations for economic growth, promoting sustainable socioeconomic development. To realize this potential, the Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21 makes several recommendations:
- Conduct a systematic assessment of the costs, safety, environmental aspects, and other factors related to CCUS in China, especially in regions with better conditions for early CCUS demonstrations, such as the Ordos Basin, Songliao Basin, Bohai Bay Basin, and Junggar Basin. This will give a more accurate understanding of the potential for CCUS in the country.
- Due to the lower capture cost, concentrated sources of CO2, such as from the coal-to-chemicals industry, should be used initially as the source of CO2 for CCUS demonstrations. When considering technologies, attention should be given to increasing energy efficiency through integration of CCUS with existing processes, and thus decreasing coal consumption. For example, efficiency may be achievable through integration of CCUS with the production of synthetic natural gas. Potential opportunities include achieving breakthroughs in the core technologies, such as gasification.
- Certainty must be increased around the prospects of the large-scale, commercial application of post-combustion capture, pre-combustion capture, and oxy-fuel combustion technologies. Thus, these three CO2 capture options should be demonstrated and integrated with the demonstration and scale-up of CO2-EOR, CO2-EWR, and onshore saline aquifer storage to achieve several demonstration projects with a scale of more than one million tpa by 2020. In addition, the demonstration of other integrated systems could simultaneously be advanced through knowledge sharing based on these full-process CCUS demonstrations.
- In terms of CO2 recycling, the research, development, and demonstration of CO2 mineralization and key technologies for CO2 bio-utilization (i.e., microalgae) should be enhanced. Early demonstrations of such technologies are being carried out today at a relatively small scale, and development of such technologies using CO2 from the steel and cement industries should be considered.
- By fully leveraging the common technical features of CO2-EOR and storage of CO2 in saline aquifers, research and development efforts for specialized technologies related to ECBM and the output of water-soluble minerals should be increased. Relevant integrated demonstrations should be identified and supported.
In conclusion, CCUS is an important way forward to reduce CO2 emissions in China. Integration of key technologies can reduce costs and uncertainty, allowing CCUS to play an important first step in reducing the country’s emissions.
A. Conversions based on exchange rate of US$1 = 6.4 RMB as of 17 August 2015.
- Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21. (2014). China’s CO2 utilization technology review. Science Press, www.ccuschina.org.cn/uploadfile/Other/2013112016112758287773.pdf
The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.
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