I was invited to give an overview at the US Department of Energy’s seminar on mercury and fine particulates in Chongqing, China at the beginning of the month. I thought Beijing was the biggest and smoggiest city in China but it seems Chongqing may have that position. For the three days I was there, I never saw the sky nor a real view of the huge megacity that I was assured was located out of my hotel window. And, since I was there for a meeting which concentrated largely on emissions from coal utilities, it was easy to make the assumption that inefficient coal combustion was the main source of the smog outside. But it would seem that this is not the case. Expert speakers from Zhejiang and Tsinghua Universities, and casual conversations with delegates from the Chongqing Science and Technology Commission, SPIC (the State Power Investment Corporation) among others, highlighted the depth of understanding of national experts of the challenges in China as well as an incredibly strong movement towards the application of cleaner and cleaner coal technologies.
In additional to local researchers, the US Department of Energy had invited expert speakers from several US companies who supply emissions monitoring and control systems. However, I suspect that much of the information given by these speakers was relatively old news to many in the Chinese audience. China may have come late to the emission control game, bringing in emission legislation for SO2 and NOx decades after the EU and USA, but they are making up for lost time. The installation rate for FGD in China is almost complete on new and existing plants and the deNOx technologies are not far behind. China is already moving forward with experimental multipollutant control systems for mercury and fine particulates – this fact was proven nicely in our site trip out to the 1920 MW subcritical Hechuan power plant. The journey to the site, took almost three hours, passing towns and villages, open burning fields, cement plants, plastics and glass factories, motor bikes, cars and trucks, never once giving us a glimpse of any clear blue sky. And yet the coal plant, arguably the largest potential source of pollution in the area, is testing state of the art wet ESP systems to pull down sulphur and fine particulates with over 99% efficiency. There is even a small slip-stream CO2 capture system at the plant. In fact – the credentials of the plant were so impressive that those of us on the tour wondered whether in fact the stack of the plant was actually producing cleaner air than that which we were breathing. Perhaps not, but it was clear that the coal-fired plant we visited was nowhere near the top of the sources causing the region’s significant pollution issues – a reminder that the coal fleet in China is rapidly becoming the most clean and efficient in the world.