China has agreed to cut methane emission in a deal it made with the US. However, there are many barriers: a lack of reliable monitoring and costly capture technologies.
When Sihe Power Plant, located on the south-eastern edge of Qinshui coalfield, one of the six largest coal mines in China’s Shanxi Province, started generating power in 2008, it became a model for reducing towering emissions from the country’s coal mining sector.
To generate 120MW of electricity, the project uses methane from coal mining operations. These types of initiatives are profitable because 60% of the coal gas contains a concentration of between 3-8% methane.
“The challenge is to deal with the remaining 40% of low methane concentration coal gas,” said Yang Fuqiang, a senior researcher at Climate Change and Energy Transition Programme at Peking University in Beijing.
China’s energy sector, driven by its coal operations, accounted for a fifth of total methane emissions from the global energy sector last year – making it, by far, the largest methane emitter.
The government has taken strong measures to stop methane being released directly into the atmosphere. However, it is having difficulty motivating coal mining giants into initiating methane mitigation plans.
China made it mandatory that coal mining companies capture and use methane from coal mines above 30% concentration in 2008
To prevent methane from escaping into the atmosphere, companies who cannot extract high-density coal methane must flare the gas. The government also offered incentives to methane-recovery.
Industry insiders believe that lack of monitoring of methane emission and high costs of capture technologies deter methane-cutting projects.
Methane emissions can be detected by satellites, drones, and planes. These systems are expensive and require a large investment.
“The data uncertainty of methane emissions is a long-existing problem,” said Ran Ze, senior manager at Environmental Defense Fund, China (EDF). “It’s crucial to enhance monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) to detect the exact status of methane emissions.”
Global hubLaunched to assist countries in reducing methane emissions
The US-China joint declaration announced at Cop26 in Glasgow, UK and China’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060 have prompted policymakers to bolster efforts to capture methane and increase its share in the country’s energy mix.
Methane emissions from the sector of energy, which has a warming potentia 80 times greater than carbon dioxide, are increasingly being seen as a quick win. Cop26 saw more than 108 countries sign up to reduce their methane emissions as part of an initiative launched jointly in the US with the EU.
China withdrew from the initiative, but it joined hands with the US to make a joint declaration committing to reducing its methane emissions.
According to official data from 2014, the country’s energy sector contributed 24.7 million tonnes or 45% of national methane emissions. Coal mines alone were responsible for around 38% of emissions – unlike in the US and the EU where a majority of methane emissions come from gas pipelines.
“If China wants to tap the potential of methane and curb its emissions, then undoubtedly coal mines are a priority area,” said Yang.
MigrantRamadan in the Arabian Gulf causes heat stress for workers
China is expected release a national plan to reduce methane emissions before the Cop27 climate negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in November.
The success of China’s methane emission reduction policies hinges on a comprehensive approach.
EDF says that coal mining companies will need to use cost-effective technologies to mitigate methane. Although there are methods to recover coal mine methane at a concentration of 0.5%, they can be expensive.
China plans to reduce coal extraction dramatically as part of its pledge to become Carbon Neutral by 2060. Mining companies have only 38 years to recover investment costs.
The government is likely to invest heavily in methane monitoring, reporting, and verification. However, mining companies will need to find low-cost methane mitigation technologies.
“Methane concentration varies in coal mines here,” said Meian Chen, programme director at innovative Green Development Program, Beijing. “For this, there will be a need for a tailored approach, using cost-effective technologies and policy support, to capture methane from these mines.”
Source: Climate Change News