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Why the promise of Global leadership in CCS is an easy but empty promise for the UK
Written by Paul McClory   
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
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Why the United Kingdom will never install ‘Clean Coal’ technology – and why China, India and America could not - even if they wanted too.

China now burns some 3,000 million tonnes of coal every year (this compares to less than 50 million tons burned in Britain annually). Historically China has always been an exporter of coal but in the last few years it has become the world’s biggest importer of coal (overtaking Japan) with an estimated 175 million tons in 2012.

By 2020, just eight years away, China is expected to import 3,000 million tons – taking its total annual coal burning to a colossal 6,000 million tons, increasing its world share from 45% to almost 70%. The question for China – and the rest of the world is, where will this coal come from?

The total amount of freely traded coal on the world’s oceans is 800 million tons annually. This means that China alone will not only need all of this current supply in the next eight years but will also need, from somewhere, another 2,000 million tons.

From discovery to full production it takes around 10 years for a new coal mine to be in full production. A typical coal mine will produce 5 – 20 million tons of coal a year – so, just for China to achieve its import targets (and remember it has, throughout history, been an exporter of coal), it will need to buy the production of at least 25 new coal mines each year! This of course means that all other countries, especially India which has similar import needs to China, will also have to find new sources of coal to import.

Obviously this is going to be impossible. And, equally obviously, the price of coal is going to increase, probably exponentially (with significant effects on the UK economy).

When we consider that the United Kingdom continues to claim to be ‘the global leader in Clean Coal technology’, it’s not to difficult to work out that our country is planning yet another route to national bankruptcy; and as no other serious nation, especially China, the USA and India, has any intention of competing with us in the ‘Clean Coal’ arena, ‘leadership’ is an easy (if empty) claim to make. To date no commercial CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration) coal burning station has ever been built.

Even if China wanted to introduce CCS on its coal burning power stations, it could not – without severely damaging its economic growth.

Here’s why……….

Let’s assume you want to build a new 1,000 MW CCS power station (a typical size for a new power station powered by any fuel). A conventional, modern, Chinese coal powered generating plant would burn 1.9 million tons of coal annually, at a current cost of £130 per ton of coal (a 300 % increase in the price of coal just seven years ago).

When fitted with a CCS system the same power station would need to burn at least an extra 25% of coal to achieve ‘Clean Coal’ power status.

Let’s make the hypothetical assumption that China decided to convert just a quarter of its coal power stations to CCS. Given its total present burn rate of 3,000 million tons annually it would be converting 750 million tons to CCS and would therefore need to import an extra 200 million tons of coal annually to achieve this - and given that on recent and current growth trends China intends to burn 6,000 million tons annually by 2020, it would then need to import an extra 400 million tons to install CCS on just 25% of its power plants.

As I have pointed out above, there just is not (and will not be) enough coal available in the world to supply this figure – ignoring for the moment that India, America and the rest of the world are also competing for the same coal.

And of course, to continue this purely hypothetical scenario, the extra cost of importing 200 million tons (if available) to install CCS would cost the Chinese economy an extra $50 billion annually.

On the basis of the above figures, how can anyone at DECC justify the currently insane policy of planning a nation wide Clean Coal policy when it is patently obvious that there is not (and will not) be enough coal supplies in the world to satisfy the huge and growing demand for new sources of coal.

By pursuing a ‘go it alone’ Clean Coal policy for the UK the only certain consequences that will flow from continuing with this policy are:

1. The total waste of £ billions in the development of CCS power stations.

2. The destruction of currently competitive UK based energy intensive industries (they will either close down or go abroad).

3. Zero exports of CCS power stations (because there is just not enough coal available globally to supply the extra 25% needed for CCS conversion)

We illustrate the complete emptiness of the CCS promise by appending the presentation prepared by one of Tony Blair's favourite think tanks, E3G. Readers may draw their own conclusions.

icon ccs-china.ppt (547.5 kB)

 

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