In China, a country that produces one-sixth of the world’s annual coal output, hundreds of thousands of people depend on coal mining for their livelihoods. The coal industry is playing an integral role in China’s rapid economic growth. Energy is an urgently needed resource in China, which has been experiencing some of the fastest growth rates in the world. Over 65% of the country’s energy needs are met by power generated in coal-fired power stations.
This widespread use of coal causes serious environmental problems, however, including air pollution and acid rain. Coal mining also produces of one of the world’s most harmful greenhouse gases: methane. Coal mine methane (CMM), a subset of coal bed methane (CBM), is twenty-three times more powerful than carbon dioxide at affecting global warming.
Methane, which is released from coal seams during the mining process, will cause explosions if it is allowed to build up in the mines. Chinese safety regulations therefore require that mine operators remove it to a certain safety level. Mine operators currently take the least-cost method for venting the CMM gas: they release it into the atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Methane can also be a valuable fuel source which can be used to increase national energy capacity and displace thermally-generated energy.
That is what this project- the Prototype Carbon Fund’s first coal mine methane project and one of the first CMM projects in the world held under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development- aims to do. The project developer Jincheng Anthracite Coal Group Co. Ltd.will capture coal mine methane and utilize it for power generation at the Sihe coal mine in Jincheng City, Shanxi province. The Jincheng Coal Group will upgrade the Sihe mine with several new, internationally-proven technologies to improve mine safety and efficiency during gas drainage. The project will recover CMM from the mine and process it into energy at a nearby CBM power plant. The energy will be delivered to the local power grid, thus improving the capacity of the Jincheng Power Network and mitigating its lack of electricity. By introducing new technology, this highly replicable project will build local capacity.
It will also produce tangible benefits for the local population. Shanxi province, located in northwestern China, is the center of country’s coal mining industry. Economic and employment conditions in Shanxi are heavily coal-dependent; Sihe mine alone employs 27,000 people in Jincheng City. This project will improve conditions at the mine for current employees, and also create sixty new jobs for re-trained miners and additional specialist staff at the power project. China’s mining industry has a poor safety record, but this project will help improve the safety of miners by establishing a better way to eliminate explosive methane from the mine.
China’s National Climate Change Coordination Committee has also placed coal methane projects as of its top four prioritized categories in developing projects under the Clean Development Mechanism. And because China is a world leader in coal production, reducing its CMM emissions is a key part of reducing the level of methane in the atmosphere. By capturing CMM instead of releasing it into the atmosphere and then utilizing it to produce clean energy, this project will generate 40 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reductions over its 20 year lifetime. Improving the safety of mines and using the recovered methane for power generation is also the first step on the path to making China’s coal industry cleaner and ultimately more sustainable.
¹Project descriptions are current as of project inception.