Final project: A research of using natural gas to purify the air in China

From my midterm research we know that each lump can contain large amounts of sooty particulates including, sulfur and nitrogen compounds, as well as traces of mercury and other toxic metals.  Although coal-fired power plants are cleaner than they used to be, they are still bad news for the environment and human health. A recent study concluded that coal emissions contribute to 10,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.

So, I stepped further and  studied the relationship between fossil fuel and air pollution. Here are the two questions I worked on for this issue:  Would clean coal will be a good resolution for China?  Is the clean coal very popular in all western countries?

The Challenge of Air Purification in ChinaThe answerer of the second question is, Not Really.  Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and not easy to be clean. Cost is an important con for coal-linked carbon capture and storage technology.  It could easily increase the cost of energy from a pulverized coal plant by two-thirds to three-quarters, “way more than any of the other technologies needed to control the other pollutants.” said by Barbara Freese.

The focus on clean coal is particularly frustrating because practical, cost-effective alternatives do exist. I mean not just wind and solar power, but also natural gas.

So I bring this question to Larry Meng, who is the Engineering Project Manager at Calpine Corporation in Houston.  His expertise is energy issues.  Larry told me that the U.S. government is favorably inclined to support the natural gas industry in recent years. Natural gas is plentiful in the U.S. and gas-fired power plants produce only about half as much CO2 as coal. Moreover, conversion efficiency of natural gas power is one third higher than coal’s power1.  Larry believes that natural gas will be a good solution for China’s smog issue. He said that the energy revolution in China will benefit the atmosphere and improve many pollution problems in other industries from the source.

Back to China, what is the situation of natural gas using in China? The good sign is according to U.S. Energy Information Admission, China is home to the largest shale gas reserves in the world and the government’s plans to cap coal consumption on the way to eventually stalling CO2 emissions growth by 2030 rely heavily on cleaner natural gas challenging coal’s dominance. That is to say, a monumental shift from coal to natural gas is achievable and necessary.


A shale gas company in China

Resource: AFP via Getty Images

However, high gas prices are critical to encouraging domestic supply. For example, Beijing, the city I came from, has therefore increased domestic gas rates to match imported liquid natural gas (LNG) price levels2, which are much higher than those in North American3 and European markets4.

Affordable natural gas could be a benefit not only for China, but the global energy market and international climate change mitigation efforts. Sarah Forbes, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, believes the United States should share its experiences and challenges with shale gas to help responsibly unlock this promising resource.

Another good sign is according to a 2014 study from Greenpeace, China currently operates two coal-to-natural-gas demonstration projects, but there are 48 other plants under construction or in planning5. Once completed by 2020, those plants will produce 225 billion cubic meters of coal-fueled synthetic natural gas annually. Ideally say, it could provide a quick fix for China’s smog-choked east, potentially replacing fuels from coal-fired power plants and petroleum-driven automobiles.


Employees stand at a natural gas processing plant in Sulige, China

Resource: Reuters

I do care about my country and the air condition of China. In order to attract attentions from the entire world on this issue, I email and share my project to as much people as I can. Through NYU classes, email, Facebook and Instagram, I reach out my research and idea to many people. Many friends of me in China replied my email in Chinese and encouraged me keep doing this project. I was inspired a lot by their kindness.  Also, I want to say thanks to Larry, Peter, Connor, Yuwei and all the people who helped me with this research. And of course, I will keep doing research to improve the smog issue in China.  I believe the meaning of this project, which I pay a great effort on, is not just telling that how bad is our living environment but also arouse people to save energy and reduce exhaust gas through their daily life.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 8.04.37 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 11.24.16 PM


We live in a same earth, and we breath the same air.