- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Center Hosts U.S.-China Workshop on Clean Energy and Carbon Collection, Sequestration

| Summer 2009

With both China and the United States relying heavily on coal for electricity, senior government officials from both countries have urged immediate action to push forward technology that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants. They discussed possible actions at a high-level workshop in April jointly sponsored by the Belfer Center's Energy Technology Innovation Policy (ETIP) research group, China's Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Citing figures from the Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency, John P. Holdren, on leave from the Harvard Kennedy School to serve as President Barack Obama's science adviser, said global electricity generation is expected to triple by 2050 under "business as usual" scenarios, compared to 2000 levels, and reach five times those levels by 2100.

"These are staggering problems," Holdren said "We're all interested in renewables and in the prospects of nuclear energy, but the baseline expectation is that fossil fuels will continue to play a dominant role."

That makes finding better ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from coal all the more important, Holdren said.

The workshop aimed to develop concrete and specific opportunities for U.S.-China cooperation on advanced coal technologies, and the group will submit policy recommendations to both the Obama Administration and the Chinese government. Cao Jianlin, vice minister in China's Ministry of Science and Technology, represented the Chinese government together with Jiang Mianheng, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Center Hosts U.S.-China Workshop on Clean Energy and Carbon Collection, Sequestration

Leaders and participants in the joint U.S.-China energy workshop included (left to right): Xiao Yunhan, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS); Xu Jing, Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST), former Center fellow with the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program; Jiang Mianheng, vice president, CAS; John P. Holdren, science advisor to President Obama, on leave from the Belfer Center; Cao Jianlin, vice minister, MOST; Kelly Sims Gallagher, director, Belfer Center's Energy Technology Innovation Policy (ETIP) research group; Zhao Lifeng, CAS (former ETIP fellow); and Li Wenhua, GE Shanghai (former ETIP Fellow).

The workshop examined issues surrounding Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) coal plants, which turn coal into gas and remove impurities before the coal is combusted, and the related carbon capture and sequestration, in which the carbon dioxide emissions are captured and stored underground to avoid releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Though promising, advanced coal technologies face steep financial and legal hurdles and almost certainly will need sustained support from governments to develop the technology and move it to a point where its costs are low enough for widespread use.

In his opening remarks, Cao said China attaches "great importance" to developing advanced coal technology. Although China has invested heavily in solar and wind power, it continues to rely on coal to fuel roughly 70 percent of its commercial energy needs.

China and the United States are the two world's largest users of coal. Though relatively abundant and cheap, coal emits more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than either oil or natural gas — making it particularly problematic for mitigating global climate change.

Jiang noted that China's projected use of energy is set to increase dramatically in the coming years, with coal as the single largest source of emissions. Most of China's coal goes to industrial uses and power generation, rather than the residential uses, he said.

Jiang said the clean use of coal is one of the top priorities for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "It is my strong belief that together we'll be able to make a difference."

The workshop was part of an ongoing partnership between the Belfer Center's Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group and China's Ministry of Science and Technology, said Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the research group. Since 2002, the groups have held at least one workshop per year in China and the United States on technology policy for cleaner and more efficient energy.

"Mutual education has been one of the biggest contributions of this partnership," Gallagher said.

Cao also noted that the Chinese government's collaboration with the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group at Harvard has been a "great success" to date, and said he looks forward to discussion of future collaboration. Jiang said the workshop program has gained momentum over the years and has become a "common platform for dialogue between the energy communities in the United States and China."

Holdren said that workshop participants can make a large contribution by identifying specific actions that should be taken to promote advanced coal technologies in the U.S. and China. He said that the disruption and impact from global climate change are growing much more rapidly than predicted just a few years ago.

Using figures from the International Energy Agency, Holdren noted that it will be next to impossible to achieve these kind of greenhouse gas emissions reductions without finding solutions to reduce the emissions from coal and also from transportation fuels.

Gallagher and Zhao Lifeng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (and a former fellow with the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group) will co-author recommendations made at the workshop, which they will release to both administrations and other policymakers from around the world.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Talcott, Sasha. Center Hosts U.S.-China Workshop on Clean Energy and Carbon Collection, Sequestration.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2009).

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