When it comes to clean energy, China is leading the race

Breakthrough in extracting gas from so-called flammable ice is but the latest advance that China has made in its commitment to reduce harmful emissions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 1:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 1:25am

A technical breakthrough by China in extracting methane gas from solid deposits under the sea is more than newsworthy. It may yet add to the country’s energy mix away from highly polluting coal and oil. Although there is a long way to go, this is likely a landmark in China’s efforts to secure its own energy supplies and enhance national security. It could change the composition of China’s importation and consumption of oil, which is growing fast, thanks in part to an explosion in private vehicle ownership.

A latecomer to the extraction technology, China is catching up fast with the United States, Japan and Canada. Its commitment is a boost to the development of a technology that could help other nations as well. For the first time, mainland engineers extracted the gas from so-called flammable ice – methane hydrate, in which gas is trapped in ice crystals – and converted it to natural gas in a single, continuous operation using commercial technologies.

It is estimated there is such an abundance of methane hydrate that the total amount could exceed the combined energy content of all other fossil fuels. Also, the latest operation on a floating production platform – in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea, about 300km southeast of Hong Kong – has shown that commercial production of this new source of energy is possible.

China taps into cool future for global energy

China has already made great strides in the switch to alternative clean energy. The latest breakthrough will serve as another impetus in China’s energy transformation. According to a new United Nations climate report, China’s carbon dioxide emissions may have already peaked. At the very least, it is 10 years ahead of its reduction commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A separate report by the Washington-based think tank, the Centre for American Progress, has found similar evidence. Under a news summary titled “Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China Is Wrong”, the research concludes that the country’s new coal-fired power plants are cleaner than anything operating in the US. Demand for coal-fired power is falling so quickly that China cannot support its existing fleet. As a result, many outdated coal-fired power plants that critics point to as evidence against a Chinese energy transformation are already being targeted in a wave of forced closures. The American research also finds that current enforcement against “dirty” plants on the mainland is actually tougher than that anywhere in the US. At a time when the US is relinquishing its leadership in clean energy development, China is helping the world in helping itself in developing new technology to produce ever cleaner energy sources.