China, top producer of greenhouse gases, looks to tap potential resource

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By Andy Scott and Lucy Brady 

Nov. 2 – The Methane to Markets Partnership Expo that concluded yesterday in Beijing was a chance for China, fast becoming the world’s largest polluter, to grab some favorable press and promote alternative energy resources in a city where the air-quality is still a thorny issue for the upcoming Olympics.

The three day expo, co-hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), was the largest Methane to Market Expo to date and attracted more than 700 participants from 34 countries meeting to discuss alternative ways to decrease methane output while harnessing the gas as an alternative energy source.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and accounts for 16 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions. However, because methane only stays in the environment for roughly 12 years, action taken now would have drastic, visible results in pollution reduction in the coming years. The expo was a chance to showcase the latest technologies and educate countries about the capture and use of methane. It was also a chance for potential investors to meet vendors and developers.

“There are big opportunities for companies doing business in China, lots of potential methane capture-and-use projects over there that our partnership has helped to prep with pre-feasibility studies to reduce the investment risk,” said an official with the Methane to Markers Partnership of the EPA.

The international “marketplace” of alternative energy ideas featured 91 potential projects in the agriculture, coal, landfill, and oil and gas fields with significant climate change benefits. These projects, all of which included plans to capture and utilize methane as a clean energy source, could potentially reduce annual methane emissions by an equivalent 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2015 if put into effect according to the EPA.

Though it is undisputed that methane output needs to be reduced due to its environmental toxicity, the use of methane as an alternate energy source has yet to be proven. In an effort to spur development, the EPA used the expo to launch a grant competition, beginning in a few weeks and providing up to US$7 million for international projects and activities to advance recovery and use of methane.

Nearly half of China’s coal mines have high concentrations of methane that are released into the atmosphere for mine safety. New methane capture-and-use projects would not only work to reduce these emissions, but also provide Beijing with new energy sources to supply its voracious demand.

“It will promote technical and economic cooperation in the realm of methane emission reductions among all countries. It will provide more financing channels and technical support, and accelerate development of methane recovery and utilization,” said Xie Zhenhua, vice-minister of the NDRC.