It is now universally acknowledged that climate change is one the biggest threats that the planet faces, and China and the United States are the two biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the world. In recognition of this, and the desperate need to develop technologies that can help reduce emissions, both countries have pooled their resources and knowledge in the China-US Clean Energy Research Center – Advanced Coal Technology Consortium, putting a history of distrust behind them.
The China-US Clean Energy Research Center – Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (CERC-ACTC) was formally established in 2009, and is a joint Sino-US initiative committed to the research and development of clean energy technologies. By facilitating collaborative research and by engaging key scientists and engineers from top universities and industry leaders, the centre hopes to accelerate the possibility of a low-carbon future.
The CERC focuses on five main areas: advanced coal technology (ACTC), building energy efficiency, clean vehicles, water and energy technologies and medium – and heavy-duty trucks. Research Features found out more from Prof Zheng Chuguang (the director of ACTC) about how the partnership works and why it is important.
Can you tell us a little bit about the environmental issues facing China and the United States today?
The global climate change caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions is the most serious challenge facing humanity. China and the United States are the two countries with the largest carbon emissions in the world. They have major responsibilities and obligations in responding to global climate change, and they need to work together. During the Beijing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2014, the Chinese and United States governments issued the ‘U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change’. The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26% to 28% below its 2005 level by 2025, and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%. China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early. In 2015, the ‘U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change’ was released. It was announced that China will lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic profit by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level by 2030.
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) refers to the capture, separation and transportation of CO2 emitted from large power plants, steel plants, chemical plants, etc to suitable sites, such as oil and gas fields and deep saline layers for long-term storage and utilisation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that it will be difficult to achieve the 2°C temperature control target set by the Paris Agreement without this technology.
At present, both China and the United States have conducted a large number of fundamental research projects on the pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture, oxy-fuel combustion and utilisation and storage of CO2. Both China and the United States are concentrating their efforts on carrying out the research and demonstration of CCUS technology.
How did the China-US Clean Energy Research Center – Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (CERC-ACTC) come about?
The CERC was established at the suggestion of the presidents of the two countries in 2011 and began as a five-year collaboration. In 2014, the presidents of the two countries suggested that CERC should be renewed for a second five-year collaboration from 2016. Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) is the Chinese leading institute of ACTC in CERC. There are about 20 institutions in ACTC in each of the two countries. The role of the ACTC director is to facilitate the collaboration between different institutions of the consortia and between the two countries, in order to realise the mission and objectives of the consortia, so as to help significantly advance the technology in the area of clean coal.
What progress and achievements have been made so far?
Collaboration between the Chinese and US teams has been carried out since the foundation of the CERC-ACTC, and some achievement highlights have resulted from the collaboration, such as collaboration in Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) and pre-combustion carbon capture technology, post-combustion carbon capture technology, CO2-algae biofixation technology, CO2 geological sequestration technology and oxy-combustion technology, which covers the three key areas, CO2 capture, CO2 utilisation and CO2 sequestration related to CCUS.
As two of the largest power companies in China and United States, China Huaneng Group has built GreenGen 250MWe Pre-combustion capture IGCC power station, the first IGCC demonstration project in China, and Duke Energy has built the Edwardsport 632MWe IGCC power station, which is the largest one in the world. The two companies cooperate and exchange knowledge and experience on the plants’ steady and transient state performance and key operation principles.
China Huaneng Group has built a 120, 000 t/a CO2 Post-combustion capture unit in Shanghai Shidongkou Power Plant, the largest post-combustion CO2 capture unit in China. Data and experiences have been accumulated through the continuous commercial operation of this unit. Based on the Huaneng technology and experiences, Chinese and US researchers have cooperated on the prefeasibility study of the 1M t/a CO2 capture unit for the Gibson Power station of Duke Energy, as well as the techno-economic evaluation and system integration and optimisation studies.
Oxyfuel combustion carbon capture technology is a kind of coal combustion power plant technology which has the potential for quick commercialisation. Both the Chinese and US groups are working on demonstration projects of the oxyfuel technology. The two sides have participated in various cooperative efforts, such as model development collaboration, test data sharing and experience sharing of the feasibility study of a large-scale demonstration, which will help to reduce the risk of demonstration of novel capture technology.
The Yanchang 360,000 tons/year CO2-EOR demonstration project has passed its feasibility assessment and is the biggest project of its kind in China. To ensure the progress of the project, the Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics of Chinese Academy of Sciences, China University of Mining and Technology, University of Wyoming and University of Kentucky (UK) have carried out close collaboration work on site characterisation, engineering decision-making and water processes.
The Research and Demonstration of Microalgal Technology for Carbon Sequestration project is being undertaken by the ENN Energy Research Institute, Zhejiang University, UK, Duke Energy and ALGIX LLC. It aims to accelerate research, development and commercialisation of microalgal technologies for carbon sequestration through the Sino-US partnership. A three-acre microalgae cultivation farm is to be constructed in Inner Mongolia and comprehensive outdoor cultivation data will be accumulated and analysed. Photobioreactors with vortex flow fields will be developed to improve flashlight effects. More promising algae species will be screened and identified to absorb CO2 in the flue gas emitted by coal-fired power plants, and the dynamic mechanisms of capturing CO2 in the flue gas will be clarified.
As for advanced coal conversion, the environmental technologies of coal conversion plants including wastewater treatment, pollutant gas treatment and solid residue treatment or recycle utilisation are improved and evaluated; Several coal polygeneration technologies including coal stage conversion technology systems of pyrolysis combined combustion and partial gasification combined combustion are formed and optimised; The main research achievements have been applied to the demonstration plants with a capacity between 100MW and 300MW.
System integration and simulation is also a theme of study in ACTC. The modelling and simulation systems have been developed from advanced integrated coal gasification combined cycle (IGCC) with pre-combustion CO2 capture, and super/ultra-supercritical pulverized coal power generation with post-combustion CO2 capture, covering all key processes and full operation ranges, which has been demonstrated on a 1000MW ultra-supercritical power unit.
China and the US
The research activities of CERC have been included in previous China-US ‘strategic and economic dialogues’, which reflects the national will of the two countries in the field of climate change. The CERC research mission and the organisational structure of the Steering Committee (Minister, CERC Director) – Leading Group (Council Director, Chief Engineer, Chief Scientist) – Working Group (including the main task leader) has been established, which facilitates the coordination and organisation of advantageous resources from China and the United States.
The Technical Management Plan (TMP) has been one of the high-concern matters between China and the United States from the very beginning of cooperation and is also the prerequisite for the initiation of scientific and technological cooperation between the two sides. The Sino-US intellectual property team took six months to complete the TMP’s drafting and signing, paving the way for the smooth development of clean energy cooperation between China and the United States. Scientific American reported that the signing of the agreement has enabled Chinese and American scientists to end the culture of mutual distrust.
Currently, CCUS technology is at a critical stage of research, development and demonstration. The technology demonstration plays an important role in improving the maturity of CCUS technology and reducing the cost of CCUS. In the years of cooperation and research tasks of ACTC, demonstrations not only highlight cooperative research, but also take into account the differences in interest between China and the United States. As a result of its effective work, China ACTC has been awarded excellence in the evaluation conducted by The Ministry of Science and Technology of China.
To read more about CERC-ACTC, you can visit their website at: www.us-china-cerc.org/.
Advanced Coal Technology Consortium China-US Clean Energy Research Center
Huazhong University of Science and Technology
1037 Luoyu Road, Wuhan, Hubei, China