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China, US hammer out terms of 'clean coal' pact

By Agencies

China, US hammer out terms of 'clean coal' pact
A worker walks at a coal terminal at Lianyungang port in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu province on June 23, 2014. (PHOTO / AFP)

BILLINGS, Montana - US and China officials took a major step Tuesday toward an agreement to advance "clean coal'' technologies that purport to reduce the fuel's contribution to climate change - and could offer a potential lifeline for an industry that's seen its fortunes fade.

China leads the world in coal use. It produces and consumes about 4 billion tons annually, four times as much as in the US.

The agreement between China's National Energy Administration and the US Department of Energy would allow the two nations to share their results as they refine technologies to capture the greenhouse gases produced from burning coal, said Christopher Smith, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for fossil energy.

Shi Yubo, vice administrator of China's energy agency, told delegates to the forum that coal will continue to play a role in China's developing economy. "But we need to pay special attention to developing clean coal technology,'' he added through an interpreter.

Terms of the deal were finalized late Tuesday. Officials said it would be signed at a later date.

Smith spoke after he and other senior officials from President Barack Obama's administration met with representatives of China's National Energy Administration during an industry forum in Billings. The discussions took place near one of the largest coal reserves in the world - the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, where massive strip mines produce roughly 40 percent of the coal burned in the US.

But clean-coal technologies are expensive, and efforts to develop them for commercial use have struggled to gain traction in the US Some critics describe clean coal as an impossibility and say money being spent on it should instead go toward renewable energy.

Shi said China was seeking to develop more demonstration projects that capture carbon to prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. He acknowledged that efforts to put the greenhouse gas to beneficial use "are still far behind.''

Meanwhile, the US coal industry has suffered a beating in recent months, with major mining companies going bankrupt.

Almost one-third of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the US come from burning coal, equivalent to 1.6 billion tons of the gas in 2014. By comparison, two clean coal projects that Smith described as closest to completion - the Petro Nova project in Texas and the Kemper project in Mississippi - would capture less than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. He said the interactions between his agency and its Chinese counterpart created opportunities for companies from both countries to come together on ways to meet ambitious plans to cut emissions.

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