Two of China and the United States' largest electric utilities signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing today to share information and explore potential initiatives to produce cleaner power from coal and renewable resources such as wind.
Executives from Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) and Beijing-based China Huaneng Group will meet in the coming months to discuss their companies' experiences generating electricity from gasified coal, wind and other resources. The memorandum leaves open the possibility of Duke -- the United States' third-largest electric utility -- and state-owned Huaneng -- China's largest utility -- developing projects jointly.
"We both have the scale and mass to push the global industry forward in the development of clean technologies," said David Scanzoni, a Duke spokesman.
A focal point of the discussions will be technologies that capture and sequester carbon dioxide -- the main heat-trapping gas that contributes to global warming -- from coal power plants. China and the United States rank as the world's top two CO2 emitters, respectively, and use coal to generate most of their electricity.
Duke is building a 630-megawatt, gasified coal power plant in Edwardsport, Ind., which is slated to go online in 2012. The company is spending $17 million to study carbon capture at the power plant and is proposing to spend another $121 million to study the underground storage of up to 60 percent of its CO2 emissions.
Huaneng operates China's first carbon-capturing demonstration project in Beijing and plans to bring a larger-scale carbon-capturing facility online in Shanghai later this year.
Huaneng is also building the "GreenGen" project -- a 250-megawatt integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant near the port city of Tianjin -- which would produce electricity more efficiently than a conventional coal burner. Huaneng's GreenGen Co. subsidiary plans to more than double the IGCC plant's capacity and capture and sequester about 80 percent of its CO2 emissions.
The project would be capable of capturing between 1 million and 1.5 million tons of CO2 annually, company officials claim (Greenwire, June 17, 2008).
In a statement, Duke CEO Jim Rogers said his company and Huaneng will be able to mitigate climate change and drive down the cost of "clean energy" technologies by working together.
"We find ourselves at a pivotal point in world history," he said. "To deal with global warming requires rapid action from all of us."
Coal is responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's CO2 emissions, according to the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group. During the past five years, China has built enough coal power plants to rival the size of the U.S. fleet.
Jonathan Lewis, an attorney with the task force, said such business-to-business deals will help the United States, China and other countries cooperate on climate change mitigation. The United Nations will attempt to broker a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in December.
"Policymakers should be encouraged to see such private sector activity," Lewis said. "This is exactly the kind of progress that needs to be made."
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