Energy | April 05, 2011 |
Water Pipeline Could Open China’s Northern Coal Fields
Sixty-year-old geographer Huo Youguang, a professor in the Center for Environment and Modern Agriculture Engineering at Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xhanxi Province, thinks he has a solution for China’s geographic mismatch: drop a pipe into the Bohai Sea, draw more than 340,000 cubic meters (90 million gallons) of seawater a day into a complex of coastal desalination plants, and then pump it 1,400 meters uphill for more than 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) to Xilinhot, where it will be used for coal mining operations.
The Inner Mongolia city of 177,000 lies atop a mammoth coal reserve limited only by the lack of water needed to mine it. Chinese authorities estimate Xilinhot’s proven and unproven coal reserves to contain 1.4 trillion metric tons. At China’s current rate of coal consumption - more than 3 billion metric tons annually - the Xilinhot reserves alone could power the country for the next 425 years.
If the first $US 6 billion stretch of the Bohai Pipeline were to perform as Huo anticipates, it could be expanded and sent an additional 2,800 kilometers (1,850 miles) from Xilinhot - crossing the rest of Inner Mongolia and through northern Gansu Province - all the way to the western province of Xinjiang, where Chinese geologists say even larger coal reserves exist. Leaders are pressing the province to double current coal production capacity to 200 million metric tons of coal per year by 2015.
“We need water, and the sea can provide it,” Huo told Circle of Blue in December, noting he had first proposed an across-the-north route for a pipeline from the Bohai Sea back in 1997.
Of all the threats over the next decade to China’s rapid modernization, arguably none is more significant than assuring adequate supplies of coal, which accounts for 70 percent of the nation’s total energy production and consumption. From 1995 to 2010, China’s GDP grew almost eight-fold and industrial water use increased by close to 50 percent.
As China rushes deeper into the second decade of the 21st century, the nation’s energy production and consumption trend is a steep, increasing line. It is that vector - the fast-rising energy demand of the water-energy confrontation - that is proving so difficult to resolve.
China’s fast-growing regions contain the nation’s largest proven and unproven coal reserves. But developing coal reserves, along with the power and processing infrastructure to consume coal, uses tens of billions of gallons of water each year - water that isn’t available in a region that receives just a few inches of rain annually and where climate change is reducing snow pack.
Reprinted with permission from CSRwire