Air quality, health, and climate implications of China’s synthetic natural gas development

Contributed by Kirk R. Smith, March 6, 2017 (sent for review December 7, 2016; reviewed by Valerie J. Karplus and Zheng Li)
April 24, 2017
114 (19) 4887-4892

Significance

China’s coal-based synthetic natural gas (SNG) projects can reduce air pollution and associated premature mortality by substituting for direct coal use in power, industry, and households. These benefits, however, come with increased CO2 emissions unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) is applied in SNG production. Even with CCS, SNG has higher CO2 emissions than conventional natural gas. In the United States, increases in natural gas supplies have been primarily deployed to the power sector. In China, however, due to inefficient and uncontrolled coal combustion in households, we find that allocating currently available SNG to the residential sector provides the largest air quality and health benefits and smallest climate penalties compared with allocation to the power or industrial sectors.

Abstract

Facing severe air pollution and growing dependence on natural gas imports, the Chinese government plans to increase coal-based synthetic natural gas (SNG) production. Although displacement of coal with SNG benefits air quality, it increases CO2 emissions. Due to variations in air pollutant and CO2 emission factors and energy efficiencies across sectors, coal replacement with SNG results in varying degrees of air quality benefits and climate penalties. We estimate air quality, human health, and climate impacts of SNG substitution strategies in 2020. Using all production of SNG in the residential sector results in an annual decrease of ∼32,000 (20,000 to 41,000) outdoor-air-pollution-associated premature deaths, with ranges determined by the low and high estimates of the health risks. If changes in indoor/household air pollution were also included, the decrease would be far larger. SNG deployment in the residential sector results in nearly 10 and 60 times greater reduction in premature mortality than if it is deployed in the industrial or power sectors, respectively. Due to inefficiencies in current household coal use, utilization of SNG in the residential sector results in only 20 to 30% of the carbon penalty compared with using it in the industrial or power sectors. Even if carbon capture and storage is used in SNG production with today’s technology, SNG emits 22 to 40% more CO2 than the same amount of conventional gas. Among the SNG deployment strategies we evaluate, allocating currently planned SNG to households provides the largest air quality and health benefits with the smallest carbon penalties.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Dr. Eric D. Larson for guidance on estimating the energy penalties of conducting CCS during SNG production. Funding for this study was provided by a graduate fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (to Y.Q.), postdoctoral support from the Climate Futures Initiative at Princeton University (to N.S.), and National Natural Science Foundation Committee of China Grants 41421064 and 21190051.

Supporting Information

Supporting Information (PDF)

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 114 | No. 19
May 9, 2017
PubMed: 28438993

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: April 24, 2017
Published in issue: May 9, 2017

Keywords

  1. coal
  2. PM2.5
  3. premature mortality
  4. residential sector
  5. carbon capture and storage

Acknowledgments

We thank Dr. Eric D. Larson for guidance on estimating the energy penalties of conducting CCS during SNG production. Funding for this study was provided by a graduate fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (to Y.Q.), postdoctoral support from the Climate Futures Initiative at Princeton University (to N.S.), and National Natural Science Foundation Committee of China Grants 41421064 and 21190051.

Authors

Affiliations

Yue Qin
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Fabian Wagner
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria;
Noah Scovronick
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Present address: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA 02138.
Junnan Yang
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Tong Zhu
State Key Joint Laboratory of Environmental Simulation and Pollution Control, College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China;
Beijing Innovation Center for Engineering Science and Advanced Technology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China;
School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360;
Denise L. Mauzerall2 [email protected]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544

Notes

2
To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: [email protected] or [email protected].
Author contributions: Y.Q. and D.L.M. designed research; Y.Q. performed research; F.W., N.S., W.P., and J.Y. contributed data for model simulations and evaluation; Y.Q., F.W., N.S., W.P., J.Y., T.Z., K.R.S., and D.L.M. analyzed data; and Y.Q., F.W., K.R.S., and D.L.M. wrote the paper.
Reviewers: V.J.K., Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Z.L., Tsinghua University.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Air quality, health, and climate implications of China’s synthetic natural gas development
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 114
    • No. 19
    • pp. 4839-E3872

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