Study: Coal power plants not to blame for Chinese air pollution problem

Traffic and home cooking with coal briquettes are responsible for almost 80% of Chinese soot problems, says a new study.

The media release is below.


Home cooking, traffic are sources of key air pollutants from China

Almost 80 percent of air pollution involving soot that spreads from China over large areas of East Asia — impacting human health and fostering global warming — comes from city traffic and other forms of fossil-fuel combustion, such as home cooking with coal briquettes. That’s the conclusion of a study in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, which resolves long-standing questions about sources of air pollution responsible for Asia’s infamous atmospheric brown clouds.

Örjan Gustafsson and colleagues from China, South Korea and the United States point out in their study that nobody has been certain about the exact sources of soot, or “black carbon,” air pollution from the People’s Republic of China. People can inhale these tiny particles deep into the lungs, and estimates implicate soot with 500,000 premature deaths annually in China alone. Black carbon in the atmosphere also absorbs sunlight, and scientists think it is second only to carbon dioxide as a factor in global warming. Gustafsson and his team set out to identify the exact sources of black carbon in China.

They describe using a powerful carbon-14 identification method to trace fully four-fifths of the black carbon emitted in China to incomplete combustion of fossil fuel such as coal briquettes used in home cookstoves and automobile and truck exhaust. “To mitigate near-term climate effects and improve air quality in East Asia, activities such as residential coal combustion and city traffic should be targeted,” they conclude.


7 thoughts on “Study: Coal power plants not to blame for Chinese air pollution problem”

  1. When London banned personal coal use, it’s famous yellow fog cleared up practically overnight.

    I would definitely believe the finger pointing at both inefficient cars and biomass stoves.

  2. The telltale brown color of China’s smog tells us that NOx is a major ingredient. NOx is NOT produced in significant quantities by cooking fires or power plants. It takes high-compression ICEs such as two-stroke engines to get nitrogen to react with atmospheric oxygen to produce NOx. Cooking fires will release a lot of carbon black (soot). Coal plant operators understand the economic value of efficient combustion, as it affects the production cost per product unit, and therefore their profit margin.

  3. Don’t know, but encouraging China to build more electric plants so folks can cook and heat with electricity might be a mid term solution.

  4. Older cars in disrepair, and 4 stroke engines that don’t completely combust can also be issues.

  5. Chins’s domestic coal supply is an especially low grade. The coal is compressed into bricks which are used in home heating and cooking stoves. There are something like 30,000 coal mines in China. What are the odds of any improvment in this situation any time soon?

  6. There has been a drum beat, much ignored, that plentiful, inexpensive energy sparks reduction in pollution by allowing folks to get rid of dirtier, less efficient energy supplies. Didn’t Amoco meet pollution reduction standards years ago by buying clunkers at a good price? Cheaper and more effective than monstrous add on pollution controls.

  7. So the Chinese need modern energy systems. Got it. Because they’re not going to retreat on building a powerful economy and, one hopes, a decent standard of living.
    I know the East German Trabant had a particularly dirty engine. Is that part of China’s problem, cars with two-stroke engines?
    Or it might just be the sheer number in confined areas, similar to the problems in New York or Chicago. Los Angeles has several things that contribute to its smog issues.

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