What coal technology for China?

I spent last week in Beijing for the kick-off meeting of Cleantech China‘s founding members. The air pollution was so bad that my eyes were stinging for two of the days; visibility was less than 500 meters according to the local news, but it seemed more like 200 meters. Understandably, a lot of the conversation was around coal, since it accounts for 70+ percent of China’s power generation and is the main source of pollution and CO2. Todd Glass, who heads the energy practice group at Heller Erhman, was particularly informative on the topic (when he wasn’t being subjected to my harangues that “clean” coal was a mythic moniker, and should be replaced by “cleaner” coal.). Several interesting companies came up in our discussion. Ergo Exergy Technologies already has two projects demonstrating its in situ sequestration/gasification technology, while cash rich GreatPoint Energy and publicly traded Synthesis Energy were two other companies mentioned as leaders in gasification. Interestingly, however, when we toured Tsinghua University’s energy research facilities, we heard from Dr. Cai Ningsheng that the best option for China today is not gasification, but ultra-supercritical pulverized coal (USC-PC) and also coal-fired boiler (CFB) technology. They are working on gasification, pre-combustion and sequestration options too, of course, but Dr. Cai’s opinion is that USC is the near- to mid-term solution for China. USC-PC is at least half the cost of IGCC in China and has a lower technology risk as well. Nor is all coal suitable for IGCC. Technology advances, Cai said, are possible with USC-PC and CFB that allow CO2 capture, post-combustion capture and oxy-fuel combustion. In my earlier conversations with pre-burn technology companies in the US such as CoalTek and Evergreen Energy, their concerns were more around IP protection when going to China, not necessarily market demand. It will be worth watching the outcome of the strategic economic dialogue between the US and China on easing restrictions on coal technology transfer and how the different technologies on the table play out in the market.

New slew of cleantech media, analysts

Lux Research did a quick and dirty Factiva search of media articles since 1996 using four keywords – “cleantech”, “greentech”, “clean technology” and “green technology” – and found a surge in 2005-2006. No surprise there. They calculated a 70% per year growth in press coverage of cleantech since 2004, with total articles in major publications numbering almost 3,500 last year. Lux’s observation comes at a time when, also not surprisingly, new cleantech media and analyst outlets are popping up all over. Of course there are some of the more well-known ones – Inside Greentech, Renewable Energy Access, GreenBiz … but there are also many others coming on line. Greener World Media, Joel Makower’s group which publishes GreenBiz, has expanded out with GreenerComputing and ClimateBiz among others; Cleantech Investor has appeared in the UK and Dow Jones is set to launch a Clean Technology Investor newsletter. Other traditional media like BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 (GreenWombat) and Red Herring are also increasing their coverage of the space, while CNET is dedicating more resources as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something from the Wall Street Journal this year. The blogosphere is also sizzling with activity and new entrants (including mine), but I won’t get into that here. On the analyst side, Greentech Media is about to launch a service, while Lux has taken its previous focus on nanotech and made it part of the broader cleantech umbrella (it just issued its first comprehensive market report on cleantech).