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Brighter skies above Chinese factories
Power plants and factories drive China’s rapid economic development. But they also produce polluting sulphur and fine particles that damage people’s health. The Chinese government has been looking for ways to help clear the skies. One approach is to switch fuels, replacing coal and oil with natural gas, the cleanest-burning fossil fuel. Some cities have been leading the way, such as Hangzhou.
Chu Xia works at a fibre-glass factory that was quick to adopt natural gas
Chu Xia lives and works in Hangzhou, capital of China’s Zhejiang province. He is a supervisor for a factory producing fibre-glass sheets used in cars, yachts and planes. Until eight years ago his factory was powered by an oil-burning furnace which, like other local industries powered by oil or coal, churned out soot and smog-causing emissions.
“Factories such as ours were heavily polluting the city,” says Chu.
In 2004 Hangzhou’s local authorities encouraged factories to switch to cleaner-burning natural gas as part of the government’s drive to reduce pollution. Representatives from Shell worked closely with local officials to support this change. Shell, which is developing China’s extensive natural gas resources, teamed up with a domestic gas company to supply the city. Today they meet the needs of some 400,000 customers in Hangzhou.
“Now gas is piped directly to our plant, saving us time and space,” says Chu, who oversaw the fuel switch.
A breath of fresh air
Restaurants and homes in Hangzhou city, China, now run on natural gas
The city’s shift to natural gas has helped cut emissions of nitrogen and sulphur compounds, fine particles and mercury that are potentially hazardous to health. In addition, generating power from natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal-fired plants.
Since adopting natural gas, Hangzhou authorities have reported a rise in the number of days with good air quality, which is helping to encourage visitors to the city’s hills and lakes. Figures suggest that income from tourism – vital to Hangzhou’s economy – is set to double by 2015 from 2010 levels.
The experience in Hangzhou is part of a broader trend. The Chinese central government is promoting natural gas as part of its drive to cut emissions. In 2000, gas made up just 2% of China’s energy mix. By 2015, the aim is to increase the share of gas in the energy mix to 8.3%.