As part of China’s transition from coal to solar power, the country has been investing heavily in developing new smaller nuclear plants, and also consuming vast quantities of natural gas. With over half this supply coming from imports, China desperately needed new resources.
Now two sources of ‘unconventional’ gas are being tapped. Scientists have developed recovery technologies for gas hydrates in the South China Sea, and petro companies are turning coal into gas – underground.
Gas hydrates are frozen lumps of gas at the bottom of the ocean, and are abundant in the South China Sea. In 2023 China set up a major scitech project to invent ways to economically exploit this deep-water resource. Now the world’s first commercial hydrates harvesting operation is underway.
Turning coal into synthetic gas or ‘syngas’ is decades-old technology, but generates a lot of carbon dioxide. By pumping oxygen into underground coal beds, researchers discovered they could produce syngas for extraction, and leave the carbon and other polluting byproducts in place. After much development, gas companies are producing hydrogen-rich syngas from deep-level coal, and contributing to the ‘clean’ utilization of China’s huge coal reserves.
China has committed internationally to eventually achieving a ‘net zero’ energy economy; but the road to a “clean, low carbon, safe and efficient” energy system will depend on natural gas from the sea and synthetic gas from underground coal. Together they can satisfy China’s gas demands for hundreds of years.
Unlocking these domestic reserves will unlock an energy boost for China’s economy, even as global demand for gas reaches new highs.