April 20, 2009

Chugh to help with study of coal use in China

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale engineering professor will help the country of China examine the issues involved with its long-term use of coal for energy as part of an international task force.

Yoginder “Paul” Chugh, a professor in the Department of Mining and Mineral Resources Engineering, is a member of the China Council Task Force on Sustainable Use of Coal. Chugh joins scientists and engineers from France, Canada, Denmark and China in studying the country’s current and future approach to coal-based energy.

The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development created the new task force. Established in 1992, the council’s goal is to conduct research on significant Chinese global issues in those areas and provide policy recommendations to the Chinese government.

A Chinese vice premier, comparable to a presidential cabinet-level science adviser in the United States, will chair the task force. Its report is due sometime in 2010.

“This is really a beautiful opportunity for SIUC to be seen in the world,” said Chugh, who will travel to China several times during the project to gather information and work with officials there.

China and coal are inextricably linked, with that country’s growing economy heavily depending on the fossil fuel for the foreseeable future. China uses about 2 billion tons of coal annually, the largest amount in the world. The United States, for example, uses about 1.2 billion tons per year, Chugh said. China, along with the United States, India and Russia, also is home to some of the world’s richest coal deposits.

“China’s use of coal is going to continue to increase, which also makes them very large producers of carbon dioxide,” Chugh said. “So they are looking at this to see if they can sustain coal as a primary energy resource in their country.”

Chugh said the government wants the task force to look at its current coal use, clean coal technologies that might be applicable, and coal-to-liquid technologies for transportation scenarios.

He said he would advocate for studying a reasonable time frame, such as 25 years, and looking at supply and demand scenarios for that period.

“In the last decade of so, China has electrified most of the country, like 90 percent or more,” Chugh said. “China has identified coal as its primary energy source, so it needs to examine this to make sure its infrastructure investments will work out.

“If supply and demand don’t match up, then they are looking at a real problem,” Chugh said. “We have to look at where the demand will be and then we can look at sustainability issues.”

Chugh recently submitted an idea similar to the task force’s mission to the Fulbright 21st Century Scholars program as grant proposal. He said several members of the Chinese government told him they were aware of his proposal, and that’s probably a major reason for his selection.

The task force also will look at environmental impacts associated with coal use, including mining and burning it Mine drainage, fly ash management, underground water resources and surface subsidence are all potential issues the task force will study.

“These are some of the major issues on the horizons,” he said.

A major goal for Chugh also involves developing a sustainability “index” -- a spreadsheet-based model that considers the impact of many variables to determine a sustainability value for a geographic area. Such an index would include variables such as coal reserves, infrastructure, environment, labor pools and community impacts, for example.

“To me, that would be a very exciting thing to do, to apply a formula that immediately identifies the need for additional knowledge-based development,” he said. “We could take something like this to other countries, as well.

“I want to take the current situation there and calibrate that to identify what the sustainability issues are, taking what we know and applying it to the future,” he said.