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Universities’ researchers attempt to optimize coal chemical system to lower water consumption

On 27 June, 2014, the coal-to-methanol-to-olefins device with a capacity of 1.8 million t/a of Shaanxi Yanchang & China Coal Yulin Energy Chemical Co., Ltd. (Shaanxi Yanchang & China Coal) was put into operation. It is predicted that the coal-to-olefins projects in China will be concentratedly put into operation in the next two years. However, people are worried about the huge water consumption of these projects. Is huge water consumption a fixed feature of coal chemical projects? Experts have different opinions and the government also pays great attention to it, according to China Olefins Market E-News 1407 on July by CCM.

Moreover, the Special Committee of Coal Chemicals, China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation (SCCC, CPCIF), has been entrusted by the National Energy Administration (NEA) to formulate the indicators of energy consumption and water consumption for modern coal chemical industry. Now, the SCCC, CPCIF is actively promoting the standardization of demonstration projects. Also, it demarcates main indicators for demonstration projects, covering their energy consumption, water consumption and discharge of three wastes (waste water, gases and residues), and standardises the entrance of new projects.

Yang Youlin, the deputy director of the Process Systems Engineering Committee, Systems Engineering Society of China, stated his opinion as below: The great water consumption of large coal chemical projects in China isn’t inevitable, and it is just a lack of system optimization, which indicates a great potential in water saving and emission reduction. The whole water network of a coal chemical project can be optimized based on the Process Systems Engineering (PSE), as it has been proved by the petrochemical industry. "The current [water-saving] situation of the coal chemical industry is similar to the petrochemical industry ten years ago," said Yang Youlin.

Specially, the production of 1 tonne of ethylene consumes 32 tonnes of water in the coal chemical process, while only 6 to 7 tonnes of water consumed in petro process. Not due to different chemical reaction processes, the gap is attributed to other reasons.             

Moreover, Yang Youlin believes that using PSE method, we can optimize the whole water network system especially the public process system to fully tap the coal chemical process's potential to save water and reduce emissions. Consequently, the water consumption would be double reduced.

Additionally, Han Hongjun, professor of Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) regarded that there is extremely small water capacity to receive wastewater from coal chemical plants. Enterprises meeting national requirement of zero emission are not reported. Conclusively, serious pollution is very common in the coal chemical industry.

What’s more, Xu Yanhua, professor of Nanjing Tech University (Nanjing Tech) pointed out that without mature technology, the effluent treatment of domestic coal chemical industry is lack of pertinence and effectiveness. The regular process for municipal wastewater treatment, with simple pre-treatment, dilutes toxic chemicals along with dilution discharge and even underlying discharges. Xu Yanhua disclosed that Nanjing Tech has succeeded in developing a process with zero emission, which integrates intensive pre-treatment with deep treatment. The process is now being run as a demonstration project in the direct coal liquefaction project of China Shenhua Group Co., Ltd. in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia.                                                             

Meanwhile, HIT is energetically developing practical technology to achieve zero emission in coal chemical projects. For instance, a demonstration project has run for five months in the fertilizer plant of China National Coal Group Corp. in Tuke Town, Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. In the project, water is all recycled without sewage outfall.

Comment: China's coal chemical industry will see sound development if its water consumption can reach or get close to that of petrochemical industry. Moreover, Northwest China can change from an exporter of coal raw materials to an exporter of chemical products. This even would affect the world trading pattern of olefins and the downstream products.

Generally, coal chemical industry is linked to high water consumption, which is also proved by five running coal-to-olefins devices. It not only prevents the coal-to-olefins projects from lowering costs, but also consumes valuable water resources in western China, threatening the agricultural developmnet in this area. Therefore, the Chinese government becomes cautious about the examinization and approval of this kind of projects, which somehow restricts the development of coal-to-olefins industry. However, encouragingly the NEA has entrusted the SCCC, CPCIF to stipulate the energy consumption indicators for modern coal chemical industry. It is also an important instruction to standardise the coal-to-olefins process. Besides, the high water consumption of coal chemical industry in China isn’t inevitable, not a logical result of coal chemical projects. Instead, it can be ascribed to the immature engineering design to a large extent. So, the water saving and emission reduction of coal chemical projects boast great potential.

It is well-known that China's coal resources are mainly distributed in Northwest China with a shortage in water resources. The water resources per capita in the major coal producing area only accounts for 1/2–1/4 of the national average. Thus, developing coal chemical industry in this area would cause regional supply & demand imbalance of water resources. For example, the water consumption of a coal-to-liquids project with a capacity of 3 million t/a will reach around 60 million tonnes annually, equal to the water resource occupation of over one hundred thousand people, or the water available reserves in over 10,000 ha (100 km2) land area. Moreover, the water consumption of all the projects approved during the Twelfth Five-year Plan, will total 930 million m3 annually, far exceeding the environmental bearing capacity.

Accordingly, like the strategic reserves of crude oil, it is of great necessity to optimize the engineering design of coal chemical projects and decrease the water consumption per unit. It is hopeful that part of petroleum will be replaced by coal.


Table of contents: China Olefins Market E-News 1407

1.China Olefins Cost Analysis

2.Definition of CCM's olefins cost analysis model

3.Current situation & forecast

4.Universities’ researchers attempt to optimize coal chemical system to lower water consumption

5.Raw materials of olefins in China(including naphtha, coal and methanol price and import analysis)

6.China Olefins Market Review(including price,suply and Operating situation of China's ethylene plants)

7.Shaanxi’s first MTO device put into production

8.China’s largest PDH project granted loan of USD381.97 million

9.China and US to dominate global methanol trading in future

10.CNPC Dushanzi becomes first pioneer for energy efficiency in ethylene industry

11.Sinopec Maoming hits record in ethylene output in H1 2014

12.Wuhan Luhua to process Sinopec Wuhan’s ethylene by-products

13.Yanzhou Coal Ordos’ ethanol project put into operation

14.China’s consumption of non-petrochemical energy witnesses YoY increase of over 50% in 2013

15.CNOOC transfers equity in loss-suffering chemical enterprise at super-low price

16.Chinese government should issue standards for coal chemical industry as soon as possible

17.China Shenhua’s online trading platform impacts olefins’ traditional trading pattern


China Olefins Market E-News is an e-book that focuses on the olefin industry chain in China. It helps customers obtain a quick understanding of Chinese olefin related products from raw materials to finished products. Specifically, it reveals cost trends and the underlying causes, which enables customers to grasp the market dynamics and seize opportunities to increase investment gain.


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