Air pollution in Beijing, with orange alerts and high health risks made the news (again) recently.

One measure discussed to reduce pollution levels is to issue a partial ban for cars on the streets. This would certainly reduce some of the pressure, however, I am not quite sure whether this would significantly help improve the situation.

Looking at this 2005 energy flow Sankey diagram for China from World Resources Sim Center, one notices that the largest chunk of energy produced in China is from coal.

The energy from coal consumed in 2005 (purple boxes) was seven times higher than the energy consumed in the transportation sector (1.450 million tonnes of coal equivalent vs 230 million tonnes of coal equivalent, if I interpret this correctly). That is without counting losses that occur both at power stations as well as in vehicle engines.

Of course one might argue that traffic probably has risen enormously since 2005. I checked the latest available data for China (2011) at the International Energy Agency (IEA) website where you can access the national energy flow diagrams for more than 100 countries.

It confirms that both coal and petroleum consumption have risen, but coal is still predominant. Transportation makes up for “only” roughly 200 Mtoe (Millions of tonnes of oil equivalent) out of 1644 Mtoe final consumption, while the significant consumption is in industry and ‘other’ (probably private home heating).

So, even if burning of coal and gasoline has different levels of pollution (e.g. through efficient filtering technolgy), my guess is that the main reason for the smog in China are the coal-fired power plants and industrial furnaces. Reducing vehicle traffic will not lead to reduced coal-burning.

Anyone has data on GHG emissions from different sources in China? (preferably as a Sankey diagram….).

Comments are closed.