The new coal plant here is an industrial fortress of boilers, tanks and towers that stretches across a lonely plateau in Inner Mongolia.
All day long and through the night, it vents huge gray clouds of steam and emits an awful stench.
Though it may seem odd, this is part of China’s campaign to combat the nation’s notorious urban smog. The plant transforms low-grade coal into a cleaner-burning methane gas that can be piped to cities, replacing dirtier fuels that now are used to cook meals, heat homes and produce electricity.
The Chinese leadership has called for the accelerated development of these coal-to- gas plants, and more are under construction in areas distant from major urban centers.
But embracing this technology to fight air pollution involves a serious environmental trade off. The plants that produce this gas spew far more carbon emissions than those that burn coal to generate electricity.