On China's Smog

By Anna Simet | February 08, 2013

As I was watching the news last week, it was mentioned that the air quality in Beijing was so bad that people who went outside had to wear air masks, and most were being encouraged to simply stay inside. Pedestrians were shown making their way through thick, murky brown smog, with eyes squinted, shoulders hunched and faces down.

Their pained expressions and body language kind of reminded me of what we North Dakotans look like when walking outside through a blizzard. In this case, however, it appeared more like they were wandering around in the aftermath of an erupted volcano.

Anyway, it was a sad thing to see. I will never take the fresh air up in these parts for granted.

While the Chinese government has been taking many steps over the years to try to improve air quality there—including limiting the numbers of cars on the road and raising vehicle emission standards, shutting down the worst polluting coal plants, enforcing new air pollution monitoring rules, shutting down or relocating polluting industrial factories— they acted too late, and they have to do much, much more.

That means drastically less coal, and lots of new sources of renewable energy, including biomass heat and power. According to a U.N. report, by 2020,  large-scale adoption of low-carbon energy sources such as a hydro, nuclear, gas, biomass, solar and wind technologies could displace a substantial quantity of coal, particularly for electricity generation.

According to website Facts and Details, at one point coal plants were being built in China at the rate of one per week. Although that’s slowed, about 80 gigawatts of coal power is added each year.

To give you a little more perspective on conditions there, the air quality is Beijing is 16 times worse than New York City, and the amount of suspended particles is ten times higher than Los Angeles.

Anyway, the purpose of my post today is not just to cheerlead for advanced biofuels and biomass-based energy and power, but to draw attention to what insufficient emission laws have resulted in.

That said, our industry and other renewables have to continue to push forward with our mission, for the sake of our grandchildren’s children and generations to come, and the air they will breathe.