Zero Liquid Discharge claims by Chinese coal company are false – Greenpeace

July 23, 2013
Operations by China’s largest coal miner, Shenua Group, have reduced groundwater levels and seen the illegal dumping of “toxic industrial wastewater”, environmental campaign group Greenpeace has said in a new report.

Operations by China’s largest coal miner, Shenua Group, have reduced groundwater levels and seen the illegal dumping of “toxic industrial wastewater”, environmental campaign group Greenpeace has said in a new report.

The report, called Thirsty Coal, investigated the Shendong coal field, which makes up 25% of China’s total reserves.

In particular, the Ordos Coal-to Liquid (CTL) Demonstration Project that started operation in March 2007 was scrutinized.

Greenpeace said that groundwater levels in the primarily agricultural area of Ordos have fallen by nearly 100 metres since Shenhua started extracting water for CTL operations.

Converting coal to a liquid fuel (CTL), known as coal liquefaction, allows coal to be used an alternative to oil. The World Coal Association said two different methods exist for this process.

Direct liquefaction works by dissolving the coal in a solvent at high temperature and pressure. Liquid products require further refining to achieve high grade fuel characteristics.

The second method, indirect liquefaction gasifies the coal to form a ‘syngas’ which is condensed over a catalyst – the ‘Fischer-Tropsch’ process – to produce the end product.

Estimates suggest that for every ton of oil produced through direct coal liquefaction, 28 m3 of water is required.

Based on 11 field trips to the Shenhua project from March to July 2013, Greenpeace also investigated the discharge of industrial wastewater by the CTL demonstration project. The report said they found a “high concentration of toxic chemicals in the wastewater”.

Samples collected at discharge sites were sent to the Shanghai branch of SGC Laboratories and the Greenpeace Laboratory at the University of Exeter in the UK.

In total 99 semi-volatile organic compounds were said to have been identified in the wastewater and sediment samples, including PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and PAH-derivatives: xylene, styrene, dichloromethane and cresol.

Furthermore, the surface area of the Subeinaoer Lake has been estimated – through satellite imagery – to have decreased by 62% since Shenhua started extracting water.

Deng Ping, campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said: "Shenhua claims its coal-to-liquid project has ‘low water consumption’ and ‘zero discharge’. Our investigation proves these claims are false.”

Ping added: "Shenhua’s practices are violating Chinese water resource principles and laws controlling industrial waste water discharge."

Reuters reported that the Ordos city government has published notices pointing to a lack of safe drinking water for residents, reduced groundwater levels and irrigation problems – as a result of the coal-to-liquid project.


- For more information on the Thirsty Coal report, click here.

About the Author

Tom Freyberg

Tom Freyberg is an experienced environmental journalist, having worked across a variety of business-to-business titles. Since joining Pennwell in 2010, he has been influential in developing international partnerships for the water brand and has overseen digital developments, including 360 degree video case studies. He has interviewed high level figures, including NYSE CEO’s and Environmental Ministers. A known figure in the global water industry, Tom has chaired and spoken at conferences around the world, from Helsinki, to London and Singapore. An English graduate from Exeter University, Tom completed his PMA journalism training in London.

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