China Bans Use of Coal With High Ash or Sulfur to Fight Smog

China will ban sales and imports of coal with high ash or sulfur in a move to promote cleaner types of the fuel and improve the nation’s air quality.

Coal with ash content of more than 40 percent and sulfur of more than 3 percent is banned from sales and imports into China starting Jan. 1, according to a regulation posted on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission yesterday. Lignite containing ash of more than 30 percent and sulfur of more than 1.5 percent is also prohibited. Other limitations involve coal with chemical content such as mercury and arsenic.

China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, is restricting the dirtiest grades to fight pollution. It will encourage imports of higher-quality supplies after smog worsened in Shanghai and Beijing and sparked social unrest in Maoming and Hangzhou. The nation depends on coal for about 65 percent of its energy.

“The regulation is mainly to promote use of cleaner coal and will affect low-quality coal’s flow into China, especially low-heating value coal from Indonesia and coal with arsenic content from Australia,” Winston Han, a Beijing-based analyst with the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association, said by phone today. The nation’s coal imports will fall as much as 15 percent to less than 300 million metric tons this year, Han predicted.

Separately, China has asked coal importers including power utilities and coal miners to reduce coal imports by 40 million tons from September to December, according to CCTD. National coal imports may fall “significantly” in the fourth quarter.

Coal used in some coastal and developed regions including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou should have ash content of less than 16 percent and sulfur of less than 1 percent, according to the regulation.

Lignite transported from port of entry to the consuming area is required to have heating value higher than about 3,946 kilocalories per kilogram, sulfur less than 1 percent and ash less than 20 percent.

— With assistance by Sarah Chen, and Jing Yang

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