WyoFile Energy Report

Wyo-Sino: Formalities precede Wyoming-China coal tech exchange

— June 25, 2014

Dustin Bleizeffer

YAN’AN, CHINA — A Wyoming delegation that included four legislators recently wrapped up a 10-day tour of cities and provinces in China’s western region, where the government is focused on expanding the processes of converting coal — as well as oil, shale oil and natural gas — to myriad liquid and solid products.

The foreign relations mission covered some 1,800 in-country miles taking the delegation from Beijing to four cities in three western provinces: Shanxi, Ningxia, and Shaanxi.

A Department of Energy grant and private donations funded travel for Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette), Majority Whip Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper), House Minority Leader Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne), John Freeman (D-Green River) and Zunsheng “John” Jiao, chief geologist of the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute. That funding was arranged by Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a non-profit think tank that also made arrangements for the tour. WyoFile covered the reporter’s expense.

From left to right; Rep. John Freeman, Rep. Mary Throne, Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau, Rep. Tim Stubson, Mark Newcomb of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, and a Chinese delegate watch a promotional film and examine a model of the Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry base. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

At the insistence of the Chinese Embassy, the Wyoming delegation visited two sprawling coal chemical complexes: the Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry base in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and the Yanchang Coal/Petroleum Chemical Industry Park in neighboring Shaanxi Province. Many Wyoming policy leaders have a dream of building an amalgamation of China’s coal chemical complexes and Canada’s Industrial Heartland institute, expanding the state’s mineral export-only economy to include a new industrial base that adds value to extractive resources.

Yet the exact goals of this particular tour were not always entirely clear to the delegation. Some meetings were formal declarations of friendship and intent to cooperate on energy matters, while other groups were prepared to talk about exchanging engineering and technical expertise. It was clear to the Wyoming delegation that their presence was required to maintain old government-to-government relations, and forge new ones — a prerequisite in China to launching projects between governments, universities and private companies.

While at the Yan’an Zaoyuan Hotel in Shaanxi Province, Lubnau told WyoFile, “The reason I’m here is you have to have somebody here with the appropriate title or they don’t send the right people.”

On that measure, the Wyoming delegation found success. They met with Yuan Chunqing, Secretary of the Shanxi Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Shanxi Provincial Peoples Congress (SPPC). As Party Secretary, he’s the top official in the province, above the Governor. 

They also met with some of the highest level officials in the provinces of Ningxia and Shaanxi, and participated in dozens of informal briefings, formal welcoming ceremonies and often times extravagant banquet events which, at the insistence of local Chinese government officials, are a cultural tradition to express their eagerness to work with foreign guests.

“These meetings were not always set up for technology exchange,” Lubnau said while waiting for a banquet lunch to begin in Shaanxi Province. The delegation did receive extensive details on the workings of coal conversion processes at actual refinery sites, and at coal chemical and oil shale research laboratories (more WyoFile reporting on those details to come). Lubnau added that this — his third visit to China as a Wyoming lawmaker — helped him gain a better understanding of the coal-to-chemical processes in China, as well as the potential for future partnerships with Wyoming.

Outgoing Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette) participates in a formal greeting with Liu Hui, Governor of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

At each location, Chinese officials emphatically expressed their desire to not only partner with Wyoming on energy technology exchanges, but to do it in a bond of friendship. It was often repeated that there’s a kinship because Wyoming and the provinces of Shanxi, Ningxia, and Shaanxi have much in common: vast mineral resources and an urgent need to use those resources in cleaner, less carbon-intensive ways. 

In Shanxi, Chairman Yuan said, as translated by an interpreter, “I think Shanxi and Wyoming should maintain a high level of communication and (we) will encourage the people of Shanxi to visit Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park.”

Some Chinese delegates even suggested creating special flight and visa arrangements to make it easy for travel between the two states.

David Wendt, executive director of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs (JHCGA), said he believes the Wyoming delegation’s visit was met with satisfaction among Chinese officials. Now, both sides have the opportunity to expand cooperation on specific research and engineering projects.

“There’s a lot of people here committed to these issues,” Wendt told WyoFile. “Now let’s get the professionals together who can talk (details of engineering and research).”

The Wyoming delegation made this trip at the initiative of JHCGA, which describes itself as Wyoming’s only bipartisan public policy research center concerned with U.S. involvement in global affairs. One of the organization’s strategic priorities is to help Wyoming, the nation, and the world adjust to a carbon-constrained future.

JHCGA has worked since 2003 to build government and private relationships between Wyoming and China, primarily in Shanxi Province. The center’s strategy is to make connections between policymakers and private businesses in both countries because all of those parties have an interest in advancing technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

“I appreciated that they (JHCGA) put the trip together and used their relationships in China to open doors for us,” Rep. Mary Throne said upon returning to the U.S. “I appreciate their efforts, and I don’t think it’s necessarily something we could have done ourselves.”

Still to come in WyoFile’s coverage of Wyoming-Sino relations; 

° China is looking to coal-to-chemical conversion processes as both an economic driver for local economies and a bridge to less carbon intensive coal technologies, such as carbon capture and utilization and sequestration. But the end of that bridge — U.S. commercial scale carbon capture and sequestration for coal-based power generation — is likely many years away.

° Climate and coal matters: Is pursuing advanced coal technologies enough to save Wyoming’s coal mining industry? Some critics say Wyoming’s recent obsession with so-called advanced coal technologies is a dead-end. Others see this pursuit as an economically rational way to incrementally cut total CO2 emissions at home while helping China lower its CO2 emission intensity on a GDP basis.

° A private company is already working in partnership with the University of Wyoming and Chinese entities to “bolt on” small-scale coal-to-liquids at existing coal-fired power plants.

° There’s been a major focus under Gov. Matt Mead’s administration to expand Wyoming’s relations and business with foreign nations — particularly to Canada and across the Pacific. Many foreign nations, states and cities want to establish formal “sister state” relationships with Wyoming, and sign memorandums of understanding (MOUs). Yet Wyoming’s foreign relation efforts fall short of a cohesive policy strategy.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 20 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily covering the energy industry in Wyoming. Most recently he was Communications...

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  1. On a recent visit I made to Beijing and Hohhot in northern China the air quality spoke louder than any extravagant banquet or MOU pledging to use “resources in cleaner, less carbon-intensive ways”–whatever that means. China’s dependence on coal left the air I saw a dismal grey. After going out walking in the mornings I came back coughing with stinging eyes. I actually thought that I had flown into Beijing on a foggy day–on my return I realized that the fog, which actually obscured the airport control tower, was smog. God help the great state of Wyoming if we choose to follow the path of lip-service to renewable energy and expansion of coal-dependent economics and politics.