Japan should invest more in renewables and less in ‘clean coal’, says climate think tank

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TOKYO — Japan’s focus on so-called “advanced clean coal technologies” as a way to meet its climate goals is misplaced due to their high cost and poor sustainability, according to a research report on the climate published on Monday 14 February.

The report, titled Coal-de-sac, by London-based climate analytic think tank TransitionZero, warned that in the worst-case scenario, extensive use of this technology could jeopardize Japan’s climate goals.

In 2020, Japan pledged to reduce its emissions by at least 46% below 2013 levels by 2030 and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The country has long had a bad reputation for its dependence on coal, although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said last year at the COP26 climate conference that Japan would turn to less polluting “clean coal” technologies. .

But the report urged Japan to increase investment in clean renewable technologies such as offshore solar and wind power. This, he said, is a long-term solution, avoiding the short-term temptation to retrofit existing coal-fired power plants with expensive technologies with potentially low efficiencies.

As it stands, the report notes that the carbon intensity of Japan’s clean coal technologies is five times what is needed to put the country on track to meet its 2050 target. of these technologies, meanwhile, is up to three times that of solar energy.

“It appears that Japan is looking for technologies that are the easiest way for them to keep their coal-fired power plants operational longer,” said Matt Gray, co-founder of TransitionZero, who co-authored the report, during a conference. a press briefing.

“If Japan goes ahead, it could potentially lock itself into high-cost electricity that would not only undermine its economic competitiveness, but would likely do very little to meet its long-term ambitions of being net zero. here 2050.”

The report, which included contributions from Japanese experts such as Mr. Shin Furuno, Senior Director of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, compared the cost and environmental impact of renewable energy to those of Japan’s three favorite advanced coal technologies. .

One method is ammonia co-firing, whereby coal burners are retrofitted to also burn cleaner ammonia to reduce carbon emissions.

Yet the report notes that the cheapest version of ammonia is four times more expensive than coal, while the cleanest version – produced by renewables – is 15 times more expensive. Japan’s goal of building an all-ammonia-fired turbine by 2030, while laudable, is also a very expensive undertaking, he added.

Another route is coal gasification, whereby coal is partially oxidized to produce a less carbon-intensive synthetic gas mixture with a lower proportion of carbon dioxide.

The third method, carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), refers to the capture of carbon emissions from fuel combustion, industrial processes or even directly from the atmosphere. This can then be reused as an input for manufacturing or stored underground.

While CCUS has the potential to reduce emissions by 90%, Japan has limited suitable CCUS sites and could run out of space in 10 years, according to the report.

TransitionZero noted the potential value of these clean coal technologies in so-called “hard-to-reduce” sectors such as cement or steel where the transition is not as straightforward.

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