Sulfur dioxide is a component of air pollution that leads to the formation of smog and acid rain and can cause some nasty respiratory illnesses. Shit’s bad news. The burning of coal makes up 90% of sulfur dioxide emissions. I’m currently researching sulfur dioxide emissions at a particular power plant in Linfen, but in addition to that, I’ve been compiling data on macro-level sulfur dioxide. Here are some lovely graphs and tables for everyone’s edification and a brief context for that staple of the planned economy, the five-year economic plan of China.
China’s sulfur dioxide emissions from 2005-2010 are as follows:
Year Sulfur dioxide (tonnes)
The highest sulfur dioxide emitting provinces in 2010 are as follows:
Province sulfur dioxide (tonnes (2010))
1. Shandong 1,538,000
2. Inner Mongolia 1,394,000
3. Henan 1,339,000
4. Shanxi 1,249,000
5. Hebei 1,234,000
The highest sulfur dioxide emitting provinces in 2010 per capita, however, are as follows:
Province sulfur dioxide (tonnes per capita (2010))
1. Ningxia 0.055
2. Inner Mongolia 0.052
3. Xinjiang 0.028
4. Shanxi 0.026
5. Jilin 0.021
As usual, the significant figures are iffy because I don’t know the uncertainty on the data that I have. Notice all the provinces are in the north. Ahh, bless the north with its bountiful noodles, gangly demographics, and sulfur dioxide! Also, after an admittedly not thorough literature search, it is unclear to me why these provinces are the most emitting per capita. Some papers claim it is linearly related to GDP per capita, which makes sense, but I’m not going to pretend that I did any research into whether or why Ningxia has a high GDP per capita. But then some papers say that there is no correlation. I just know that Ningxia is known for its grapes. We all know that…people working in the grape industry…need to burn coal…ok, I’m pulling this out of my ass. I doubt that grape production is correlated with sulfur dioxide, but perhaps that is a masters thesis waiting to be written! You’re welcome, hypothetical graduate student!
To put these numbers in rough context, the data I got from my power plant in Linfen says that pre-scrubbing, the sulfur content of the total coal burned per day is on average 100 tonnes. That means that if all of that sulfur is converted to sulfur dioxide, the mass is around 200 tonnes. But if we assume the desulfurization equipment can get rid of 90% of the sulfur dioxide, that means that a single, modern 600MW power plant emits about 20 tonnes of sulfur dioxide per day. So China’s total sulfur dioxide emissions per year is EQUIVALENT to about the SO2 emissions of 3000 power plants of the specs I’ve assumed above.
China realized on paper that they needed curb their emissions during the tenth five-year plan (2000-2005). In the tenth five-year plan for energy conservation and emissions reduction (节能减排第十五规划), they set a target to reduce SO2 by 10% compared to 2000 levels, but sulfur dioxide emissions actually increased 42% during that period. They fucked that one up, but many people probably got shiny BMWs out of all of it.
They did better during the eleventh five-year plan (2005-2010). They actually reduced SO2 by 14% from 2005 levels! This is especially impressive because the economy was developing and electricity generation actually grew by nearly 80% in this time period. Flue-gas desulfurization (FGD), or scrubbers, were installed on 86% of all power plants by the end of 2010, compared with 14% by the end of 2005. Schreifels’s paper (see below) cites six factors for the reduction in emissions: (1) the instruments used to outline the goal, (2) the political commitment to enforce the emission targets, (3) Central government accountability for provincial and local officials and power company executives, (4) verification of emission measurements by the Central government, (5) greater government focus at all levels on the SO2 goal, and (6) revised policies and programs that placed an emphasis on performance and incentives. I’m not going to write out all the details because really you should read the paper, because it’s awesome. It’s quite specific about how incentives, enforcement, and better coordination between governmental bureaus have curbed SO2 emissions.
Basically everything on the history of policy is from this article and this article, and all my numbers from the China Environmental Statistical Yearbook. The most recent data I could get was from 2010. Full citation below:
Schreifels, J.J., Fu, Y., Wilson, E. J. Sulfur dioxide control in China: policy evolution during the 10th and 11th Five-year Plans and lessons for the future. Energy Policy, September 2012.
Gao, C., Huaqiang, Y., Ai, N., Huang, Z. Historical Analysis of SO2 Pollution Control Policies in China. Environmental Management, January 2009.