China will surpass the United States as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide by 2009, a decade ahead of previous predictions. A big reason is the explosion in the number of automobiles, but the main reason is China's ravenous appetite for coal, the dirtiest of all the fuels used to produce electricity. Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. Every week to 10 days, another coal- fired power plant opens somewhere in China.
What's frightening about this for those worried about the long-term consequences of warming is that nearly all of these plants are being built along traditional lines, burning pulverized coal to make electricity. And what's sad about it is that there's a much cleaner coal-burning technology available. Known as IGCC - for integrated gasification combined cycle - this process coverts coal into a gas before it is burned.
These plants produce fewer of the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain than conventional power plants do. More important, from a global warming perspective, they also have the potential to capture and sequester greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide before they enter the atmosphere.