Japan fired up about new coal technologies

TOKYO • For all the talk of a solar boom in Japan, coal still has a future there, and potentially a big one at that. Japan's government and industry are backing emerging coal technologies they say are less damaging to the environment.

While pushing the most polluting fossil fuel at home and abroad, Japan's government will be trying to burnish its environmental credentials at climate talks that begin at the end of the month in Paris.

Japan is the biggest backer of public coal financing globally, according to a June report co-authored by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), a US environmental group, and partners.

Japan also ranks last among Group of Seven nations in efforts to move away from coal, said E3G, a non-profit group promoting a low-carbon economy, in a statement last month.

By promoting new and advanced coal technologies as cleaner burning and more efficient, Japan is contradicting environmentalists like NRDC seeking to discourage investors from backing fossil fuel.

For major Japanese suppliers of power generation systems such as Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, the national push also offers the opportunity to market their products in countries where coal is still widely used.

"Support from developed countries for high-efficiency coal-fired generation is needed" to keep plants with low efficiency from expanding in countries where the fuel is readily available, said Mr Nobuyuki Zaima, a project manager in charge of clean coal at Japan's trade ministry-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation.

"We can certainly contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide through applying Japan's superior coal technology," he said.

By 2040, "Asia is projected to account for four out of every five tonnes of coal consumed globally, and coal remains the backbone of the power system in many countries in our central scenario", according to the latest International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Japan fired up about new coal technologies'. Print Edition | Subscribe