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Framing the issue

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China’s thirst for coal

The coal industry is among China’s thirstiest, yet 80% of China’s coal production lies in areas at high or extreme risk of water stress, mainly in the North of the country. The majority of the industry’s water consumption goes towards cooling power plants or ‘washing’ produced coal to remove excess ash – a technique designed to comply with standards introduced to tackle China’s even higher profile air quality problems. Coal production in 2025 is expected to outpace 2015 considerably and more will be taking place in high and extreme water stress areas.

However, China’s 13th Five Year Plan, released in March 2016, and the updated Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (WAPPCAP) both contain clear policy signals that are likely to spur the sector into action. Service companies are set to hit the jackpot as billions are expected to be invested in treatment technologies and air cooling systems to improve the water efficiency of existing power plants. Increasingly, coal companies are realising that smart ways of using water can lower costs, secure business continuity, and meet more stringent environmental rules.