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BEIJING -- Coal-rich Inner Mongolia autonomous region in North China is seeking to process some of its huge amount of raw coal into diesel or electricity to add value to the resources and assist with the pressing task of environmental protection.
"The resources will dry up one day no matter how many we have now. We must find ways to free ourselves from the reliance on resources for our sustainable development," said Hu Chunhua, Communist Party chief of Inner Mongolia.
Inner Mongolia, with its estimated 700 billion tons of coal reserves, is China's burgeoning coal base, churning out more than one quarter of the country's coal output.
In 2011, over 60 percent of its 1 billion tons of coal production were channeled through land transportation to energy-thirsty areas like northeastern and central China as well as Beijing and Tianjin.
The heavy task of shipping coal out of Inner Mongolia has posed a challenge to land transportation. In September 2010, the Beijing-Tibet highway experienced traffic jams of up to 100 km in length as the road was clogged by huge numbers of coal-hauling vehicles.
"It is inefficient to transport coal to all over the country with diesel-driven trucks. So we must convert the coal to high-efficiency energy forms before sending it out," said Liang Tiecheng, director of the Inner Mongolia Development and Reform Commission.
China's central government has decided to build Inner Mongolia into an "energy base" and a "new-type chemical industry base" so as to give full play to its advantages in coal and non-ferrous metals and realize the transformation of its low-efficiency resources to more efficient forms like diesel or electricity locally.
Wang Rungang, a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy from the Inner Mongolia-based Shenhua Wuhai Coal Group Corp, said his company carried out a coal-chemical experiment program, enabling it to master the technologies involved in turning coal to diesel with an annual capacity of 1.2 million tons.
The value of diesel processed from coal is eight to 12 times that of the original material, Wang said.
Liang, also a deputy to the NPC, said the new technologies are different from those used in upgrading primitive coal processing. Instead, it is an integration of multiple coal-chemical technologies so as to achieve multilevel use of coal.
Moreover, Inner Mongolia will forge a highly value-added economic and industrial chain that is composed of its advantageous sectors including coal, iron and steel, rare earth and polysilicon, according to Liang.
The multilayer development of coal will be a strategic measure to ensure the country's energy security in the era of post-petroleum, he said.
"The resources in Inner Mongolia belong to the whole country, and we have no reason to waste any of them," the official said.