For the past two weeks, much of northeast China has been smothered by a record-setting blanket of smog so dense it is visible from space. As dangerously high levels of pollution persist in many areas, the message is clear: national action is more urgent than ever. In September, China central government announced its latest major initiative to curb air pollution. The Air Pollution Control Action Plan targets a 25 percent reduction in particulate matter in the North China Plain and a 65 percent reduction of coal’s share of the national energy mix by 2017.

That plan’s largest mandate prohibits new coal-fired power plants in the three most important metropolitan areas around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Among the plan’s proposed alternative energy sources are cleaner-burning natural gas plants, including synthetic natural gas (SNG) converted from coal.
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