Beijing planning to dig deep to clear the air

CHINA - As the worst smog in years smeared China's skies, a city is looking deep into the ground for ways to clear its air.

Baoding, in Hebei province, has vowed to tap its rich geothermal resources to free the city from smog.

Four large geothermal fields have been found in the city, covering a total area of 3,700 sq km. Most of the city has used the clean energy for heating and bathing.

Households using a geothermal heating system have increased rapidly, accounting for 90 per cent in Xiongxian county since 1973, when the resource was first explored.

In addition, local hotels and spas offering hot springs are adding 200 million yuan ($32 million) every year to local revenue, due to the quality of their resources and good location, around 100 km from Beijing and Tianjin.

"The utilization of geothermal resources has never been more important," said Ma Yufeng, the city's mayor, adding that the city has to protect the environment and provide resources such as agricultural products for the capital because of its location.

"We also are pursuing the development of the economy, which means that further exploration of this clean resource will be one of our priorities," the mayor said.

In Xiongxian alone, more than 63,000 metric tons of standard coal have been saved in heating, cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by 130,000 tons a year.

The Xiongxian government will invest 450 million yuan to expand the heating network and dig more geothermal wells by the end of 2020, making it a smoke-free county by then.

"The use of geothermal resources will not cause the groundwater level to decline, though thousands of tons of water have been pumped up for heating," said Huang Jiachao, a manager in charge of the project in Xiongxian under Sinopec Green Energy Geothermal Development.

He said the company adopted new technology that helps the groundwater flow back to its original level.

In China, geothermal resources are mainly used for heating and bathing. Some have been used to generate electricity in places such as the Tibet autonomous region.

More than 30 per cent of the utilization is for spas and 20 per cent for heating. Less than 0.4 per cent has been used for electricity generation, Sinopec said.

"The utilization of this clean resource in China is still low," said Ingimar Haraldsson, a geothermal expert from the United Nations University.

"This resource can provide stable energy compared with solar and wind," he said. "More is needed for China."

Geothermal resources have played a big role in Iceland. Five major geothermal power plants exist there, which produce about 26 per cent of the nation's energy, a report from the government said.

The Icelandic expert said his country once suffered from severe air pollution in the 1930s, but the wide use of geothermal resources cut emissions, giving the residents clean air and attracting tourists from all over the world.

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