New fuel plant opens in bid to reduce air pollution

A ceremony to open a new fuel processing facility in eastern Ulaanbaatar was held this week as the government tries to transition ger district residents away from burning raw coal.

(Image: energy.gov.mn)

Residents of UB’s ger districts burn coal and other fuels in household stoves to stay warm over winter, a practice that is said to contribute to over 80 percent of the city’s notorious air pollution problem, although they have little choice when facing temperatures as low as -40C.


The government brought in a ban on burning raw coal in Ulaanbaatar two years ago in an effort to improve air quality. Households are fined 300k MNT and businesses are fined 3m MNT for breaches. It said it would instead supply improved coal as a cleaner alternative.


The new plant, which the government says was built using ‘advanced Korean technology’, can produce 600,000 tons of improved coal briquettes each year at a rate of 180 tons per hour. Raw coal is supplied to the plant on a rail line.


Refined coal goes through processes that remove certain pollutants to reduce emissions and improve efficiency.


However, there are questions over how effective it actually is in lowering emission rates (particularly when used in North American power plants).

There are also reports that hundreds of people have been hospitalised in previous years as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from these ‘improved’ coal briquettes, which could be linked to poorly-functioning stoves.


Yet there is also evidence the ban may be having some effect. Last winter, the Air Pollution Reduction Department said that there was a 55 percent reduction in the concentration of PM 2.5 (a particularly hazardous particulate) in UB’s air year-on-year.


UB’s air pollution is one of the country’s top on-going public health crises: pneumonia is the second-leading cause of death for children under 5 and pollution has been linked to a significant increase in miscarriages and respiratory illnesses.


On Thursday morning local time, air quality in UB was rated as ‘very unhealthy’.

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