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FEATURE: MEE focuses on air quality in winter curbs

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) released two notices on its website on November 12 regarding winter restrictions in the Fenwei Plains and the Yangtze River Delta area over October 1-March 31 2020, with steel, coal and coke industries mentioned, though the focus has been on PM2.5 reduction and waste emission than any detailed and specific instructions in tackling coking, blast furnaces, and sintering.

Other than Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei that MEE issued air pollution control targets for the upcoming winter as part of the“2+26” cities in North China on October 11, the two releases name 12 cities or districts from North China’s Shanxi, Northwest China’s Shaanxi and Central China’s Henan province in the Fenwei Plains, a top region for coking and coal mining, and the 41 cities in East China’s Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces in the scope of the Yangtze River Delta region, Mysteel Global understands.

Over the 2019-2020 winter, MEE asks all the local authorities in the Fenwei Plains to lower the PM2.5 density by 3% on year, while the PM2.5 reduction target for the Yangtze River Delta 2% on year, and it also asks them to control greenhouse gas emissions, both not as harsh as the 4% PM2.5 density cuts for the “2+26” cities.

The requests to steel mills, coke plants, and transportation

In both the notifications, the ministry requested explicitly steel plants in the named cities to accelerate their technological upgrading to reach Beijing’s proscribed ultra-low emission standards, even highlighting that the 82 million tonnes/year steel capacity in 35 mills in Jiangsu and the 15 million t/y steel capacity in Shanxi should complete the ultra-low emission rectification by the end of December, though no steel mills have been named.

As for the coking industry, MEE reiterated the necessity to accelerate dismantling outdated and inefficient 4.3-metre coke ovens in these two regions, and local authorities are also ordered to encourage introducing dry-quenching techniques to coke ovens at 5.5-metres high or above, according to the notifications.

Authorities at both regions, at the same time, should also upgrade and build cleaner enterprise clusters, having all the dusty areas covered in the plants of coking, coal washing, foundry, refractory materials and non-ferrous metal smelting.

Besides, the two regions are to continue upgrading their infrastructure construction and upgrading so as to build up railway lines specifically for industrial goods transportation, engaging more rail and water services for bulk commodities transportation instead of trucks on the road, the notices state, highlighting that iron ore and coke from major ports in the coastal areas of Jiangsu and Zhejiang should be moved by rail or water by the end of October 2020.

MEE warns against “one for all” policy, but no specific measures offered

The influence of El Niño weather patterns during the autumn and winter period of 2019-2020 will have an adverse impact on the dispersal of air pollutants and make the introduction of production constraints more crucial, MEE remarked in the notifications released both on October 11 and November 12, and it has come to no surprise that the ministry has been rather elaborate in the November 12 releases again regarding the air pollution control efforts in winter.

MEE, however, has not offered any particular means to achieve such curtailing tasks, instead, it has suggested to these local authorities to adopt flexible and differentiated emission reduction measures according to air quality and steel mills, reminding them to refrain from implementing “one-for-all” policy, according to the notifications.

“One-for-all” or blanket control was executed in the 2017-2018 winter in the “2+26” cities in North China including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area on the clear-cut instruction of Beijing, with steel mills in the affected areas curtailed by the same intensity regardless of their efforts in environmental protection efforts, which led to unhappiness among those steel mills that have invested heavily in eco-friendly facilities and measures.

The lessons from the first year of winter restriction in China prompted Hebei to be a pioneer in classifying its steel mills into four categories according to their eco-friendly endeavours and differentiated the curbing measures accordingly to be more fair play in the winter curbing in the 2018-2019 winter.

It has come to no surprise, therefore, that MEE has not offered any specific requirements or sintering, coking capacities restrictions for the 2019-2020 winter, expecting the related authorities to work out their best plans to achieve the PM2.5 reduction targets.

China’s steel market, despite lacking any concrete details regarding winter restriction, reacted positively to the releases and the anticipation of less steel output in the coming months, and the most-traded rebar January contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed up 2.4% at Yuan 3,449/tonne ($492.7/t) at the close of the day-time trading session on November 12.

Written by Sean Xie, xiepy@mysteel.com, and Hongmei Li, li.hongmei@mysteel.com

Edited by Russ McCulloch, russ.mcculloch@mysteel.com

Official links to the two MEE notices in Chinese: 

http://www.mee.gov.cn/xxgk2018/xxgk/xxgk03/201911/t20191112_741904.html

http://www.mee.gov.cn/xxgk2018/xxgk/xxgk03/201911/t20191112_741901.html