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U.S.- China Clean Energy Collaboration: Lessons from the Advanced Coal Technology Consortium

This working paper examines the first five years of U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) Advanced Coal Technology Consortium, a collaborative effort by the United States and China to accelerate development on carbon capture and storage and other advanced coal technologies. It assesses areas of success and provides recommendations to improve the next five years of bilateral collaboration.

Executive Summary

Clean energy technology innovation is the key not only to creating a low-carbon global economy, but also to achieving international climate goals. The International Energy Agency’s 2015 edition of Energy Technology Perspectives indicates that renewables, carbon capture and storage (CCS), fuel switching, and energy efficiency all have critical roles to play over the next 35 years in contributing to achievement of the 2C scenario (IEA 2015). Under this scenario, CCS alone is responsible for capturing and storing almost 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year by 2050 in all sectors. However, CCS and many other clean energy technologies require global attention and support to reach the levels of deployment envisioned in the IEA report, due to their high upfront costs and great technological complexity. To help accelerate the development of clean energy technologies, major economies are increasingly sharing knowledge and expertise, discussing policies and regulations, and collaborating on research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities. To date, many multilateral initiatives have been formed to directly or indirectly encourage clean energy technology development. They include the Clean Energy Ministerial, Sustainable Energy for All, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, and, most recently, Mission Innovation. In addition, countries are building bilateral channels of cooperation on clean energy technology development. One prominent example of this type of cooperation is the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), which was established in 2009 and renewed for another five years in 2014. The CERC is composed of consortia that focus on building efficiency, clean energy vehicles, advanced coal technology, energy efficiency of medium-duty to heavy-duty trucks, and the water-energy nexus in the two countries.1

With the conclusion of Phase I (2011–2015) of CERC and the beginning of Phase II (2016–2020), decisionmakers and research collaboration practitioners urgently need a better understanding of CERC’s role in advancing clean energy technologies in order to improve its future performance and, more generally, to inform future bilateral technology cooperation between other countries. This working paper focuses on Phase I of CERC’s Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (ACTC), which aims to improve technology and practices for advanced coal utilization, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage. This study is unique in that it uses a survey methodology to explore both the rationale underlying the decisions of consortium and project leaders and researchers in the ACTC to join the consortium, and the operation and the effectiveness of the consortium.

Effective bilateral cooperation, particularly joint RD&D through public-private partnerships, can be beneficial to the development of CCS in China and the rest of the world. This working paper shows that effective cooperation will be difficult to achieve because of administrative, organizational, and technical differences across national borders. This study offers recommendations for improving the implementation and performance of CERC to produce more concrete achievements in its second phase. CERC has helped the United States and China to build mutual trust in the realm of climate change collaboration over the past five years and, as more solid achievements are realized in the next five years, CERC can further boost U.S.-China cooperation on climate change.

To improve the performance of CERC–ACTC, this working paper recommends:

  • further engagement with the private sector during every stage of the collaboration process;
  • consolidation of resources to boost joint RD&D activities;
  • stronger focus on CCS demonstration projects;
  • enhanced communication and coordination at all levels and in all stages of cooperation; and
  • re-visioning the CERC as a more open platform to attract more resources.

1. The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center has two phases – Phase I (2011–2015) and Phase II (2016–2020). This working paper reviews the Phase I collaboration.

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