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Opportunities in China energize multinationals

Updated: Aug 16, 2022 By ZHENG XIN China Daily Print
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The Lufeng oil field of China National Offshore Oil Corp. [Photo/CNOOC China Ltd. Shenzhen]

More multinational energy giants are announcing plans to invest in China's energy sector as a result of its rapidly growing momentum and huge potential, industry experts said.

The investments include a broad range of subsectors such as petrochemicals, hydrogen, vehicle charging stations and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

Global chemical and energy group INEOS, based in London, announced on July 28 that it planned to set up a joint venture with China Petrochemical Corp in Tianjin to manufacture high-density polyethylene.

The joint venture, with a registered capital of about 623 million yuan ($92.1 million), is expected to boost the high-end petrochemical sector in China to meet growing demand, according to China Petrochemical, also known as Sinopec-the world's largest refiner by volume.

In another JV, British energy giant BP plc signed a contract with China Suntien Green Energy Corp Ltd in July to establish a marketing company to help supply liquified natural gas in northern China. That is especially important in view of LNG imports becoming an important factor in satisfying the country's growing demand for gas, helping it bolster progress towards net zero goals, according to Simon Yang, BP China president.

China surpassed Japan as the world's largest importer of liquefied natural gas, accounting for close to 60 percent of the growth in global LNG demand in 2021, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2022.

London-based multinational Shell plc has also invested more in China's renewable energy in recent years. It has said it would expand its hydrogen footprint in the country by building a network of hydrogen refueling stations in Shanghai, Shell's first hydrogen refueling network in Asia, in cooperation with Shanghai-based State-owned enterprise Shenergy Group Co Ltd.

The JV planned to build six to 10 hydrogen refueling stations in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta region in the next five years, rising to 30 stations by 2030.

Thirty stations could provide hydrogen to approximately 3,000 fuel cell trucks or buses daily. The refueling network would help accelerate the adoption of fuel cell vehicles in road freight, public transportation, municipal services and at ports in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta region, experts said. It also would support the development of the Shanghai national fuel cell vehicle demonstration city cluster, officials said.

Shell officials also have expressed optimism about prospects for CCUS in China, calling it essential in helping China achieve a carbon peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

The country's significant geological potential for storing carbon-an estimated 2,400 gigatons in storage capacity, second only to that of the United States, leaves a lot of room to tap, said Jason Wong, executive chairman of Shell Companies in China.

China has more than 40 CCUS pilot projects with a total capacity of 3 million metric tons. Many of them are small projects linked to enhanced oil recovery that will need to significantly increase in size over the next four decades, he said.

Shell announced plans to join with State-owned oil and gas giant China National Offshore Oil Corp and the Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission in July in building China's first offshore large-scale capture and storage hub in Guangdong province.

The hub is expected to capture up to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, helping significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and serve the decarbonization needs of enterprises in the area, it said.

Increasing cooperation between energy multinationals and local players in the energy sector in China has not only helped secure the nation's energy supplies but also helped ensure the stability of the global energy industrial chain and supply chain.

China has a market potential that no other country can match, said Luo Zuoxian, head of intelligence and research at the Sinopec Economics and Development Research Institute.

"China's increasing demand for energy and its green transition to replace fossil fuels with cleaner fuels are offering new opportunities for foreign energy players, including Shell, BP and ExxonMobil, to expand their business abroad," he said.

Tang Sisi, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research company, said the country's petrochemical market is one of the fastest growing. BloombergNEF expects China's demand for high-value chemicals to double by 2040.

Luo, at the Sinopec institute, said as the country continues to ramp up its green energy transition with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2060, foreign investment in China's energy sector is only expected to rise.

The government recently approved a plan to implement employment-for-grant programs with a key focus on fields including energy, especially power, oil and gas pipelines and renewable energy, which, according to Luo, will offer numerous chances for multinational corporations as they seek more opportunities to expand into renewable power generation in the country.

According to a report released by the International Energy Agency, based in Paris, China was the largest investor in clean energy last year, followed by the European Union and the US.

China spent $380 billion on clean energy last year, far ahead of the EU's $260 billion and $215 billion spent by the US. Also, roughly 80 percent of all electric vehicle sales are in China and Europe, while 90 percent of spending on EV infrastructure is in China, Europe and the US, it said.

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