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General Electric and Chinese coal company Shenhua Group will partner on cleaner coal power plant technology, the two announced Tuesday, adding their names to a growing list of Chinese-U.S. clean energy partnerships.

GE and Shenhua said they've agreed on "a framework for an industrial coal gasification joint venture" that would combine technology and power plant operations expertise from both companies. They hope to have the joint venture completed in the first half of 2010.

The two companies said they plan to work on integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants, a well-known technology of turning coal into a synthetic gas before it's burned.

That reduces emissions of dangerous pollutants such as mercury and sulfur, though it also adds to costs.

GE and Shenhua said they plan to work on capturing the carbon dioxide that still emerges from IGCC plants as well.

Capturing the carbon emitted from coal plants – and finding a way to store it underground or in other ways – is seen as a critical challenge, since coal-fired power plants contribute roughly half the world's total greenhouse gas emissions (see Carbon Capture Works, Next Up: Storage and EPRI: CO2 Cuts Will Cost a Lot More Without Nuclear and Clean Coal).

China recently passed the United States to become the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and taken together, the two countries account for about 40 percent of the world's carbon emissions.

The GE/Shenhua partnership is similar to one that U.S. utility Duke Energy has said it will undertake with China's Huaneng Group. The two said they'll cooperate on IGCC projects, as well as the trickier task of capturing carbon from coal plant smokestacks (see Duke Energy, China's Huaneng Group Collaborate on Coal Carbon Capture).

Duke's new 630-megawatt IGCC coal plant being built in Edwardsport, Ind. uses GE's technology. Huaneng's Beijing Cogeneration Power Plant is China's first carbon capture demonstration project. It's working on another such project at a coal-fired plant in Shanghai.

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday fleshed out a series of joint U.S.-Chinese clean energy research partnerships it first launched this summer (see DOE, China to Research Greener Buildings, Vehicles, Energy).

The announcement included plans to direct $150 million in public and private investment over five years to a U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, which has coal power plant carbon capture and storage on its list of to-do items, along with energy efficiency and clean vehicle research.

That clean coal effort includes several more U.S.-China partnerships, including one between utility Peabody Energy and GreenGen, which is the effort of several major Chinese energy companies to build a near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant.

Another partnership between utility American Electric Power and Songzao Coal and Electric Co. will seek to use methane captured from a coal mine in Chongqing to generate electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.