Duke Energy and the China Huaneng Group—among the largest utilities in the U.S. and China—on Monday signed an agreement to discuss and share information to explore a variety of clean energy technologies, especially those that pertain to cleaner coal.

The memorandum of understanding signed in Beijing will launch a series of meetings to exchange information and explore potential long-term joint initiatives to reduce coal plant emissions and develop other renewable sources of power generation, Duke Energy said in a press release on Monday.

A key focus will be cleaner-coal technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration and coal gasification, the company said. China and the U.S.—the world’s two highest emitters of carbon dioxide—generate most of their power from coal. The future of coal power is increasingly being staked on the progress of cleaner coal technologies.

Duke Energy is building a 630-MW facility in Edwardsport, Ind., which is scheduled to go online in 2012. The company plans to spend $17 million to study carbon capture at the site and is proposing to spend $121 million to study the potential capture and permanent underground storage of up to 60% of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The company is also building an advanced 825-MW pulverized coal plant in Cliffside, N.C., and retiring 1,000 megawatts of older, less-efficient coal plants. The Cliffside and Edwardsport projects received more than $250 million in U.S. Department of Energy  clean coal tax incentives.

The China Huaneng Group—the largest of China’s five state-owned companies, which reportedly generates more than 10% of China’s power—has successfully built China’s first CO2 capturing demonstration facility, the Huaneng Beijing Cogeneration Power Plant. A larger-scale CO2 capturing facility in one of Huaneng’s coal-fired power plants in Shanghai is under construction. That project should be operational by the year’s end.

Huaneng—a member of the FutureGen alliance—is also building its GreenGen project—a 250-MW integrated gasification combined-cycle demonstration power plant in Tianjin. That project has been touted as China’s cleanest and most environmentally friendly coal-fired power plant. It is expected to go online in 2011.

The China Huaneng Group is also leading efforts to rapidly increase renewable generation and fuel the country’s economic growth. On Saturday, the firm—along with 19 developers, including Datang International Power and six foreign firms—began construction of China’s first 10-GW wind power base in Jiuquan, in northwest Gansu province, Reuters reported.

China has said it will increase its total wind power capacity to 100 GW by 2020 from the current 12 GW as part of a plan to generate 3% of its total power portfolio from nonhydro renewable energy sources. The National Energy Administration has planned six 10-GW wind power bases in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Hebei, and Jiangsu, Reuters said.

The Jiuquan base will be built in two phases: a 3.8-GW base made up of 18 wind farms with a nameplate capacity of  200 MW, and two 100-MW wind farms. That project is expected to be completed by 2010.

Sources: Duke Energy, China Huaneng Group, Reuters