China to boost forest-based bioenergy


China would build 13.33 million hectares of forests by 2020 to produce bio-diesel oil and fuels for power generation, said Director Jia Zhibang of the State Forestry Administration on Tuesday. Corn won't be used for bio-fuel in 5 years. 

Jia said the lipid- and starch-rich materials from the forests could be processed into liquid to make bio-diesel oil and ethanol fuel and some woods could be cut into small cubes for the power generation. The country plans to produce more than six million tons of bio-diesel oil with materials from the forests and increase the installed capacity of power generation by more than 15 million kilowatts by 2020, Jia said. “We foresees a bright future for the forest-based bioenergy,” Jia said. He said the potential of the country's forest-based bioenergy would be equivalent to 200 million tons of coal, the utilization of which would reduce the consumption of fossil energy by 10%.

There are more than four million hectares of oil plants nationwide, and 154 kinds of trees could produce seeds containing more than 40% of oil, with total production of the seeds totaling 5 million tons. Another 57 million hectares of waste land are available and suitable for planting trees for the production of forest-based bioenergy, according to Jia. Jia said the administration would develop the forest-based bioenergy together with the China National Petroleum Corporation, the country's grain importer and exporter COFCO and the State Grid Corporation of China.

China will shift its dependence from corn to sorghum, cassava and sweet potato plants to make bio-fuel in the next five years. Part of the government's efforts to develop bio-fuel without harming general food supply and security, the shift will ensure a healthy supply of corn both as food and fodder. Cassava and sweet potato both are high-yield plants, and though edible, they are not used as staple food. So their use as raw material, as opposed to that of corn, won't create any artificial shortage of food products.

Xiong Bilin, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission's (NDRC) industry department, told China Daily that the conversion of the four major ethanol production centers, which have a combined output of 1 million tons, will neither be too complicated nor costly. The four plants, along with the newly approved ones, will use the plants of sorghum, cassava and sweet potato that scientists have recommended as corn substitutes. The country's efforts to fight global warming will soon get another boost with the largest ethanol production facility getting the green light, said the official with the country's top economic planner.

The facility in Hengshui in Hebei Province is expected to yield 300,000 tons of bio-fuel, mainly from sweet potato, every year. The authorities are also likely to approve another ethanol-making facility. The unit in Jingmen, Hubei Province, can make 200,000 tons of ethanol from sweet potato plants each year. China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs (COFCO) will be the major investor in both the projects. China wants to increase its ethanol production from 1 million tons a year to 2 million tons in 2010, and 10 million tons by 2020. "Meeting the 2010 target should not be a problem," Xiong said. The existing four corn-based facilities have already been joined by a cassava-based unit in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that can produce 200,000 tons of ethanol a year.

COFCO owns the Guangxi facility, too, which got the authorities' approval last year before going into operation. Considering the rising prices of corn and the threat to food security, the State Council, or the country's cabinet, ordered the bio-fuel industry to shift from food to non-food material in mid-June. Xiong, however, stressed that irrespective of the raw material used, the country will continue its shift from fossil fuel to ethanol to save energy and fight climate change.

Gas and diesel sold in nine provinces is already mixed with 10% ethanol. Which means the country's dependence on fossil fuel dropped by 1.3 million tons last year. But the nationwide demand for fuel is more than 50 million tons a year. So a lot more ethanol has to be made if ethanol is to be mixed with fuel throughout the country. “The country will gradually replace petroleum with ethanol as the main fuel for its chemical industry,” Xiong said. The government is considering offering a 5% tax rebate to ethanol producers, and some financial subsidies both to the producers and suppliers. For producers, the subsidy is estimated to be more than 1,000 yuan ($130) for every ton of their product. (

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