Biomass in China: opportunities in energy crops, biofuel and biogas

Biomass in China

Today, biomass (organic matter) is becoming a very significant energy source in China, especially in rural areas. Modern biomass technologies can significantly increase living standards in rural areas and promote industrialization and the generation of employment in rural areas. These technologies can also provide clean, low-cost fuels for heat and power.

The use of biomass can also greatly benefit the global climate since it does not add to CO2 emissions. The advancement in biomass conversion systems can also play a very important role in China’s energy systems in the long term.

Biomass power generation

The primary focus of China’s biomass energy development is on the biomass power generation, biogas, biomass pellets and liquid biofuels. It is expected that by 2020, the installed capacity of biomass power will be around 30 GW, with 50 million tons of biomass pellets, 44 billion cubic meters of biogas, 10 million tons of bio-ethanol, and 2 millions of biodiesel used annually.

Currently, global biofuel consumption is at 55 million tons of oil equivalent, which is obtained by burning one standard barrel of oil. By 2050, the total consumption will reach up to 750 million tons.

According to Novozymes, China has the potential to be a global leader in the production of second-generation (2G) biofuels. 2G biofuels account for roughly 90 per cent of all biofuels used, in a report by the international Energy Agency.

China’s Biomass Supply

Biomass could account for 2.4 to 2.8 per cent of China’s total energy consumption. China annually produces 2 million tons of biofuel, adding value to the economy with less effect on food supply and prices.

China has principal biomass resources from residues from agriculture and forest industries, animal manure from medium and large-scale livestock farms, and municipal solid waste (MSW).

Annually, the country produces 300 million tons of crop straw wastes, 300 million tons of forestry wastes, which are ready for fuel production. Municipal solid waste in China is expected to reach 210 million tons per annum in 2020. It has the potential to produce 2 to 10 billion cubic meters of methane if 60 percent of this municipal waste is used in landfill methane applications.
It is also forecast that forestry and forest product industries will substantially increase their amount of scraps, potentially reaching 12,000 PJ per annum by 2020. This will be a direct result of the country’s implementation of Natural Forest Protection Program, which bans logging and reduces logging in over much of the nation’s natural forests. The Sloping Cropland Conversion Program, which calls for the conversion of much of the nation’s sloping cropland to trees and grasses, will also add to the increase in the amount of scraps.

Energy crops in China

Another biomass energy resource with the potential for commercialization is the “energy crops.” There are many types of energy crops in China, including rapeseed and other edible oil plants and some plants that grow in the wild, such as sumac, Chinese goldthread, and sweet broomcorn. By 2020, these crops have the potential to yield over 50 million tons of liquid fuel annually. This includes over 28 million tons of ethanol and 24 million tons of bio-diesel. In other words, biomass energy resources have such a huge potential for playing a decisive role in China’s energy supply.

China Biogas

Biogas is a combustible mixture of gases produced by micro-organisms when livestock manure and other biological wastes are allowed to ferment in the absence of air in closed containers. Biogas is 60 per cent methane, 35 per cent carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of water vapor, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. Common uses of biogas include as a natural gas, and as organic fertilizer such as “bio-slurry” and “bio-sludge.”

By the end of 2006, already 22 million families used biogas, with a total annual biogas production of 8.5 billion m3 and had built biogas pits for 22 million households in rural areas, and provided more than 5,200 large and mid-sized biogas projects based around livestock and poultry farms. By 2020, it is expected that 300 million in the rural areas of China will use biogas as their main fuel.

China Biofuel

In 2010, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported that the conversion of biomass into fuel, energy, and chemicals will have the potential to generate above 230 billion USD for global economy by 2020. China will use 12.7 billion liters of biofuel ethanol by 2020 and 100 percent usage of automotive ethanol gasoline. The country’s annual consumption of biodiesel will reach 2.3 billion liters, based on a target set by the National Development and Reform Commission.

Targets, Laws, and Policies

China’s demand for energy is growing, as well as its environmental concerns. In this regard, the Chinese government issued a series of laws and policies to ensure that it hits its target by 2010, which is by 2020 the renewable energy will take 15 percent of the energy share. The percentage of the biomass is expected to increase.

The Renewable Energy Law in 2005 is the Chinese government’s step to ensure that the energy target is realized. The law supports the development of renewable energy, including biomass energy. The law is established to increase the energy supply domestically, optimize the energy structure and realize the continuous development of economy and society. Moreover, the series of regulations and policies are issued to support the materialization of renewable targets, such as fiscal subsidies, tax policies, pricing schemes and green production rewarding scheme.

Company Activities

China Everbright International and DP CleanTech signed three contracts to build three 30MW straw-fired biomass power plants in China. Currently, Everbright International has 5 plants using DP technology in China. Currently, the country has a total of 55 power plants using DP tech, representing over 30 per cent market share.

The optimization of these power plants will allow it to handle additional fuel types including rice husk, corn stalk, woodchips, and cotton and bean residues.

Projects in Dingyuan, Huaiyuan and Lingbi, in Anhui province will feature DP’s high pressure, high temperature boiler technology. The technology has been successfully demonstrated in over 50 plants in China.

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