The Chinese National Energy Administration (NEA) has unveiled its 12th five-year plan for renewable energy. Unsurprisingly, the plan focuses on the mature renewable technologies of hydropower, wind power, solar energy and biomass. And this should give the country’s fledgling biofuel and biological chemistry industry a leg up.

The plan introduces a new goal for renewable energy that should see renewable energy use in China rise to the equivalent of 478 million tonnes of standard coal by 2015. If achieved, more than more than 9.5% of the country’s total energy will come from renewables. Breaking the figures down, by 2015 hydroelectric capacity should increase to 290,000MW, cumulative grid-connected wind power to 100,000MW, solar power to 21,000MW and biomass production should hit the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of coal. The NEA predicts that 150 million tonnes of biomass will be used in 2015, including biomass fuels, bioethanol and biodiesel. All that of course, with the current need to explore much more on energy crops and possible viable sustainable feedostock to use.

Against a backdrop of consumers enduring substantial fuel price fluctuations, Chinese experts are cautiously optimistic that the new biomass energy targets could help. However, some experts point out that the term biomass energy encompasses a wider definition than that used in the last five year plan and includes such burning wood for cooking. Theoretically, traditional energy sources, such as biomass briquettes and biogas, could potentially go a long toward helping the country meet its targets. This is particularly true considering the increasing trend of energy demand in rural sectors and the possibe way energy crops could be developed in uncompetitive lands for traditional food production. Most constraints indentified regarding biomass costs, logistics, legislation and institutional barriers and fossil energy market are key factors for the next development of bioenergy projects.

corn stalks

As mentioned in a recent post from RSC blog (, “to meet the new biomass targets, some experts say that technology will not actually be the most critical factor. So far, the biggest technical problems for developing biofuels have already been solved and carbohydrate bioethanol has achieved commercial production, according to Zhilong Xiu from the Biomass Energy Research Institute of Dalian University of Technology in China. ‘The main technical bottlenecks lie on the collection and pretreatment of cheap non-grain raw materials,’ Xiu says. He says that, in China, rules to ensure food security continues to be a constraint for domestic biofuel producers. For example, canola oil in Germany and soya bean oil in the US can be used to produce biodiesel, while this is not the case in China. Another reason that makes biofuel production problematic is difficulty collecting the raw materials because Chinese agriculture is still based around small farms, says Shiping Qin from the Energy Research Institute of National Development and Reform Council. ‘Technically speaking, [the biomass targets are] entirely achievable,’ says Anni Zhu, biological research director of Liuhe Shenzhou Biological Engineering Technology in Beijing. ‘The key is to have strong executive capacity, the means to promote a market environment, strengthen support from the government and eliminate artificial divisions.”

China is now a major consumer and importer of energy, and its choices and policies will increasingly affect the rest of the world. A new paper published in Energy Policy analyses “the key features of China’s energy policy as it faces the prospect of possible challenges to its energy security given the increasing reliance on fuel imports and the need to transform its energy to meet the requirements of a modern, fast-growing economy”.  A recent articled published in Energy Policy, concludes that both the domestic and international implications of China’s search for energy security will confront policymakers with hard choices that will affect not only energy policy, but also China’s geopolitical grand strategy.

A new gasifier coming up:

Additionally, in recent days, Alter NRG Corp. has announced that Wuhan Kaidi, which purchased a Westinghouse Plasma gasifier design, and plasma torch systems, from Alter NRG in 2010, has successfully completed the commissioning of the unit at its demonstration facility in Wuhan, China.  Westinghouse Plasma is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alter NRG that licenses and sells the Westinghouse Plasma technology solutions worldwide.

The Westinghouse plasma gasification unit is designed to take approximately 100 tons per day of biomass waste and convert it into clean syngas. The clean syngas is then to be converted into diesel fuel and other transportation fuels at the Kaidi facility.  The demonstration facility is the first instance of a broader business plan being implemented by Kaidi to convert waste biomass in central China into clean, renewable energy utilizing the Westinghouse Plasma technology.  Under the contract, Alter NRG has access to operational data from the Kaidi facility.

A new Study (2013) of forest based bioenergy pointed out many constraints:

Forest-based bioenergy is gaining global popularity due to its multiple benefits and increased global energy needs. In this study, the current status of forest-based bioenergy in China was reviewed and the opportunities and challenges were analyzed. The latest national development plan for forest-based bioenergy was also discussed. It can be concluded from the study that forest-based bioenergy is still in the beginning stage in China but will grow rapidly in the next decade due to abundant resources and strong government support. However, there are major constraints that need to be addressed including unstable feedstock supply, low market interest and investments, inadequate R&D, and competition from other forest products. The national development plan sets up a mid-term goal for developing forest-based bioenergy but more supporting policies are required to guarantee its successful implementation.

The distribution of planned major feedstock supply bases in China. The current forest cover rate of each province is also shown for reference.

See full publication here.

The total potential including the energy of 6.4 EJ from the proposed low-input high-diversity (LIHD) grassland biomass on the untilled lands for the base years 1996 is equal to about 30.2% of China’s energy consumption in 2008. Furthermore it is projected that sustainable biomass use for energy will reduce net emissions of green house gases (GHG) of 3276.7 million tonnes, and help in emission-reduction target of China and the world.

A fresh (Feb. 2013) cost analysis publication in the journal “Applied Energy” of straw-based power generation in Jiangsu Province, China

As one of the most developed provinces in China, Jiangsu Province has been actively developing bio-energy in order to deal with its electricity supply shortage. By the end of 2010, there are 12 grid-connected straw-based power plants, but only two of them are profitable in this province. A recent publication presented a simple and detailed method for estimating the cost of straw-based power generation with life cycle analysis, and identified the main causes for the financial deficit of these plants through a sensitivity analysis and survey. It concludes that: (i) compared with coal-fired power generation, the cost of straw-based power generation is indeed high. (ii) The fuel cost takes the largest share in the operation cost. (iii) The basic causes of the high cost are from straw characteristics, mismatch between demand and supply, immature technology, inappropriate project planning and low motivation of farmer selling straw. Based on the basic causes, they propose the counter measures.

Chart by dim sums using data from China Ministry of Agriculture

Complete article can be found here.

Other recent developments: China-based Sino Bioenergy has completed a transaction to own a controlling stake in Huizhou Biotech.

As informed by bioenergyconnect, Sino has spent $13.5 million (€10.1 million) to acquire a 55% stake in the research company, which will produce around 3,000 tonnes of rice as biomass feedstock a year. ‘This is a significant acquisition that will start producing profit immediately for us,’ says Sino CEO Daniel McKinney. ‘We will have our own significant source of feedstock for refuse-derived waste products and fuel for the China market. With our patents behind this technology, we will anticipate being able to expand our production at Huizhou by 50% per year.’ Huizhou currently works over 380 hectares of farm land but this is set to expand to 1,334 in 2013 as both companies aim to rise feedstock figures to approximately 12,000 tonnes of biomass feedstock.