Bioenergy, Hydropower, Project Development

China Focuses on Biomass Development

“Biomass energy has become the fourth most important energy source worldwide and one of the world’s best renewable energies, and, as a result, it behooves China to develop this energy.”

These were the opening remarks by Professor Shi Yuanchun, a leading academician at both the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering as well as one of the chief sponsors of China’s biomass engineering strategy. Shi was speaking at the China Science & Technology Museum during the opening of a China Biomass Energy Exposition. The exhibit was co-sponsored by the China New Energy Chamber of Commerce (CNECC). 

Shi explained that since biomass energy is renewable, clean and environmentally friendly and derived from organic raw materials like animals, plants and microorganisms as well as their discharges and wastes, it is an ideal solution for China’s rural farmers. He said that biomass is convenient to store and transport, abundant in supply and, when turned into energy, produces zero carbon dioxide emissions.

A renewable energy development strategy report released by the Chinese Academy of Engineering indicated that biomass energy capacity in China is twice that of hydropower and 3.5 times that of wind power. With the vast majority of China’s arable farmland situated in and near the high energy consuming coastal areas of eastern China, if biomass development was fully capitalized it would be equivalent to the energy in 1.2 billion tons of coal, which is more than 1.3 times the entire country’s annual energy consumption.

In addition, producing energy from biomass is a highly efficient method for dealing with the various organic wastes and discharges.

China produces over 700 million tons of straw every year of which 150 million tons is simply set on fire in the fields, wasting a renewable resource and adding to the country’s air pollution. A 30-MW straw-fired power plant, however, could consume all the straw that would otherwise simply go to waste. It could also potentially deliver 50 million yuan (approx. $7.6 million) in revenue to the county’s farmers over the lifetime of the plant. CO2 emissions from straw-fired power plants are just 1% of a coal-fired power plant, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tons.

Wastes from forest residue, straw and urban greenery can also be used to produce solid biomass particles that can be used for heating instead of coal or oil-fed boilers. This method reduces nitrogen dioxide emissions by 95% and carbon dioxide by 99%. Every year in China, 700 million tons of coal is consumed by small and medium sized boilers, accounting for up to 50% of all nitrogen dioxide released by the country’s various energy sources.

In addition to biomass for heat and power, biofuels are viewed as the most feasible alternative liquid fuel. Ten Chinese provinces currently blend gasoline with 10% ethanol. Currently the Chinese ethanol market produces 1.7 million tons of the liquid fuel each year.

During the coming five to ten years, China plans to use biomass energy in solid, liquid, and gas form to replace part of the coal, oil and gas that it now consumes. Zhang Guobao, vice chairman at the National Development and Reform Commission and director at the National Energy Administration, said that the country plans to adjust its coal-centered energy structure and increase the proportion contributed by clean energy.