WBS: The view of global biofuels from China

By Anna Austin | October 06, 2008
Web exclusive posted Oct. 27, 2008 at 10:22 a.m. CST

The fourth annual World Biofuels Symposium brought together more than 200 attendees from around the world to discuss and share information on new policy and technology in the biofuels industry. The conference, which was held in Beijing on Oct. 19-21, hosted 48 speakers from biofuel technology companies and research institutions from China, Brazil, Scotland, Thailand, Italy, Republic of Ghana, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

"The overall theme of the symposium was the significance in developing a world focus on the sustainability of the production and lifecycle of biofuels," said Travis Hochard, BBI International's agenda development manager. BBI sponsored the conference. "Many speakers found this path to be paved by second generation and advanced biofuels."

While sugarcane ethanol is typically categorized as a first generation biofuel, conference speaker Marcos Jank, president and chief executive officer of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, said he considered Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane to be an advanced biofuel, based on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions achieved and low percentage of arable land used.

Jank pointed out that in Brazil, the equivalent of 25.8 million tons of carbon dioxide were avoided in 2007, on account of its ethanol use. He also insisted that the food versus fuel debate is not an issue for his country—as sugarcane ethanol accounts for only one percent of the arable land in Brazil and reduces the country's gasoline consumption by 50 percent. "This is in a country where gasoline is considered the alternative fuel," Jank said.

Brazil produced 23 billion liters (6.08 billion gallons) of ethanol in 2007, according to Jank, and domestic sales of E100 totaled 1 billion liters (264 million gallons). "This demand is driven by consumer choice—90 percent of new cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel, representing over 25 percent of the fleet," Jank said, adding that another driver for Brazil's success is the mandatory blending of 20 to 25 percent of ethanol into gasoline.

Jank concluded that in the future, Brazil plans to use second generation technologies to convert bagasse and other biomass sources into bioelectricity and other products - such as alcochemicals.

"While Brazil is a net exporter of ethanol, China, along with most of the rest of the world, will have to look toward new technologies for ethanol and other biofuels to become a significant part of its fuel supply," Hochard said, referencing speaker Xiaohui Wang, director and senior analyst of the market monitoring division of China Grains and Oils Information Center.

Wang provided an analysis of the Chinese agriculture and food supply, which demonstrated that while Chinese agriculture products will continue to increase yields and efficiency, the lack of water and arable land will limit China's future in grain output.

"With a rising population and increased standard of living, we must ask who will feed the Chinese people in the future," Wang said. "To achieve this goal the Chinese government has implemented policies that will improve yields, increase storage supply and restrict uses for arable land."

"Based on this information, one can easily conclude that the potential for grain based biofuels in China are limited," Hochard said. "It is for that reason that speaker Yue Guojun said the China Nation Cereals, Oils, and Foodstuffs Corp. (COFCO) is focusing its researching efforts on cellulosic ethanol projects."

Yue Guojun is assistant president of COFCO, a producer of 820,000 tons of biomass annually for approximately half of the ethanol projects in China. "Our demand for cellulose is more than in the United States," Guojun said. "With the development of biomass technologies, we have a goal to produce two million tons of biomass ethanol by 2010, and 10 million tons by 2020."

Corn and wheat are laying the foundation for non-grain ethanol in China, Guojun added. "The second stage will include sweet potato and sweet sorghum, which is still considered a grain, but will provide a transition period. The future of ethanol in China lies in cellulose."

Other topics at the World Biofuels Symposium included biodiesel and byproducts technology, future biodiesel feedstocks, low carbon fuel policy development, ethanol feedstocks and enzyme technologies, cleaner energy vehicles, biofuels policy and marketing, plant optimization and biorefining.

The conference concluded with a tour of Guangxi COFCO Bio-energy Co. Ltd's 17 MMgy Cassava ethanol plant. Located in Beihai, China, it's tagged as the country's first fuel ethanol plant based on a non-grain feedstock.