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China Targeting Growing Biofuels 12x by 2020; 15% of Transportation Fuels

China is planning on a surge in biofuels, especially biodiesel. Click to enlarge.

China, already the world’s third largest ethanol producer, is planning on a dramatic expansion of its production and use of biofuels for transportation from about 1 million tonnes of ethanol and biodiesel in 2005 to 12 million tonnes in 2020. Twelve million tonnes of biofuels would represent about 15% of the transportation fuel pool in 2020.

In China, diesel consumption is twice that of gasoline. Therefore, of that 12 million tonnes of biofuels, China wants biodiesel to represent 8 million (about 2.4 billion gallons US), according to a recent report by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. With biodiesel production in 2005 at only 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes (30 million to 60 million gallons) that represents at least 3,900% growth in 15 years.

Chinese consumption of diesel and gasoline. Click to enlarge.

In 2005, China produced 920,000 tonnes of ethanol, 80% of that from corn. This year, corn is expected to provide 90% of the feedstock. Industrial consumption of corn in China represents 20% of the total corn demand, and of that, ethanol production accounts for 40%. The expansion of ethanol production to 4 million tonnes by 2020 would force China to become an importer of corn, absent a role for other feedstocks or production processes, according to the report.

The USDA report notes that sugarcane, sugar beets and wheat are unlikely feedstocks for the Chinese ethanol industry, although sorghum and cassava have potential. The ethanol industry will look long-term to cellulosic ethanol.

Generally, cellulosic ethanol is not commercial viable, but China will test this with the first cellulosic ethanol production plant up and running by 2008. [Earlier post.] When viable, in China, most production plants will retrofit current ethanol production plants for lignocellulose production.

Although the potential demand for biodiesel in China is enormous—as is reflected in the goal for 2020—China’s primary difficult it the lack of eligible feedstocks.

China is a net importer in all the major edible vegetable oils, the largest importer in the world. Coupled with the lack of fatty organic matter, the lack of land upon which new crops could grow exacerbates the difficulty of biodiesel production.

...Biodiesel’s future in China relies on three key factors:

  1. Government support and NDRC defining a clear plan for expansion, not only for biodiesel production, but also for the harvesting of NGB crops.

  2. Research and development to solidify technologies for production.

  3. Defining and obtaining key organic sources for production. Potentials inputs include rapeseed, Jatropha nuts, switchgrass, sunflower seeds, Chinese pistachio, peanuts, sesame seeds, Barbados nuts, Fufang vines, Yousha bean, and Chinese dogwood nuts.

Rapeseed, the report notes, is a promising oilseed for biodiesel and is a potential source of biodiesel production for China. If rapeseed were planted during the off-season in the more than 29 million hectares left fallow in the central region of China (in the regions surrounding the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, and the Huai River) the harvest could produce more than 18.5 million MT of biodiesel.

China is also exploring Jatropha and Chinese pistachios, other oil plants, for potential biodiesel sources.

Biofuel development will impact on food self-sufficiency and food security, which has slowed the Chinese government’s development of the biofuel sector...If ethanol production remains as profitable as it is at present, the cultivation of crops for ethanol could displace food crops, reducing food production.

...If biofuel production and consumption continues in China, China may soon see a change in its trade balance. Already there has been a change in trade trends in biofuel feedstock such as corn, wheat, sugar, and cassava. China’s corn exports will begin to diminish, and various industry sources predict that China will become a net corn importer by 2008.



christopher nichols

If we would remember Hemp is a viable alternative to all these seeds, we would see that is the best answer.


China is buying lots of gasification for coal and perhaps biomass in the future. It would be good if both India and China could become more CO2 neutral with biomass gasification.

allen Z

My 2 cents:
Algae oil/biomass production supplemented with scrubbed combustion powerplant CO2 exhaust. Car pool/mass transit/rail-barge expansion. Many rivers in the PRC used to have medium and large river freighters. They have slowly disappeared in the last 25 years. Some of it was due to extensive overusage of riverwater, while in other cases trucks became cheaper/more prevalent.

sjc sick

to sjc:
and thats why we will use sooner or later hydrogen :)

then we don't depend only on biomass but also nuclear, wind, thermal sun energy, fotovoltaics or natural gas

its like globalization,
we distribute the risk on multiple sources ...

i know why peakoilers and technofix pessimists are so extremely against hydrogen, because they simply elminate every problem with energy forever

barry hanson

The numbers from the article indicate that the biodiesel production would be 78 gallons of bio-diesel per acre of land. At five tons of biomass per acre a minimum of 375 gallons of, say, butanol could be produced at a lower production cost per gallon. Why would one want to produce bio-diesel?


barry hanson,
The 78 gallons per acre you site are from conventional crop yields including soy or rapeseed. They have yields up to 115 gallons an acre. Palm oil, possibly grown in subtropical/tropical PRC, will yield 600+ gallons an acre. Algae oil/biomass operations can yield 5,000 gallons an acre. This can increased to over 10,000 gallons an acre, possibly to 20,000+ ga/acre. Supplementation of CO2 and plenty of sun year round will help it along.
___As for ethanol/butanol from plants, BTL could do this. Another source could be sweet sorghum. It stands up to hot, dry environments better than many other crops. It uses less water (vs corn and sugar beet), higher energy balance (3-6+) and yields be gallons per acre (400-600 ga ethanol/acre, with 900 ga/acre possible). Butanol could have similar/better BTU yields. The main problem is yield per ton (not acre) of raw stalks. It is worse corn or sugar beet in this respect. Either local/mobile fermenters/processors will be needed to keep the haul distance to the them as low as possible, or farmers need to ahve some sort of crusher/juicer/extracter to get the sweet liquid to be fermented.


Many highly intelligent people who have taken a very careful look at the problems are - of the opinion - that Hydrogen will not likely, ever become a suitable fuel for automotive transportation.

The reasons are many and varied. Before swallowing whole all the BS put out by those with an axe to grind, I wouuld suggest that one take a long careful look at all of the problems involved.

If you have solutions for them, I suspect you will shortly become a very rich man.


That way, the leftover straw/material could be used as forage/soil erosion inhibitor-carbon enrichment cover. The freight cost (transport from farm to processor) will also be lower.
___Algae oil/biomass would also benefit from waste heat from power plants to dry the algae oil before processing.
_Here are some links:


>Many highly intelligent people who have taken a very
>careful look at the problems are - of the opinion - that
>Hydrogen will not likely, ever become a suitable fuel for
>automotive transportation.

This is the conclusion I have reached. It amounts to a last-gasp technical attempt at a fix to maintain the status quo. There may be niche markets here and there where hydrogen makes sense, but not for basic transportation for the masses.

People seem to at least be somewhat more optimistic about all-electric cars, or at least plug-in hybrids as a transitional vehicle. At least there one can kind of see a transition path to fully renewable energy.


eric - I have done a lot of study, in an attempt to make up my mind about pure electric cars. I just can't seem to accumulate enough information that decides the case one way or the other.

I remain on the fence for now.

I do have a serious bias. I remain convinced that a small turbo-charged biodiesel engine driving a generator, only when needed to recharge the battery, is currently the way to go. You would use PHEV but not be limited to a few miles.

The use of modern materials and techniques to make a very light vehicle and AWD by computer controlled, (external rotor) electric motors would complete the package.

It can be done today. It should have been done thirty years ago.



I agree fully. But I also agree that putting all eggs in one basket (ie supporting only one alternative) is a mistake...look at us now.


I like SNG as a biofuel. You can make more than 100 therms per ton of biomass and deliver it by NG pipelines. You can use it for buildings, homes, industry and cars. Seems like a very multiuse fuel with good conversion efficiency, CO2 neutral and clean.


Regarding biodiesel, I have to confess that I use it myself on a daily basis. The problem with it that I see is one of scalability (and these questions apply to all biofuels). How do you get enough of the stuff to replace the fuel we currently use today? You run into problems with crop yields, insufficient number of acres of arable land, need to use chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas these days) to maintain high crop yields, and the food vs. fuel debate. And I haven't mentioned problems involving aquifers depletion, topsoil depletion, and the desertification that arises from attempts to till poor quality soils. Given these sorts of problems, I just don't see biofuels being any kind of a long-term solution. The limits appear to be fairly fundamental, and the numbers suggest that this is a dead end as a long term solution.

Electric certainly isn't a slam dunk, at least for cars (electrified rail is clearly easier - for that case it should be pretty easy to convince people that there are no technical hurdles at all - just a matter of taking the trouble to actually do it).

The thing with electric cars is that you don't run into the scalability problems. We could generate sufficient electricity from renewable sources to do the job, should we wish to go down that road. The problem is always one of storage, speed and range. These problems might or might not get solved - if they aren't, then what we will be left with is gasoline that is so expensive that a regular gas car is no longer practical. Were this to happen, people would face stark choices - people will can use an electric car with more limited range, ride a bicycle, or take mass transit.


Biomass gasification can make NH3 for nitrogen fertilizer. You just use the NG out of the pipe like always and replace as much using SNG as you can over time. 50 million acres are planted in switchgrass in the US to preserve soil. That could generate more than 30 billion therms of SNG...and that is just prairie grass. You have corn stalks, rice straw, wheat straw, other ag wastes and forest product waste. There is an estimated 1.3 billion tons of biomass that can be used each year in the US. At 100 gallons equivalent per ton, that is one heck of a lot of fuel.


Very interesting discussion.

I'm in the camp that says the hydrogen economy just won't happen. I'm not a chemist or thermodynamics expert, but my take is its just an energy carrier and it takes too much energy to get it into a usable state for automotive use. A fuel cell is really cool, and they'll be economically viable sometime, but not the H2.

Battery electric in the long run, HEVs in the short run. Of course, Mr. Fusion was a sweet engine in "Back to the Future."

Somebody mentioned electric rail - hey, that's just a series HEV - diesel genset and electric traction. And boy, are they smooth! Lucas has good ideas.

Eric, you mentioned storage, speed, and range as three problems. Really, there's only one: storage. Speed isn't a problem - today's electric traction motors are good up to autobahn speeds. Range is the same as storage. (It just occured to me that maybe you mean speed of recharge - if so, I agree, but lump that in with storage).

Unfortunately, storage is a darned tough problem.

Bio-fuels are key to save us from each other when the fossil-fuels run out.



We currently use something like 120 billion gallons of gasoline every year, and about 60 billion gallons of diesel every year. Just for the U.S. alone. And keep in mind that the energy density of ethanol is lower than that for gasoline or diesel, so a gallon to gallon comparison isn't entirely valid. All told, this biomass won't be sufficient to replace all of the fuel we currently use.

At 100 gallons per ton of fuel, you would have to take care in that the fuel required to harvest and transport the grass to the processing plant is significantly less than 100 gallons per ton. In other words, shipping the stuff long distances to huge processing plants might not be feasible.

The other point about switchgrass that I wanted to make. As things currently stand, the switchgrass dies at the end of the year, and the plants decompose and the nutrients go back into the soil. The following spring new switchgrass begins to grow and uses those same nutrients. Now if we start to harvest switchgrass to make fuel, then those nutrients are effectively being removed, so it isn't clear to me that the high projected annual yields can be sustained.


Interesting points, Eric. The big picture is always more complicated than folks allow.

Does your 100 gallons/ton include some kind of overhead or raw material number? I think a gallon of refined gas is only 6 lbs, diesel about the same.



Eric - a question: what renewables are you considering will be able to generate enough electricity to electrify our fleet? What assumptions are you making?

I agree its the best way to go, I'm just not sure renewables will be sufficient or practical. Nuclear would be nice, though. Either way it will take a long time and be expensive to install the capacity. But then again, it won't be required overnight.



To those of you who think electric cars are limited: (most people travel less than 29 miles a day) the price on similar cars will come down as the technology matures and an economy of scale is built. Using electricity from wind and solar eliminates all the problems associated with depletion of soil, depletion of water and transportation problems. Like one of my earlier posts enough electricity to drive this electric economy is already available:

in words:Bob Liden, SES executive vice president and general manager, says solar electric generation dish arrays are an option for power in parts of the country that are sunny like New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada. They could be linked together to provide utility-scale power. A solar dish farm covering 11 square miles hypothetically could produce as much electricity per year as Hoover Dam, and a farm 100 miles by 100 miles in the southwestern U.S. could provide as much electricity as is needed to power the entire country.

By the way utility companies in CA are already building these. We just need the vision of those who are not corrupted by oil giants and GM. this technology is here and now and utilizes the most renewable resource in the solar system: the sun.
Spelled out simply: Instead of paying billions upon billions for oil wars and special interests. Invest in electric cars for 95% of the population invest in wind and solar renewables and the electric grid. Biodiesel for freight and heavy trucks and voila problems solved. It seems so simple doesn't it?


Harvey D.


I'm with you. Clean electricity from hydro-wind-sun-waves (and possibly some nuclear too) for all our energy needs is the most sustainable and common sense way to phase out of OIL-GAS-COAL and reduce GHG.

However, much more has to be done to improve and lower the cost of on-board energy storage devices, especially batteries and super-capacitors.

PHEVs may be required for some applications and during the transition period (10 to 15 years) or until such time as storage devices are more performant and sufficiantly mass produced to reduce cost.


>Spelled out simply: Instead of paying billions upon
>billions for oil wars and special interests. Invest in
>electric cars for 95% of the population invest in wind
>and solar renewables and the electric grid. Biodiesel for
>freight and heavy trucks and voila problems solved. It
>seems so simple doesn't it?

Well said.

Actually it can be even simpler. You can use electrified rail for long-distance freight hauling. In fact the trends right now seem to be going back to using rail for freight as fuel costs are killing long-distance truckers. We can save the biodiesel for the farmers to drive their tractors.


Let me expand upon the question of what renewables are out there. There are actually a considerable number of options, each one has it's own characteristics and limitations.

I am sure that as most of you know, wind power is already economical, and turbines are being erected as fast as they can be built. There is the problem of variability of wind - the Danes estimate that they can get to about 20% of their electricity from wind without destabilizing the electrical grid, but nobody is really sure about this when you apply it over a much larger area. If it becomes problematic, then for the purposes of load balancing, one could I suppose generate hydrogen and then ammonia to make fertilizer.

Solar has the main limitation that you only get electricity when the sun is up, but not all designs have this limitation. There was a pilot plant built in Arizona, I think where the sun was used to heat liquid sodium, and the heated liquid sodium was stored in large insulated tanks. Power was generated using standard steam turbines - thus you could effectively 'store' solar energy and provide it to the grid after sundown.

There are many other such ideas out there. Geothermal, tides, waves. The main limitation is economic right now - electricity from coal is too cheap right now for most of these to compete. When we finally get serious about dealing with global warming in a meaningful way, then these ideas will finally be dusted off and used.

allen Z

Algae oil/biomass production has sevral other advantages:
a) It may be used to sequester CO2, possibly (especially if projects built on the scale to completely replace fossil energy are built) to the extent that we may manipulate global CO2 levels.
b) Absorbtion of agricultural runoff, like in the Salton Sea, are possible. The algae will use up the excess nitrogen and minerals (pesticides will be dealt with via planting methods).
c) Food for aquaculture, and for animal feed. High quality and purity material could be introduced for human consumption. Forage (from corn to rye to soy, etc) currently grown could be partially replaced by this.

allen Z

Unless we have some sort of massive storage system and more high voltage power lines, it would serve only for:
a) peak, daytime loads
b) western US, and maybe the Texas Interconnect.
___That said, it may be time for US to invest in new transmission lines anyway. HVDC or 3phase HVAC would be the way to go. Additionally, a modified OTEC used to cool possible future algae production may produce NaCl (salt), from which we may derive raw material for Sodium batteries. Either that or we might have a run on any material that could be made into batteries; from lead to sulfur to lithium to manganese.


It has been shown that 50% of the biomass can be harvested and still have enough for the soil. The 1.3B tons is the amount that you can harvest. No one said it would replace 140B gallons of gasoline, but replacing the 70% of the oil we import would be a good start.

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