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Chinese Academy of Sciences Makes Recommendations for Non-Petroleum Energy Sources; Focus on Electric Transportation and Substitute Fuels
6 March 2007
A panel of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Academic Divisions recently issued a report recommending medium- and long-term development strategies for energy sources that can supplement or substitute for petroleum in China.
The report gauges the future development trends of energy sources both in China and the world, making forecasts on the availability of petroleum resources, demand, and production capacities from 2020 to 2050. It consists of two parts, one on the supplementation and substitution of petroleum fuel and the other on the improvement and substitution of the power systems of transport vehicles.
As the conventional petroleum (“easy” oil) shortage becomes increasingly acute and the crude oil prices keep soaring, the markets for non-conventional petroleum (extra-heavy oil, oil sands and oil-shale) are expected to constantly expand, partly making up for the shortfall.
The report notes the relative abundance of coal and natural gas in China and suggests that their conversion into transportation fuels is now technologically viable and could be competitive when prices of conventional fuels are at the high end of the range.
Other optional substitutes touched on by the report include biomass-based ethanol, methanol, dimethyl ether, biodiesel, synthetic oil and hydrogen.
Of equal significance are innovations in the technology of transport vehicles. The report cites a need to develop energy-efficient vehicles, vehicles using substitute fuels or powered by electricity.
The report makes the following proposals for action over the next five years for the development egarding the development of petroleum substitutes, including fuels from non-conventional oil and coal, natural gas and biomass:
Vigorous prospecting and assessment of China’s oil shale resources.
Deepening the research and development of key technologies that are directly or indirectly associated with liquefaction; supporting demonstration plants with an annual production capacity up to one million tons of substitute fuels using the two technological alternatives—direct (Bergius) and indirect (Fischer-Tropsch)—with a view to gaining experiences for industrial application of the production technologies.
Support the development of cellulosic ethanol production, and support reresearchnto the breeding of fast-growing energy-rich plants in desert and desolate areas that can provide biomass for bioethanol and biodiesel manufacturing. Furthermore, efforts should be made to develop mass production bases for those fuels without the occupation of farmlands.
Continuously promote the industrialization of the production of bioethanol and biodiesel from biomass.
To conserve energy in the transportation and cocommunicationectors, the report proposes:
Promote the adoption of new automobile powertrain systems that are more fuel efficient and can use diverse energy sources. Priority should be given to zero-emission, electric drives. The report states the need to vigorously carry out the research and development of highly efficient, low-cost systems of fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.
The key issues in the application of electric vehicles and its early industrialization lie in the solution to the problems of electric power supply and hydrogen fuel storage on vehicles. To this end, the report says that resources should be pooled to remove the technological bottlenecks such as short service life, high production costs, poor reliability and performance of such systems.
Meanwhile, feasibility studies and large-scale demonstration projects should be conducted on such infrastructure facilities as hydrogen fueling stations and electric vehicle charging stations so as to speed up the industrial development of fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.
Major development of electrified rail transportation. Railway electrification and increased speed of passenger trains are the way of ensuring the dominant position of railways in the communication and transport industry. More efforts should be made to develop urban rail transit systems, with a view to effectively curbing the rapidly increasing number of automobiles used in cities and reduce the per vehicle consumption of oil.
The report notes that introduction of energy-efficient technologies is time consuming and has to be accomplished in well-planned phases. For work over the next five years, it suggests that support should be rendered to the research, development and pilot studies by various sectors in this regard. Initial work should be done on selective basis when putting such technologies to industrial application.
The CAS report states that a prudent approach should be taken toward massive application of such technologies in industrial production in the current R&D phase. Only after “full verification” will it be appropriate for the government to make a major decision to its large-scale industrialization. The report also proposes a key national research program in the field, which should be launched through coordination of the national authorities and implemented continuously under the centralized leadership and management.
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