China stops Liquid Coal, changes ethanol

The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) looks to have just taken major decisions related to CTL and biofuels, ones that could have major impact on future energy (and pollution) developments there.

Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) / Liquid Coal is currently a major rage, with significant CTL subsidies being considered in the Senate. There were grand plans for CTL not just in the United States, but even more so in the PRC.

We talk about the PRC being far worse on energy policy than the United States and pursuing polluting technoloyg, well this looks to be turning around.

Well, at the same time the United States considers rushing headlong into CTL, the People’s Republic of China might just have cancelled all CTL programs.

Sometimes, when we look, there is good news. There are the companies (and NGOs) getting together to help GREEN our blogging, there are amazing solar developments … there is so much bad news that it can overwhelm us such that we miss good news …

Well, this might be some seriously good news.

The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reports

China, which is rich in coal but poor in petroleum and gas, may put an end to projects which are designed to produce petroleum by liquefying coal, an official with the country’s top economic planning agency has said.

    The consideration came after evaluation of the nation’s limited energy resources and its econological environment, a deputy director of the industry department of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) told a seminar on China’s fuel ethanol development, held in Beijing on Saturday.

According to an acquaintance’s ‘on the fly’ translation of this Chinese news report:

State Council to Halt Coal Liquefaction and Grain Ethanol Projects

CTL is too costly and wasteful; grain ethanol competes with people for grain

At a meeting on renweable energy on Juny 7, the State Council decided that China will halt coal liquefaction and grain ethanol projects currently in progress; under the principles of “not taking up arable land,” “not using grain,” and “not damaging the environment,” China will continue to develop non-grain ethanol.

This is serious … and potentially a quite positive step.

This even includes, I’m told, cancellation of the Shenhua Group’s >$1 billion liquefaction plant that was scheduled to come online this year.

The programs are being cancelled, it looks due to cost and EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested).  

Also, the PRC is increasingly aware of its serious environmental pressures, including questions as to water availability, that influenced this decision.

Now, the breaking is the CTL as the ethanol has already been reported. From a good background discussion on PRC and ethanol, 2005)

As the Chinese government seeks to include even more cities in its ambitious push to embrace ethanol fuel, these projects now face a major setback due to rising grain shortages. Ethanol, blended with gasoline, produces an environmentally friendly vehicle fuel. It is produced from crops such as sugar cane, grain, and cassava, and its use can substantially cut oil demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That “setback” now looks like it might be long-term due to such shortages. As reported by AP:

China is putting a moratorium on projects to make ethanol from corn and other food crops, …. “Food-based ethanol fuel will not be the direction for China,” the Xinhua News Agency quoted Xu Dingming, an official of the National Energy Leading Group, as saying at a weekend energy seminar.

Now, the weird item is a call to move to non-grain based ethanol crops


telling producers to switch to crops not widely eaten in China, such as sorghum, a state news agency reported Monday.

China is promoting ethanol in an effort to reduce reliance on imported oil but worries that demand for raw material could push up food prices and the need for scarce farmland.

Won’t those crops compete with land, water, and other resources with grain crops?

Xinhua is also reporting that the PRC has made advances with methane hydrates.

China said on Tuesday it has successfully excavated combustible ice–a kind of natural gas hydrate–from below the floor of the South China Sea after nine years of research in this field.

Now, there are many reasons to restrain celebration with this news.

  • The PRC does not look to have totally rejected CTL (and biofuels), but a call for a step back to be more sure of the technology before major investment.
  • The methane hydrates mining potentially opens up huge methane resources. If displacing coal power, an improvement, but don’t forget that this is a fossil fuel — and risks methane going directly into the atmosphere (which is far worse than CO2).
  • The PRC is building new coal-burning electricity plants at a breakneck pace … and is set to surpass the United States the US in total emissions before 2010 (perhaps next year) with a continuing significantly upwards glidescope.

In any event, it looks like the PRC has taken some major steps … hopefully steps forward.

Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?


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