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Chinese Bio-energy Industry Lacks an Efficient Way to Collect Cellulosic Resources

Summary: Although China is enriched in cellulosic biomass resources, it is difficult for domestic bio-energy enterprises to collect these resources efficiently and economically nowadays.

Tags: bio-energy, cellulosic biomass, cellulosic, methane, biomass moulding fuel, biodiesel, COFCO, cellulosic liquid fuel, cellulosic ethanol, bio-based chemical, National Bio-energy Group,

July 11, 2011, CCM - China has abundant supply of cellulosic biomass resources used for producing various kinds of bio-energy, but by now, it is difficult for domestic bio-energy enterprises to collect these resources efficiently and economically due to irregular distribution of these resources around the country, according to CCM’s July Issue of Industrial Biotechnology China News. In China, the cellulosic biomass resources mainly include various kinds of stock or straw (like from corn, wheat, rice and cotton), other agricultural residues and forestry residues. But actually, because some technical defects hinder the cellulosic resources to be transformed into fermentable raw materials, which can be further utilized by microbial fermentation processes to produce various kinds of bio-based chemicals, most cellulosic resources can only be simply burned up or processed to generate bio-energy. At present, the cellulosic resources are reused to produce three major kinds of bio-energy in China, namely electricity, methane and biomass moulding fuel (BMF). Among them, bio-based electricity has the best. National Bio-energy Group Co., Ltd. (National Bio-energy Group) is the largest bio-based power generation enterprise in China. Facing the problem of how to collect cellulosic materials efficiently, National Bio-energy Group has established 26 branches and has another 10 branches being under construction, and all these branches are located in the regions where are rich in cellulosic resources. These branches will set up purchasing stations, which will purchase the agricultural residues periodically as their cellulosic resources are from farmers nearby. This approach can largely shorten the distance between production sites and raw material supply sites, and thus cutting down the logistic costs. In fact, many other bio-energy producers adopt this way to utilize cellulosic resources efficiently. However, the service scope of a purchasing station for cellulosic resources generally covers the distance only within a small county, combined that the cellulosic resources are irregularly scattered all over the rural areas in China, so there are still tremendous cellulosic resources unable to be collected and reused over there. Generally, most of these left cellulosic resources are burnt up by farmers right on their fields, which will generate environmental pollution. It is reported that 70% of cellulosic resources are still awaiting further exploitation in China, which also has enormous commercial opportunities for enterprises to utilize these resources. Professor Qu, an expert in Environmental Microbiology from State Key Laboratory of Microbial Technology, affiliated to Shandong University, expressed that currently the lack of cost-efficient collection of cellulosic resources is still the major obstacle hindering domestic bio-energy enterprises from making full use of them, and there is still no effective way to tackle this problem.

He added that actually many places in the world are also facing with the same problem as China. But compared with many developed countries, China is still much superior thanks to its much lower labour cost, resulting from the large population in the rural areas. In this case, enterprises in China will cost much less to hire people to collect the needed resources. Also, this act will be encouraged by local governments because it can effectively increase farmers' income in rural areas. According to Professor Qu, some cellulosic bio-energy types, like methane and BMF mentioned above, can only be regarded as "transient types" and the trend for cellulosic bio-energy in the future belongs to the cellulosic liquid fuel including cellulosic fuel ethanol and biodiesel. At present, cellulosic fuel ethanol has been under the spotlight of global researchers. In China, many large state-owned enterprises have already joined in the research line. For example, COFCO Corporation (COFCO) has signed an agreement with China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) and Novozymes to jointly produce fuel ethanol from corn stalk since early 2009. And it is expected that cellulosic ethanol will emerge on domestic market by late 2012. It can be predicted that when cellulosic ethanol can be commercialized on a large scale in the future, the relevant logistics transportation of cellulosic resources will be gradually improved and mature. The regions where cellulosic resources are more concentrated and are equipped with better transportation facilities, might probable become hotly contested spots for bio-energy enterprises to set up their plants there. The once-neglected resources like corn stalk or wheat straw might become very short in these regions.

Source: Industrial Biotechnology China News July 2011

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Chinese Bio-energy Industry Lacks an Efficient Way to Collect Cellulosic Resources