Beijing: China will shift its dependence from corn to sorghum, cassava and sweet potato plants to make biofuel in the next five years, without affecting the food security of the world’s most populous nation.
Part of the government’s efforts to develop biofuel without harming general food supply and security, the shift will ensure a healthy supply of corn, both as food and fodder.
Cassava and sweet potato both are high yield plants, and though edible, they are not used as staple food in China. So their use as raw material, as opposed to that of corn, won’t create any artificial shortage of food products.
Deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission’s industry department, Xiong Bilin said that the conversion of the four major ethanol production centres, which have a combined output of one million tonnes (mt), will neither be too complicated nor costly.
The four plants, along with the newly approved ones, will use sorghum, cassava and sweet potato, all of which have been recommended by scientists as corn substitutes.
China’s efforts to fight global warming will get a boost with the largest ethanol production facility getting the green light, China Daily quoted the official with the country’s top planning body as saying.
The facility in Hengshui in Hebei Province is expected to yield 300,000 tonnes of biof uel, mainly from sweet potato, every year. The government is also likely to approve another ethanol making facility. The unit in Jingmen, Hubei Province, can make 200,000 tonnes of ethanol from sweet potato plants each year.
China plans to double its ethanol production to 2mt a year by 2010, and 10mt by 2020. “Meeting the 2010 target should not be a problem,” Xiong said.
Considering the rising prices of corn and the threat to food security, the Chinese cabinet has ordered the biofuel industry to shift from food to non-food material in mid-June.
The official, however, stressed that irrespective of the raw material used, the country will continue its shift from fossil fuel to ethanol to save energy and fight climate change.
Gas and diesel sold in nine provinces is already mixed with 10% ethanol, reducing China’s dependence on fossil fuel by 1.3mt in 2006. “The country will gradually replace petroleum with ethanol as the main fuel for its chemical industry,” Xiong said.
The government is considering offering a 5% tax rebate to ethanol producers, and some financial subsidies both to the producers and suppliers. For producers, the subsidy is estimated to be more than 1,000 yuan ($130) for every tonne of their product.