Stricter rules on ethanol production

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-21 06:52

The central government is taking further action to control the growth in grain-based ethanol processing.

The move follows an increase in general food prices due to grain being used as a raw material in biofuel processing.

An official paper was issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), to cool down what it called "the overheated and blind" trend of development in ethanol processing.

China produced 1 million tons of ethanol last year. It ranked after Brazil and the United States, as one of the world's major producers.

More than 10 million tons has been produced or is being produced since the beginning of this year,

The demand for ethanol has led to a rise in grain prices which in turn has trigged price rises in other food items.

The NDRC pledged to rein in the development of the ethanol industry by centralizing the approval procedure for all new projects, grain-based or not.

One "fundamental principle" in China's biofuel development, the NDRC said, is to support its production based on non-food vegetation, rather than on such grain items as corn.

Items of non-food vegetation, as defined by the NDRC, are primarily cassava (a plant with starchy roots), sweet sorghum, and other plants with high fibre content.

The NDRC paper will remain the official guideline for the ethanol industry as the central government is still evaluating the nation's pilot projects, and the ethanol development strategy for China's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).

Nine provinces have fuel mixed with 10 per cent ethanol in their gas stations Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, Anhui, Hubei and Hebei.

The Chinese-language press said corn contributes about three-fourths of the raw materials used for ethanol making.

Last year, ethanol production used 16 million tons of corn, a growth of 84 per cent from 2001, while the nation's corn output only grew by 21.9 per cent over the same period. China is expected to produce about 15 million tons of ethanol by 2020.

But if it is entirely, or for the main part, obtained from corn, the industrial demand will threaten the nation's annual supply. Corn production was only about 128 million tons last year.

According to the China National Grain and Oil Information Centre, corn prices in Dalian increased a further 30 yuan (US$3.75) per ton this week, after rising from 1,330 yuan (US$166) to 1,530 yuan (US$191) from late October to earlier November.

But as a result of the government's attempt to cool down the market, "the investment craze will soon be over," said Han Xiaoping, CEO of online energy information website

Zhou Dadi, former director of the Energy Research Institute of the NDRC, said new investments are likely to begin in plants, that produce ethanol, and do not compete with grain supplies and arable land.

(China Daily 12/21/2006 page2)

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