Out of concern for food prices and security, China will focus on the development of non-food fuel ethanol under the principle of not occupying arable land, not consuming large amounts of food, and not damaging the ecological environment. This is the information obtained by the reporter at the “China Biofuel Ethanol Industrialization Development Strategy Seminar” held on the 9th.

The parties concerned have pointed out that the recent rise in food prices in the international market, in addition to the factors of food production, but also because of the United States and some other countries to develop corn ethanol industry, resulting in an increase in the corn production and demand gap. Our government has given great attention to this.

At the seminar on the 9th, the reporter learned that this year in some of China’s major corn-producing areas, corn prices rose 420 yuan per ton. According to the analysis of the National Development and Reform Commission, on the one hand, this is because after the reform of the grain distribution system, the surplus grain in the hands of farmers can be freely traded according to the market price fluctuations. On the other hand, with the rapid expansion of corn deep processing industrial capacity, the growth rate exceeds the level of growth in corn production, which objectively also stimulates the rise in corn prices.

It is reported that China’s corn production in 2021 is 273 million tons, fuel ethanol production of 2.85 million tons. Three of the fuel ethanol manufacturers with corn as raw material actually consumed 2.72 million tons of corn, accounting for 2% of the total production. According to a previous report by Xinhua News Agency, some time ago some places on the fuel ethanol project enthusiasm, to biofuel ethanol and other names proposed the intention to build capacity has exceeded 10 million tons.

On June 7 this year, the State Council executive meeting to consider and adopt in principle “renewable energy medium and long-term development plan”. Which pointed out that the development of renewable energy “shall not occupy arable land, shall not consume a large amount of food, shall not damage the ecological environment.” Experts believe that the “three shall not” principle further specifies the direction of the future development of fuel ethanol. Biofuel ethanol production as a national strategic initiatives, in the “Eleventh Five-Year” period will adhere to the “local conditions, non-food-based”, focusing on supporting the development of non-food industries such as potatoes, sweet sorghum and fiber resources.

A government official at the seminar revealed that in addition to the existing four enterprises to produce ethanol from grain, no longer approved new projects. Including the existing four, but also to gradually switch to non-food. “One thing is clear, that is, the development of non-food-based alternatives to non-food.”

Relying on non-food raw materials to develop fuel ethanol, some experts believe that in the near to medium term mainly with potatoes and sweet sorghum crops as raw materials to achieve commercial production, the direction of long-term development is cellulosic ethanol. This is the most ideal material, but at present in the technical difficulties have not been completely solved, there is still a distance from commercial production.

COFCO has built a cassava-based fuel ethanol production base in Guangxi, with a capacity of 200,000 tons, and is expected to get a production license by early next year to become the first cassava fuel ethanol manufacturer. Dr. Li Shizhong of Tsinghua University introduced that for potatoes, the main thing now is to improve the technology and solve the sewage treatment method. Also on the planting side need to improve the yield and use wasteland. At present, China has about 10 million tons of potato production potential. In the “Eleventh Five-Year” period can form 2 million tons of fuel ethanol supply capacity.

As for sweet sorghum, this crop is drought-resistant, can grow in saline land, the 13 northern provinces and regions have 143 million acres of saline land, planting potential is relatively large, the production potential can reach 20 million tons. It is understood that the inclusion of the national 863 program for the production of fuel ethanol with sweet sorghum quality varieties have been developed successfully at the beginning of this year.

China has been using grain and sorghum brewing technology since ancient times, but into large-scale industrial production technology is not perfect. COFCO cooperated with Guangxi Light Industry Research Institute to conduct experiments on sweet sorghum liquid fermentation, taking a similar sugar cane molasses fermentation process to produce ethanol; in addition, COFCO cooperated with Tsinghua University and the Wuyuan County government in Inner Mongolia to conduct experiments on solid-state fermentation of fuel ethanol. A comparison of several methods is also underway.

Based on the principle of “no land consumption”, experts believe that potatoes and sweet sorghum are still only transitional products for fuel ethanol, and in the long run still rely on agricultural waste, that is, straw and other cellulose manufacturing fuel ethanol.

The production of cellulosic fuel ethanol from corn stover, wood chips and other agricultural wastes is known as the second generation of fuel ethanol technology, which is still a worldwide problem, the key lies in the enzyme technology and how to reduce production costs. Some people even said, “Whoever masters the cellulosic ethanol production technology, who will be able to occupy the high ground in the future biofuel ethanol industry.”

The reporter learned in the Ministry of Science and Technology, the national 863 plan major project “cellulose waste ethanol technology” to achieve important results. The subject to develop independent intellectual property rights from biomass waste to liquid fuel process as the goal, engineering and supporting research. A demonstration project for the production of fuel ethanol from cellulosic waste has been completed, with an annual production capacity of 600 tons of ethanol.

On the other hand, since last year, COFCO and the world’s largest enzyme company, Novozymes, Denmark, have invested in a plant in Heilongjiang to jointly carry out industrialized experiments of manufacturing fuel ethanol from corn straw. Novozymes president Li SiGe introduced, cellulosic ethanol is currently Novozymes’ largest R & D project, R & D center is located in China, but the company’s global laboratory has more than 100 R & D staff are serving this project. The new enzyme developed by Novozymes can break down cellulose in plants into fermentable sugars and further convert it into ethanol, and its large-scale industrial application will bring about fundamental changes in fuel ethanol production raw materials and conversion technology.

COFCO and Novozymes have signed a three-year contract to invest 50 million yuan in Heilongjiang, said the company’s director. It is expected to start a 10,000-ton cellulose industrial demonstration unit this year. From the current pilot situation, there is still a lot of room for improvement in water consumption, energy consumption and steam consumption indicators.

Li SiGe revealed that cellulosic ethanol is expected to be commercially produced within three to five years. “If it can be successfully achieved, it will be the first cellulosic ethanol producer in the world.” He believes this goal is entirely possible because “China has abundant resources of agricultural residues and labor resources compared to its U.S. competitors.”