By Ji Leilei
According to the Twelfth Five-Year Plan for the Development of Biomass Energy, China's annual biomass resources that can be used as fuels equal 460 million tons of standard coal, and currently the amount that has been used equals about 22 million tons standard coals, leaving 440 million tons to be tapped.
Wangzhuang Village of Quzhou County in Hebei Province is probably the first to bid farewell to coal. "Since two years ago, we have stopped using honeycomb coal briquette for heating in winter; instead, we have been using this kind of straw briquette biomass fuel. With quick burning and adequate heat, the biomass fuel is clean and convenient, and can be used for both cooking and heating", villager Wang Huaiyi showed off the new heating equipment.
Manufactured by briquetting cotton straw, corn straw, and wheat straw, the straw briquette biomass fuel is burned using a biomass burner that comes with the product. There is estimation that the biomass fuel can heat up the room more rapidly than coal, and can save the fuel cost of at least RMB 1,600 Yuan a year compared to an annual consumption of about 3 tons of coal. "More importantly, burning biomass straw briquette makes effective use of waste crop straw, and can avoid air pollution caused by burning straw and coal. The environment in the neighborhood is much better now", said Wang Huaizhen, secretary of the CPC branch of the village.
The use of biomass fuel in Wangzhuang Village is only a miniature of Hebei Province's efforts to improve countryside environment and adjust energy mix. In recent years, with the development of agriculture and rural economy, agricultural waste has increased incessantly, resulting in huge amount of excessive crop straws. Besides being returned to the field and used as silage, most straws are burned, causing serious environmental pollution and wasting a lot of resource. Gu Aiyun, chief of the Technology Bureau of Quzhou County, said that: "The purpose of biomass fuel is to save energy and reduce emission, and mitigate the ever intensifying energy shortage problem; this is an effective technology approach to converting excessive straws into valuable products".
Lei Tingzhou, a council member of China Renewable Energy Industry Association, said that China has made significant headway in the diversified use of biomass energy: biomass electricity generation, liquid fuel, fuel gas, and briquette fuel, among other forms; relevant technologies have been progressing continuously, and the industry is becoming well positioned for large-scale development.
Conditions in place, application future promising
At the outset of China's biomass project, some had predicted that 100 billion m3 of biogas, equal to China's total natural gas consumption in 2010, can be produced if household garbage and organic waste can be fully made use of; and if the 690 million tons of gatherable straws every year can be used properly, it can generate biomass electricity equivalent to the capacity of 6 Three Gorges Hydropower Station
China is currently in the middle of rapid industrialization and urbanization. However, high-speed economic growth is leading to ever widening energy gap and grim environmental issues.
Since 2013, many cities in North China had suffered smog weather. Serious air pollution is sounding the alarm for China's "high pollution, high energy consumption, and high emission" industrial growth model. Meanwhile, as China adjusts its energy policy and the "coal to gas" program continues, demand for natural gas has surged drastically, causing the supply-demand gap to widen. It is estimated that from 2015 to 2017 China's total natural gas consumption will amount to 300 billion m3, more than 50 percent of will depending on foreign market.
For this, Shi Yuanchun, a leader of biomass fuel technology, academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, and former professor of Beijing Agricultural University, said that in order to reduce pollutants, particularly the emission of gas pollutants, it is necessary to change the energy mix that focuses on coal, cut the use of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum to the greatest extent possible, and reduce reliance on foreign market; it is now imperative to develop renewable clean energy in China.
As a matter of fact, the high praises on biomass energy is no empty talk but rather valid. According to the China Academy of Engineering Renewable Resources Development Strategy Council Report, China is very rich in biomass energy resources, and biomass energy is an ideal way of effectively using all kinds of organic wastes.
Of course, relevant government departments' great attention to biomass energy in recent years has provided powerful policy support. The Mid to Long-term Development Plan of China's Renewable Energies (2007-2020) published in 2007 sets forth the goals, proposing that by 2020 annual production and use of biomass briquette fuel should reach 50 million tons, use of marsh gas should reach 44 billion m3, the use of biofuel ethanol should reach 10 million tons; the Guiding Catalogue of Industrial Structure Adjustment promulgated by the National Development and Reform Commission states clearly that crop straw briquette fuel and straw fiber fuel ethanol, among others, are listed as encouraged industries to whom key support will be given.
System not yet complete, requiring efforts from all sectors
Renewable resources are still at the initial stage in China; biomass briquette fuel, in particular, is still being studied and developed; it is not easy to collect raw materials, and the level of industrialization, professionalization, and marketization remains low
"Currently speaking, developing biomass energy is an important strategic measure to substitute fossil energies and guarantee energy safety". According to Li Jingming, director of the Renewable Energies Office of Rural Energy & Environment Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, the development of the biomass energy industry will be a sound tactic for China to cope with global warming, solve environmental problems, and ease energy crisis.
"Great difficulty in gathering and storing raw materials is a key element that limits the industrial scale of biomass briquette fuel". Yang Xiaoliang, General Manager of Hebei Tiantai Biomass Energy Development, said that, on one hand, because of low agricultural mechanization level, straws are plentiful and scattered, and the gathering, loading, and transporting of the straws can only be done manually; on the other hand, straws are produced seasonally, the purchase time is short, but the storing period is long. This increases not only storage and transportation difficulty but also the cost of manufacturer.
"Raw materials guarantee ability is the main factor that determines the industrial volume of biomass briquette fuels". Lei Tingzhou, a council member of China Renewable Energy Industry Association, said that to develop the biomass energy industry it is necessary to establish a whole-industry-chain technology system and industrial model from the gathering, storage and pretreatment of raw materials to the production, distribution and application of briquette fuel.
In Lei Tingzhou's view, firstly, local government departments should strengthen raw material management, establish a scientific system for the gathering, transportation, storage, and production of raw material, achieve reasonable connection between production & processing and raw material supply, encourage manufacturing enterprises to establish strategic cooperation relations with individuals or farmers who collect and transport raw materials, and develop an intensive raw materials gathering, storage, and transportation operation model; secondly, government departments should formulate conditional measures limiting or forbidding the use of coal in different regions, improving the consumption percentage of biomass briquette fuel in industrial production and people's life and cultivating a robust, normal, and stable biomass briquette fuel market; besides, government departments should construct a reasonable amount of structurally optimized, clearly arranged standard systems to standardize biomass briquette fuel projects, ensuring the sound and orderly growth of the industry.
In addition, regarding the status quo that most core technologies are in the hand of scientific institutes and not effectively made use of by enterprises, enterprises, advanced educational institutes, and scientific research institutes should strengthen communication and cooperation, make great efforts to research and develop key equipments for purpose like collecting raw materials, improve technology level of companies, and promote the rapid and sound development of the biomass energy industry.