China may entirely switch to non-food materials such as cassva, sweet potato, sorgo and cellulose in producing ethanol fuel as a substitute for petroleum, said a government official.
The country would approve no projects designed to produce ethanol fuel with food from now on, an official of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) told a seminar on China's fuel ethanol development held in Beijing on Saturday.
"Food-based ethanol fuel will not be the direction for China," said Xu Dingming, vice director of the Office of the National Energy Leading Group, who was also at the seminar.
China has been trying to avoid occupation of arable land, consumption of large amount of grain and damages to the environment in developing the renewable energies.
The current four enterprises engaged in producing corn-based ethanol would be asked to switch to non-food materials gradually, according to the NDRC official who declined to be named.
The four enterprises in Jilin, Heilongjiang, Henan and Anhui have a combined production capacity of 1.02 million tons of corn-based ethanol per year.
The country has become a big producer and consumer of ethanol fuel in the world after the United States, Brazil and European Union, according to the NDRC official.
China Oil and Food Corporation (COFCO), the country's largest oil and food importer and exporter, would focus on sorgo in the production of non-food-based ethanol fuel, said Yu Xubo, president of COFCO at the seminar.
COFCO, which owns the Heilongjiang enterprise and has a twenty-percent stake in the Anhui enterprise, aims to produce five million tons of ethanol fuel based on sorgo in the near future.
COFCO is leading the way in developing cellulosic ethanol fuel under a cooperation agreement with Denmark-based Novozymes, which leads the world in researches into the key enzymes needed in large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol.
The current cost for producing ethanol fuel from stalks of corn, which are discarded by farmers, is still too high.
Novozymes is working on the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol both in the United States and China.
"We are optimistic about China's prospect of making it work ahead of the U.S., as the cost of collecting the stalks of corn are much cheaper in China," said Steen Riisgaard, president and CEO of Novozymes.
There is much opposition both in China and in the world to corn-based ethanol fuel, which is believed will lead to higher corn price.