Wide use of corn-based ethanol fuel not choice for China: experts

10:58, August 22, 2010      

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Agricultural experts said Saturday it was too early for China to adopt corn-based ethanol fuel to feed automobiles, given the expensive production costs and the country's large population.

Li Xinhua, a professor at Shenyang Agricultural University, said at the sidelines of the ongoing ninth China Changchun International Agriculture and Food Fair that the massive production of corn ethanol could threaten China's food security, especially when the country suffered severe natural disasters.

The lingering drought that parched southwest China early this year, along with the devastating floods that hit most parts of China this summer, raised concerns over the country's grain supplies and stoked the debate whether China should allow the production of ethanol from corn.

With 20 percent of the world's population but only 7 percent of the earth's farmland, the country is facing increasing pressure to feed its population of 1.3 billion, especially as industrialization and urbanization gradually nibbles away at cultivatable farmland.

"I think the time for massive production of corn ethanol will only arrive when China's corn output doubles," he said.

Li's comments came after China's largest membership association of private petroleum enterprises made a proposal in early August to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country's top economic planner, to halt the corn-to-ethanol project of producing alcoholic gasoline.

Zhao Youshan, president of the Petroleum Flow Committee of China General Chamber of Commerce, said such projects should be blamed for the price hikes seen in corn during the first half of the year.

"On one hand, some regions face a decline in grain output. On the other hand, the demand from fuel ethanol producing companies boosted corn prices," he said.

China launched a pilot program in four regions in 2004 to promote its corn-to-ethanol projects, as part of its efforts to cut emissions and advance the development of new energy.

China has a growing appetite for energy to power its economic development and improve people's lives. As more and more Chinese people purchased cars, the demand for fuel soared.

Zhang Yafei, an analyst with Cinda Securities Co., said to produce one tonne of ethanol fuel will consume nearly three tonnes of corns and cost at least 8,000 yuan (1,176 U.S. dollars), while Petrol 93# sells for 7,750 yuan per tonne on the market.

"China has started its mass planting program for cassava and sweet potatoes for industrial use. Probably, the use of non-grain feedstock for ethanol plants will be the solution to China's dilemma in developing renewable energy," Li said.

As the world's major corn producer and consumer, China's annual corn production and consumption both exceed 150 million tonnes.

Source: Xinhua


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