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China Pushes for Nationwide Use of Ethanol Gasoline

By Wu Xiao and Coco Feng
By promoting the use of ethanol biofuels, the government aims to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Photo: IC
By promoting the use of ethanol biofuels, the government aims to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Photo: IC

China has announced 2020 as the starting date for nationwide use of ethanol gasoline in motor vehicles, in a key move to tackle air pollution and reduce excess grain stockpiles.

Ethanol gasoline will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA), which issued the recommendations with 14 other government agencies on Wednesday.

The announcement is seen as an incentive for fuel producers, but does not contain specific requirements. China often takes such an approach to encourage the development of specific industries, while giving companies flexibility to reach certain targets.

A secondary goal was set for 2025: the mass production of cellulose ethanol, a type of biofuel ethanol produced from plant fiber.

Biofuel ethanol is not only a key material for gasoline, but can also serve as a fuel replacement for households. In China, some rural households burn environmentally unfriendly agricultural waste for cooking and heating.

China lags globally in terms of ethanol consumption, especially compared with the U.S., the world’s top biofuel ethanol producer and consumer, and Brazil, which has replaced half of its gasoline consumption with ethanol, according to the NEA.

In China, ethanol gasoline accounts for only 20% of total gasoline use, and is available in only 11 of 34 provincial-level regions.

China began developing ethanol biofuels in the early 2000s, but used grains such as corn as the raw material, which some experts complained would impact grain security and prices. In 2007, the government stopped approving new factories that produce ethanol from corn.

Additionally, concerns that ethanol burns faster than ordinary gasoline may have curbed enthusiasm for the biofuel in China.

When ethanol heats up, it can clog up the inner workings of automobile engines, said Gao Liping, a professor at the School of Mechanical Engineering at the Beijing Institute of Technology. So in the summer, ethanol can cause engines to shut down in some car models.

But in the cooler seasons, and in most car models, safety is not usually an issue, Gao told Caixin.

As for price, there won’t be large gaps between conventional fuel and biofuel because the government will continue to subsidize the more costly ethanol, Gao said.

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

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