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World’s first coal-to-ethanol plant goes onstream in China

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China has successfully brought onstream the world’s first demonstration plant that converts coal into ethanol, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced with much fanfare last Friday, after seven years of research.

Located at Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum in China’s Shaanxi province, the demonstration plant went onstream in January. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in Liaoning province and Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum jointly developed the technology using coal-based syngas as raw material, using a non-precious metal catalyst, to produce anhydrous ethanol.

The plant has the capacity to produce more than 100,000 metric tonnes of ethanol per year. By 2020, China plans to build a plant that can produce 1 million tonnes of ethanol annually.

“Most countries produce ethanol using food, such as corn or sugar cane, but this is not a viable option for China given its massive population,” said Liu Zhongmin, the institute’s deputy director.

“By turning China’s abundant coal resources into ethanol, the technology will help safeguard our energy and food security,” Liu said.

China’s target is to produce 5 million tonnes of ethanol under the twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). The country currently produces less than half of this target, according to 2015 data, the latest available data, from the Renewable Fuels Association.

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