China shifts focus to coal for ethanol production over sugarcane and maize

China has initiated testing of ethanol production using coal instead of traditional food resources such as corn or sugarcane, according to state-run media reports. The plant, situated in southeastern China, boasts an annual production capacity of 600,000 metric tons, making it the world’s largest ethanol-producing facility.

Officials have underscored the aim to tap into the country’s abundant coal resources to produce ethanol, reducing the dependency on vital food sources and curbing the need for fuel imports.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) highlighted the significance of this new production method for China’s food security, energy security, and the chemical industry supply chain. The initiative is seen as a move towards utilizing low-grade coal in the ethanol production process, potentially saving millions of tonnes of grain annually that can be redirected towards food resources.

The technology, known as DMTE, involves producing methanol from coke oven gas, a by-product of coke production using coal. The methanol is then used to generate ethanol, supporting large-scale production from both coal and natural gas. China is reportedly the sole country known to deploy this technology on an industrial scale using fossil fuels.

Despite being the world’s leading coal producer and consumer, China is striving to balance its commitment to coal with environmental concerns. The South China Morning Post reported that in the past year, China produced approximately 2.7 million tonnes of fuel ethanol through the fermentation of aged grain but faced a shortfall of about 10 million tonnes, necessitating imports.

China’s coal-to-ethanol initiative is spearheaded by DICP director Liu Zhongmin, who led the development of the DMTE technology after researching non-crop ethanol production methods since 2010. The DICP has continually upgraded its coal-to-ethanol production line in Shaanxi province, and currently, 13 industrial facilities, including two overseas ones; plan to use DMTE technology, with an ethanol production capacity of 3.95 million tonnes per year, as per the DICP report.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here