What does the future hold for biogas in China?
Ahead of his presentation at the 1st International Biogas Conference in Athens on 3-4 May, Chris Maloney, Global Head of Organics Diversion at Eisenmann, discusses how biogas has developed in China and its prospects for growth
China was one of the first countries to develop and utilise biogas, and it has now been doing so for almost a century. Simple biogas digesters appeared in the coastal areas of southern China around the end of the nineteenth century, with pioneer Luo Guorui creating the first water-pressure biogas digester in the 1920s in Taiwan.
It was not until the 1970s that the Chinese government first set up measures to extend biogas use to overcome the energy shortage in rural areas, leading to the installation of millions of household biogas tanks. Since the 1980s, the development of biogas infrastructure has been included in the government’s national long-term development programme. Following the implementation of its ‘open and reform’ policy in the 1990s, China has experienced accelerating industrialisation and urbanisation, accompanied by environmental deterioration and sharply rising energy demand. As a consequence, China has become one of the top global consumers of energy.
Since 2003, the national debt aid programme has supported a new round of direct financial support for biogas, particularly for agricultural plants. This rose from 1 billion Chinese yuan (CNY) in 2003–2005 to 2.5 billion CNY in 2006–2007, with an increased focus on biogas engineering projects following the passing of China’s Renewable Energy Law in 2006. Support for biogas reached 5 billion CNY in 2010, leading to a dramatic rise in biogas users in the first decade of the twenty-first century from 11 millionin 2003 to 43 million in 2013. This was accompanied by a rise in the number of biogas engineering projects from 2,300 in 2003 to nearly 10,000 in 2013.
Since 2009, China has enhanced its support for the technology by offering incentives covering 25-45% of the whole cost of biogas projects, allocating more funding to the mid-western areas of China and to innovative projects. Policies similar to feed-in tariffs have been set up to promote power generation from plants, while local service systems have been established to improve the efficiency of biogas production and utilisation.
The main feedstocks used in biogas production in China are kitchen (food) waste, livestock waste (manures and slurries), and energy crops. There is a big move underway to promote the use of yellow straw as a feedstock in particular. In contrast to the European industry, roughly two thirds of the economic value of biogas plants in China comes from the organic fertiliser, with one third from energy production. While there are thousands of small biogas plants scattered around the country the central government is now promoting larger-scale deployment, particularly of agricultural plants, to promote renewable energy growth and improve water and air quality.
The Chinese government’s recent 13th development plan for biogas plant deployment aims for over 3,000 large-scale biogas plants across China following a five-year plan. Most of these new plants are expected to utilise kitchen waste and yellow straw feedstocks, while several large state-owned enterprises are also committed to spending billions of dollars in investment in biogas. The future for biogas in China is very bright indeed.