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Corn Won't Be Used for Bio-fuel in 5 Years

China will shift its dependence from corn to sorghum, cassava and sweet potato plants to make bio-fuel in the next five years.

Part of the government's efforts to develop bio-fuel without harming general food supply and security, the shift will ensure a healthy supply of corn both as food and fodder.

Cassava and sweet potato both are high-yield plants, and though edible, they are not used as staple food. So their use as raw material, as opposed to that of corn, won't create any artificial shortage of food products.

Xiong Bilin, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission's (NDRC) industry department, told China Daily that the conversion of the four major ethanol production centers, which have a combined output of 1 million tons, will neither be too complicated nor costly.

The four plants, along with the newly approved ones, will use the plants of sorghum, cassava and sweet potato that scientists have recommended as corn substitutes.

The country's efforts to fight global warming will soon get another boost with the largest ethanol production facility getting the green light, said the official with the country's top economic planner.

The facility in Hengshui in Hebei Province is expected to yield 300,000 tons of bio-fuel, mainly from sweet potato, every year.

The authorities are also likely to approve another ethanol-making facility. The unit in Jingmen, Hubei Province, can make 200,000 tons of ethanol from sweet potato plants each year.

China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs (COFCO) will be the major investor in both the projects.

China wants to increase its ethanol production from 1 million tons a year to 2 million tons in 2010, and 10 million tons by 2020. "Meeting the 2010 target should not be a problem," Xiong said.

The existing four corn-based facilities have already been joined by a cassava-based unit in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that can produce 200,000 tons of ethanol a year.

COFCO owns the Guangxi facility, too, which got the authorities' approval last year before going into operation.

Considering the rising prices of corn and the threat to food security, the State Council, or the country's cabinet, ordered the bio-fuel industry to shift from food to non-food material in mid-June.

Xiong, however, stressed that irrespective of the raw material used, the country will continue its shift from fossil fuel to ethanol to save energy and fight climate change.

Gas and diesel sold in nine provinces is already mixed with 10 percent ethanol. Which means the country's dependence on fossil fuel dropped by 1.3 million tons last year.

But the nationwide demand for fuel is more than 50 million tons a year. So a lot more ethanol has to be made if ethanol is to be mixed with fuel throughout the country.

"The country will gradually replace petroleum with ethanol as the main fuel for its chemical industry," Xiong said.

The government is considering offering a 5 percent tax rebate to ethanol producers, and some financial subsidies both to the producers and suppliers. For producers, the subsidy is estimated to be more than 1,000 yuan (US$130) for every ton of their product.

(China Daily July 17, 2007)

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