China’s efforts to become carbon neutral by 2060 are expected to receive a boost from a pair of scientific research projects involving methanol, an alternative biofuel for internal combustion and other engines.
The Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP), under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is leading the two initiatives, which consist of a project that turns solar power into methanol and another that produces hydrogen from methanol.
The projects can “fundamentally improve the ecological environment” in China, while helping develop renewable resources to address the nation’s energy security issues”, the DICP said in a statement on Thursday.
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Methanol, mostly derived from coal and natural gas, is largely used as the key base chemical for downstream products used in manufacturing industries such as textiles, electronics and furniture. It is also an alternative clean-burning fuel that can be used on its own or mixed with petrol. Domestic demand for methanol reached 48.3 million metric tonnes last year, which represented more than half of the total global market for the chemical, according to data from IHS Markit.
The DICP said about 140 million yuan (US$21 million) was invested to set up a 20-hectare farm that transforms solar power into methanol in Lanzhou, capital of northwestern Gansu province.
The facility currently produces about 1,000 tonnes of methanol a year through a process that includes generating electricity from solar power, using that electricity to extract pure hydrogen from water (a method known as electrolysis), and producing methanol from the chemical reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide.
At present, China has been using its abundant supply of coal to produce methanol through a process called gasification. That process, however, presents a problem to China’s bid for carbon neutrality, which requires loosening its reliance on coal. The country is the world’s largest consumer of coal.
The other DICP project is located in Zhangjiagang, a city in the eastern-central coastal Jiangsu province, where it has built a station that produces hydrogen from methanol with a daily output of 50 kilograms.
More capacity, however, will be needed to meet potential demand for hydrogen fuel cells to power a new generation of clean-energy vehicles. China has set its sights on fuel-cell vehicles as the next growth engine in the world’s largest car market, as the country aims to catch up with the US and Japan in cutting emissions and taking the next giant leap in technology.
The plan is to increase hydrogen output to 1 metric tonne, according to Han Difei, director of the DICP’s Zhangjiagang Industrial Technology Institute. He did not say where such an enterprise would be located.
On the significance of the DICP’s two projects to China’s carbon neutrality goals, Han said the processes involved will help reduce carbon emission, while recycling carbon dioxide. “Both hydrogen and methanol are green energy,” he said.
The projects, which have been endorsed for fast-track development by various local industry experts, mark the latest efforts by China to reduce carbon emissions.
Last month, President Xi Jinping announced at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly that China aimed to reach net zero carbon emissions in four decades, a goal some analysts have labelled as an unprecedented transformation given the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and huge contribution to global emissions.
China is already the world’s largest investor in renewable energy – including solar and wind power – and the global leader in manufacturing electric cars. But it is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with coal, natural gas and oil accounting for around 85 per cent of its energy mix, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019.
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This article China’s carbon neutral efforts to get boost from new ways to produce methanol, hydrogen first appeared on South China Morning Post