Bringing biodiesel to Beijing

European research teams are helping to build a biodiesel plant in China to reduce soaring levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The University of Milan, the Austrian Biofuels Institute and the University of Jaen (in association with the University of CordobaSpain) will work with China‘s University of Tianjin and Malaysia‘s University of Malaya to build the plant, and researchers from Germany and Vietnam will be associate participants. The project is funded under the Asia Pro Eco programme of the European Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office and the Hangzhou Town Council in China.

Biodiesel is an environmentally friendly, renewable, ecological fuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats. Its main advantage is that it reduces gas emissions, an increasing problem in China. In 1994, the Chinese authorities released figures that showed it was the second largest greenhouse gas emitter after the US.

China recently announced plans to ensure a pollution-free Olympics in 2008 by banning more than two million cars, to ensure that Beijing will have clear skies for at least two weeks. The plans also include seeding clouds in order to induce rain, and the temporary closure of building sites and factories.

The project will start with research on the local resources appropriate for biodiesel production. The researchers will also investigate the treatment of these sources, the selection of the appropriate production technology, the development of new catalytic converters, and the construction of a biodiesel bedplate and tests. They will also carry out a techno-economic and environmental process assessment, the building of a demonstration plants, and the dissemination of results. Demonstration plants will be built in the Chinese districts of Beicheng, Tianjin and Xihu, and later in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Head of the University of Jaen‘s research group, Pilar Dorado, said that biodiesel is expected to be implemented and used extensively in China within the framework of the country’s Renewable Energies Act, but that for this to happen, all stakeholders must be satisfied with the new technology and fuel. “The results obtained must be attractive for motorists and car manufacturers, oleaginous crop farmers, environmental policymakers, legislators, waste managers, biodiesel producers and involved researchers,” she said.

According to the European Biodiesel Board, close to two million tonnes of biodiesel were produced in Europe in 2004, mainly in Germany, France and Italy. Production has been growing by around 35 per cent per annum since 2002. The biodiesel industry in China, as in much of Europe, remains in its infancy.

The Asia Pro Eco programme is designed to strengthen the environmental dialogue between Asia and Europe through the exchange of policies, technologies and best practices that promote more resource-efficient, market driven and sustainable solutions to environmental problems in Asia. The five-year initiative was launched in 2002.