Liu Shuying
describes a pioneering project to provide heat and power from waste corn stalks in rural China

Eleven years ago Hechengli, in the northeast corner of China, began planning to become an Ecological Village in Jilin Province. Now it is pioneering again, as host to a revolutionary new energy project which could prove a model for China and much of the developing world.

A combined heat and power plant, to be fuelled by corn stalks and other agricultural wastes, has been built on a hill overlooking the village of 224 households in one of the most fertile parts of the country. Financed jointly by the local Jilin Provincial Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it is designed to produce cooking gas, heat and electricity simultaneously and to demonstrate the technical, economic and market viability of a modern biomass gasification system. The UNDP funds are being provided through a grant from the UN Foundation.

Jilin Province, home to just 2 per cent of China’s population, produces 14 per cent of its corn. The corn stalks currently pose a waste problem, but could become a valuable local resource to reduce poverty and support sustainable development. Clean, low-cost heat and power, based on such biomass, could increase living standards, promote industry and create jobs here and in rural areas throughout developing countries – while cutting dangerous indoor air pollution from traditional cooking stoves and combating global warming.

Expanding operations
Biomass has already successfully been turned into gas in Jilin and other Chinese provinces to provide a clean cooking fuel for rural villages, but these projects have not been economically attractive because they generally only operate for about six hours every day, which is not sufficient to recover the capital cost. The Hechengli project will expand the plant incrementally to meet the village’s needs for electricity and heat – in an area where annual temperatures average just 2.5°C – and sell surplus power to the national grid. The added revenues from the expanded operation of the plant will make it economically attractive.

People are optimistic about being at the cutting edge of energy technology, expecting more energy for less labour, expanding industry and ecotourism, and reducing pollution
Furthermore, the people of the village believe it will also help them expand their industry by providing process heat for factories in summer and by heating greenhouses for growing vegetables in winter. Use of the gas instead of traditional cooking fuels (wood and coal) will greatly reduce the high levels of indoor air pollution that cause acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma and blindness across the developing world.

Environmentally sensitive
Jilin Province is an ideal place for the project because it has not just abundant biomass and a need for rural development, but an emerging industrial base and a government with the commitment needed to ensure the sustained growth of such a new industry. Hechengli, as an Ecological Village, already has an environmentally sensitive development plan, and is well placed to use extra energy to promote non-polluting industry and expand the greenhouse production which already provides income for over half its households.

The village has a dynamic, entrepreneurial and community-minded leadership and the people are optimistic about being at the cutting edge of energy technology, expecting more energy for less labour, expanding industry and ecotourism, and reducing pollution.

Cornerstone of progress
There is a vast potential market for the modern biomass technology. The province generates some 40 million tonnes of agricultural residues a year. If just half of this were to be converted to clean gas and electricity in this way it could meet the needs of more than 1.7 million households – half Jilin’s population – while adding 1,400 megawatts of new generating capacity to the grid, an increase of nearly 30 per cent. And the example could be replicated around the world, making sustainable development through modern biomass technology a cornerstone of rural progress

Liu Shuying is the Vice Chairperson of Jilin Provincial People’s Congress and National Project Director for Modernized Biomass Energy, China.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial | Key to development | The energy challenge | Plant power | Bioenergy: doing well while doing right | New energy for development | People | Delivering Change | Benign growth | Green energy | At a glance: Energy | Sustainable Dreams | Brightening the future | Greening oil | Blue-sky thinking | Books & products | New energy to assault poverty | New energy entrepreneurs | Time to get serious | Breaking the ice | In my lifetime – 100% renewable| Slimming the waste

Complementary issues:
WSSD, 2002
Energy, 2001
Poverty Health and the Environment, 2001
Climate and Action, 1998