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Chinese power plant replaces coal with straw

Updated: 2016-04-25 10:46

    The freshness smell of crops is not a smell usually associated with power plants -- but this plant, 60 km southwest of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, is no traditional power station.

    It uses such fuels as wheat and cotton straw, corn cobs, plant stems, branches and leaves to generate electricity, pioneering renewable energy in the region.

    "We burn everything -- from crop straw to forestry residue -- that has calorific value," said Ding Jin, general manager of Jinan Weiquan Biomass Power Generation Company, which owns the plant.


    The plant consumes around 300,000 tonnes of biofuel annually.

    In 2015, it generated 230 million kilowatt hours of electricity while using 170,000 tonnes less coal, and producing 1,500 tonnes of sulfur dioxide and 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide less than conventional power plants.

    The raw material comes from farmers within 50 km who would otherwise burn up the straw themselves, causing air pollution or even wildfires. The company collected 131,000 tonnes of straw last year.

    "We use green and environmentally-friendly resources which benefits the local people," Ding said.

    Yang Rongmin, deputy head of the Publicity Department of Pingyin County where the company is based, said, "It is a win-win situation where villagers earn money for their straw and the environment improves," Yang said.

    Su Shuqin, 52, from nearby Dong'e Township, said her family has been supplying straw -- mainly wheat and soybean -- on a regular basis, bringing in an annual income of up to 60,000 yuan (9,300 U.S. dollars.


    Weiquan is just one example of such plants not only in Shandong but also across China.

    Fu Bing, deputy general manager of Weiquan, said four plants owned by rival companies are being built this year in Shandong, and that Weiquan's parent company, Shandong Qiquan Group, has affiliates in Hong Kong and the southwestern province of Guizhou.

    Globally,renewable energy still relies heavily on government subsidies and for the first time in 2015, investment in renewables was higher in developing countries than in developed ones, mainly attributable to China's investment, a March UN report showed.

    According to the report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016, investment in renewable energy hit a record 286 billion U.S. dollars in 2015. China invested nearly 103 billion U.S. dollars in clean energy, up 17 percent from 2014 and 36 percent of the world total.

    Yet the ultimate goal of a "carbon neutral" economy enshrined by the 195 nations attending the UN climate talks "COP21" in Paris last December is "still a long way off," said the report. Actual electricity generated by renewables only accounted for some 10 percent of the global total in 2015.


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