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For a Green Future: an Overview of Biomass Energy in China

By Jack Huang    Jun 26, 2014

Biomass energy

Biomass refers to biological materials or organic materials which is renewable and sustainable and could be used as a fuel source. The energy derived from biomass materials is called biomass energy. Biomass energy as one type of renewable energy has be developed with priorities in China for Chinese government puts increasing efforts to lower dioxide emission and the specific goals is shown geographically in the following map.

China rewable energy market

Geographical presentation of dioxide emission reduction goals in China

Current situation of biomass resource in China

China has abundant of biomass energy resources, from agricultural wastes, such as straws, and forestry wastes, residential wastes and industrial wastes, and energy crops and plantations, etc. Annually, there are nearly 300 million tons of crop straw wastes, 300 million tons of forestry waste are available for fuel production. Besides with biogas and MSW (Municiapl Solid Waste), the total biomass resource with equivalent of around 500 million tons of coal can be potentially converted into fuel.

Category Total annual useable resources(million tons) Actual utilization (million tons, % of total) Evaluation of growth potential
Straw 340(DM+90%) 8(2.4%) Medium: low current use, mature technology, difficult collection, government priority
Residues after food crop processing 60 2(3.3%) Medium: low current use, mature technology, difficult collection, price competition
Forest residues 350 3(0.9%) Low: low current use, mature technology, collection cost-prohibitive
Livestock manure 840 300(35.7%) Medium: relatively high penetration of biogas digesters, mature technology, cost stable
Municipal organic solid waste; 75 28(37.3%) High: relatively high penetration, mature technology, government priority
Municipal sludge 15 6(40%) High: low current use, developing technology, growing sludge volume, government priority
Industrial organic wastewater and sludge 4350 27(0.62%) Medium: low current use, high and growing volume, difficulty exploiting diverse waste streams
Industrial solid organic waste 950 48(5.1%) Medium: low current use, high volume, diverse waste streams


In the above diagram, statistics shows even though biomass resource in china is abundant, the utilization rate is low and need be improved. In order to encourage the production and utilization of biomass energy, Chinese government, issued series of laws and policies.

Targets, Laws and Policies

With increasing demand for energy and rising concerns for the environment issues, Chinese government issued series of laws and policies to ensure realization of its target that by 2010 the percentage of renewable energy share will take 10% of the country’s total energy consumption and by 2020 it will be 15 percent. While the percentage of the biomass energy will be largely increased which will be shown in the following diagram.

China renewable energy operation in 2011 and targets by 2015

In order to realize the energy target, the Chinese government issued Renewable Energy Law in 2005 to support the development of renewable energy, including biomass energy. In 2006, the law came into force and functioned as a framework for renewable energy development strategy and meant to increase the energy supply domestically, optimizing energy structure and realizing the continuous development of economy and society. Following Renewable Energy Law of the People’s Republic of China, series of regulations and policy measures are issued to support the realization of the renewable targets, such as fiscal subsidies, tax policies, pricing schemes and green production rewarding scheme.

Four schemes are identified legislatively

  • Cost–sharing scheme is meant to low energy production cost, which will be shared by the end-users, with the price as low as RMB 0.002 or US cent 0.03 per kWh averagely.
  • Feed-in tariff scheme is also provided which means a certain amount will be added to the price for renewable energy production especially for the biomass energy production connected to the grid. For biomass power, the subsided in 2008 is RMB 0.25 or US cent 3.7 per kWh which is creased to RMB 0.35 or US cent 5.1 per kWh in 15 years.
  • Production subsidies are provided to drive the conversion of various biomass wastes into biomass energy, i.e. a subsidy of RMB 130-150 or USD 19-22 is given for the production of each ton of biomass pellets.
  • Preferential pricing schemes are introduced for renewable power generation.

Biomass market status in China

Biomass energy development in China focuses on the biomass power generation, biogas, biomass pellets and liquid bio-fuels. By 2020, the capacity of installed biomass power will be abound 30 GW, with the annual use of 50 million tons of biomass pellets , 44 billion cubic meters of biogas, 10 million tons of bio-ethanol, and 2 millions of bio-diesel.

China bio-energy 2010 status and 2015 target
China Bio-energy 2010 Status and 2015 Target.

In the above diagram, the biomass energy target and actual utilization of various fuels are clearly shown. Even though any type of biomass fuel is important and contributes the realization of 2020 renewable goals, solid biomass fuel will be the focus of the article because of its significant importance in China and the time and space limitation of the article.

Solid biomass fuel

Solid biomass fuel refers to the solid fuel made from the biomass materials, which usually refers to biomass pellets, briquettes and pucks. In 2010, around 100 biomass pellet plants in the agricultural areas have been established to produce pellets and briquettes with the unit capacity of 10, 000 tons per year and with the total annual capacity of 3 million tons.

Various of biomass pellets

1. Straw pellets  2. Sawdust pellets   3. Switch grass pellets  4. Red pine wood pellets

Various biomass briquettes

   1. Sawdust briquettes     2.  Wood shaving fuel    3.  Shrub fuel

In 2010, there were around 500 pilot biomass pellets use areas, established to meet the basic energy needs in the rural areas. In 2010, 1 million tons of biomass pellets fuels was consumed nation widely in China and by 2020, the total biomass pellet consumption will be around 50 million tons. As for briquettes, 3 million tons of briquettes were consumed as bio-charcoal in heating boilers in 2010. This number will be 10 million tons in 2015, with a compound growth rate of 27%.

Technologies of solid biomass fuel production

The natural biomass materials cannot be utilized in large scale for the low density and high moisture. The solid biomass fuel production technology makes it possible to convert the natural plant residues into solid fuels which is generally known as pelletizing and briquetting.

Biomass pellet production technology in China began in 1990s, when the unit capacity was 100- 200 kg/h. While now, with the development of technology, the unit capacity of main pellet production equipment is high up to 1-3 t/h. As for briquetting technology, the briquette production equipment widely used in china is with the capacity of 1 t/h. The small scale briquette manufactures produce about 280,000 tons of briquettes annually, taking more than 90% of the total production. As for industrial use, china has introduced over 20 large scale briquetting production lines from other counties. By 2008, china had constructed 102 biomass production plants all over the country with the total annual production capacity of 200, 000 tons, being 7% of Chinese total production.

Equipment research

When it comes to industrial scales production, the total process involves a series of equipment, from the raw material preparation to the packaging of the solid biomass fuels, i.e. pellets and briquettes. Generally, the production line is consisted of the following main machines, hammer mill, dryer, conveyer, pelletizing or briquetting machine, cooler, and bagger, etc. However, the construction of the biomass pellet or briquette production line can be different according to the conditions of the raw materials and the individual situations. No matter how different they are, biomass pellet machines and briquette machines are necessary for a pellet line or a briquette line.

Biomass pellet machines

Ring die biomass pellet machines and flat die pellet machines are most well known two types of pellets making machines, especially the Chinese flat die pellet machines are well-known in the international market. The biomass pellet machines take advantage of the pressure and the heat caused by the mechanical integration of the pellet die and pellet rollers to reform the biomass materials into pellets. Ring die pellet machines are usually applied for large scale biomass pellet production while the flat die pellet machines are used for medium and small scale pellet production. The output capability of the flat die pellet mill ranges from around 80 to 1000 kg /h at most while the ring die pellet mill can produce around 0.8 to 2 t/h at most. You can learn more about pellet mill in this report or you can down this FREE ebook.

Ring die pellet mill and flat die pellet mill
Ring Die Pellet Mill and Flat Die Pellet Mill (Photos come from Gemco.)

Biomass briquetting machines

Comparing with biomass pellet machines, briquette machines have advantages of capable of dealing relatively large sized feed stocks with higher moisture content. Based on working principles, biomass briquette machines can be classified into piston briquetter, screw briquetter, and hydraulic briquetter.

Piston briquetter is also called stamping briquetter, in which a reciprocating ram punches the biomass with high pressure to die to form briquettes. Hydraulic briquetter is also a piston briquetter. It is different with the normal piston briquetter in terms of the power. The hydraulic briquetter use high pressure hydraulic oil system to drive the piston, which is more quiet, but the capacity is lowered.

Various Chinese biomass briquetters
1. Hydraulic birquetter     2.Piston briquetter   3. Screw briquetter

Solid biomass fuel application in China

Solid biomass fuel in China are mainly use for hotel heating, industry boilers and power plant. With introducing of the Renewable Energy Law, small scale biomass stove and boilers technology developed rapidly which stimulated the installation of biomass stove and boilers. By 2009, about 400,000 biomass stoves had been installed. And the tendency of biomass stove installation in households is growing nation widely, especially in provinces like Jiangxi, Yunnan, Qinghai, etc.

With abundant biomass recourse and mature biomass power generation technologies, the utilization of solid biomass fuel in power plant is expanded, which also drives the construction of larger biomass power. The installed capacity of biomass power by the end of 2005 in China was 2 GW. With construction of large biomass power plants, the number is expected to grow steadily and continuously. In 2011, the largest biomass power plant in the world was put into operation in Guangdong, by Yuedian Group, with two 50 MW capacity units. While in 2012, Wuhan Kaidi Electric had three biomass power plants came into operation.

Yue dian biomass power plant picture

Yue dian biomass power plant picture.


Even though solid biomass fuel is developing and have gained certain achievement so far, there are still problems and obstacles.

  •  Proper production standard and pricing system is in want.
  •  Related statistic system also needs to be improved.
  •  The geography obstacles. The geographically scattered agricultural production cause troubles to feedstock supply chain, which may increasing biomass fuel production cost.