Thanks to years of bumper grain harvests, China now has not only enough grain to feed its huge population, but also a surplus which can be used to make "food" for motor vehicles.
One example is a project to produce alcohol fuel from corn, the biggest of its kind in China, which started recently in Jilin City in northeast China's Jilin Province.
Jilin City officials say that upon its completion in 2003, the project is expected to need 1.8 million tons of corn to produce 600,000 tons of alcohol fuel annually.
"It is of great significance that China's automobiles are beginning to 'burn' corn", says Liu Tienan, an official with the State Development Planning Commission, adding "popular use of alcohol fuel helps save energy resources of China, uses out-dated grains and is good for the environment."
Statistics show that at present, the per capita quota of petroleum resources in China is only one-tenth of the world's average. China began to import petroleum in 1993, and it is predicted that the imports will reach 250 million tons, or 50 percent of the country's total petroleum consumption by the year 2020.
In recent years, China has tried to expand the use of new energy resources as substitutes for traditional ones, including turning coal into oil, for both economic and environmental purposes.
According to calculations, China's consumption of gasoline will drop by 16.4 million tons annually if gasoline is mixed with alcohol fuel at a 10:1 ratio.
Insiders say, assuming all China's automobiles were to use alcohol fuel, the amount of corn needed to produce this fuel would only account for 8 percent of the country's total corn output, posing no threat to the grain required for food in China, which has the largest population in the world.
At the end of last year, China's automobiles totaled 50 million,and automobile emissions have become a major polluting source in urban areas.
Grain alcohol can be burnt and does not produce substances harmful to the human body, say experts.
Despite bumper grain harvests in recent years, China still has low grain prices and a slow increase in farmers' incomes with farmers' having difficulty selling their grain.
China's corn output surpasses its demand by 10 million tons every year. The grain alcohol project in Jilin City alone can provide a stable market for at least 1.8 million tons of corn annually.
This is a reliable way for the state to regulate and control grain distribution, it helps raise and stabilize farmers' incomes and promotes a benign cycle of agricultural industrialization, experts noted.
Last year, the northeastern province of Heilongjiang produced 220,000 tons of grain alcohol, more than 90,000 tons of which wereexported to Japan, the Republic of Korea and other countries, earning US$32 million in foreign exchange.
In central China's Henan Province, the cities of Zhengzhou, Luoyang and Nanyang have been chosen as pilot cities for alcohol fuel use. And from July 1, all sedan cars belonging to the local government departments began using this new energy resource.
Currently, Jilin Province produces 170,000 tons of alcohol fuelannually, and its output is expected to reach 1.5 million tons by the year 2005.
The northeastern region is a major commodity grain production base in China. Jilin Province which for years has had the highest corn output in the country, produces 15.36 million tons of corn annually. The provincial capital Changchun, known as an "automobile city", plays an important national role in manufacturing automobiles, passenger trains and tractors.
Professor Guo Yinglan, an expert on grain alcohol, says that such fuel does not harm automobile parts if the added amount of alcohol fuel is kept within 10 percent. Meanwhile, China's petrochemical research institutes are working to find ways to avoid corrosion.
The state has worked out policies which guarantee consumers will not pay more to buy alcohol fuel, official sources say.
(Xinhua News Agency December 5, 2001)