Early Stage Researcher Jingxiao Liang from Queen’s University Belfast recently attended a workshop in her native China. Here, she shares her experiences from her visit….
A three-day UK-China workshop funded by The Newton Fund and the National Natural Science Foundation of China for early career researchers on advanced Technologies for energizing sustainable urban transport was held in Beijing, China, from 16th to 18th May 2016. The event was co-sponsored by Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), a prestigious Chinese university and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), one of the UK’s leading research-based universities. Professor Patrick Johnston, President and Vice Chancellor of QUB and Professor Hu Haiyan, President of BIT both give speech at the opening ceremony on 16th May, encouraging collaboration between QUB and BIT. The workshop served as a networking event between researchers in China and the UK, laying a solid foundation for further cooperation in sustainable energy(1).
Around 60 lecturers and scientists attended this workshop; 21 of them were from the UK, including representatives from Queen’s University Belfast, Newcastle University, Aston University, Cardiff University, University of Aberdeen and Ulster University. The remainder were researchers from China, including those from Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, XI’an Jiaotong University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Chongqing University, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Biomass Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences among others.
On the third day about writing high quality proposals, given by Professor David Rooney from QUB, who was also one of the organisers. Nearly one third of researchers who attended are working in the area of biomass and biofuels.
China is an agricultural country, with half of its population living in the rural area. As a country, they are facing serious environmental pollutions and more energy needs than ever before. Developing a biogas industry is a perfect way to help overcome these problems.
From statistics produced by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, in 2015 the annual biogas production was 2.258 billion m3, with potential biogas production over 200 billion m3. The electricity production from biogas was 467 GWh, enough to power 1.92 million households. Chinese biogas plants are divided into four types, dependent on production:
a) super large-scale, daily production over 5000 m3
b) large-scale, daily production between 500 to 5000 m3
c) medium-scale, daily production between 150 to 500 m3
d) small-scale, daily production below 150 m3.
There are 6713 super large-scale and large-scale biogas plants, 10087 medium-scale biogas plants and 86346 small-scale biogas plants, at the same time, more large-scale biogas plants are under construction.
It was a great pleasure for me to get an invitation from HongChuan Xin, who works for Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technolog (QIBEET), part of the Chinese Academy of Science. He introduced me to a group of experts with many years’ experience in biogas separation and compression.
At the meeting, I presented the ATBEST project which the group was very interested in. The QIBEET fellows also presented their research. Shengjun Luo, Senior Engineer, is working on methane hydrate – a mixture of methane and water under high pressure and low temperature. Three of his PhD students are working on using surfactants, graphene and carbon nanotubes as activators and they have achieved significant progress in this area which will hopefully lead to new technologies for methane compression into a more convenient for long-distance transport.
Engineer Gang Guo’s focus is on engineering design and modeling. He has made a lab-scale biogas upgrading unit (Figure 4); consisting of two parts, an absorber on the right and a scrubber on the left, it can deal with a throughput of 1 m3 biogas per day.
When they showed me their lab, I am surprised and impressed by their creativity – they designed most of their reactors themselves. Below are two of their reactors, Generation 2 and Generation 3 (Figure 5).
Compared to natural gas imported from aboard, the price of biogas as energy is not yet competitive in China. The Chinese government have provided financial support to sustainable energy for years; however, as opposed to the European situation, the government subsidies to biogas tend to favour large-scale plants instead of small ones. This was not always the case; for instance, back in 2005, farmers obtained ¥2000 from local government when they built a household biogas plant, with total expense of ¥3000. This policy was abandoned as it turned out these household biogas plants did not last long, as they were typically poorly maintained and have low efficiency.
By 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission had issued a biogas transformation and upgrading program, investing ¥2 billion to support 386 large-scale biogas projects (collectively have a daily biogas production of over 500 m3), and 28 super large-scale biogas projects (with a total daily biogas production of over 10 000 m3).
Table 1: List of 28 super large-scale biogas projects supported by government in 2015
Daily biogas production
(10,000 m3 )
|9||Heilongjiang||Baoquanling agricultural organic waste utilization||15,277||4,000||1.600|
|13||Shandong||Penglai biogas upgrading and compression||9,506||5,000||4.200|
|16||Hubei||Biogas and organic fertilizer||10,375||3,750||1.500|
|23||Sichuan||Organic waste utillization and biogas||10,416||5,000||2.880|
Luo’s group have been involved with the design of Leling biogas plant (Number 12 in Table 1). Their role was with the biogas upgrading unit, by designing it and building it themselves, they were able to save approximately 40% on the cost they were quoted by a Swedish manufacturer. Chinese engineers have good skills in the production of infrastructure such as digestion tanks and scrubber columns; but for process items such as compressors and CHP engines they cannot yet match the efficiency of those produced by more developed nations.
Hopefully the links made by events such as this and through the ATBEST project, the Chinese biogas industry will make strategic links with Western supplier; allowing biogas to make a significant contribution to China’s energy provision in the future.