China has opened the world's first production line that converts coal into ethanol, the main chemical ingredient in alcohol, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has announced.
The facility in Xingping, Shaanxi province, which went into service in January, was developed by the academy's Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics and the State-owned Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group.
The project could yield more than 100,000 metric tons of pure ethanol a year, according to Liu Zhongmin, deputy director of the institute.
China produces 7 million tons of ethanol a year, "but that doesn't satisfy the country's industrial and energy needs", he said, adding there are plans to open another coal-to-ethanol production line making 1 million tons a year by 2020.
"Most countries produce ethanol using foods like corn or sugar cane, but this is not a viable option for China because of its massive population," Liu said. "By turning our abundant coal resources into ethanol, the technology will help safeguard energy and food security."
Moreover, ethanol is versatile and produces only water and carbon dioxide when burned, he said, adding, "Utilizing it could reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and make our industrial production and energy structure more environmentally friendly."