Energy and environmental technology Environment

Posted May 1997

The Energy Demonstration Base, Shenyang Agricultural University, People's Republic of China

Reported by Gustavo Best, Senior Energy Coordinator, FAO Research, Extension and Training Division

PROJECT UNDP/CPR/88/053 was active from 1988 until 1994. The main objective of the project was to develop and promote a series of energy technologies applicable in the cold regions of China, and useful at the farm level.

An Energy Demonstration Base at Shenyang Agricultural University (SAU) was designed and established which houses these technologies; a number of international consultants were fielded; Netherlands funds were mobilized to complement UNDP and FAO support; and an International Seminar was held with the participation of over 100 experts. Since the formal end of the project, research has continued at the site and National Training Workshops have been held by SAU staff to train experts from other Chinese institutions, mainly from the extension services of the Ministry of Agriculture. The base is now ready to launch international training activities.

The following is a brief description of the status of each major unit at the Base:

Ethanol production unit

This unit was operated during the 1995/96 period utilizing juice from sweet sorghum. According to SAU staff it produced satisfactory results, proving that the fermenter design (by SAU), the separator and the distillation systems worked as planned. Research is now focused on the conversion to alcohol of starchy materials, and laboratory work is going on at SAU installations. It is claimed that the lack of financial resources has prevented further runs to be made with the pilot scale system, which was to serve as training equipment for SAU Agricultural Engineering students. Staff to operate this system, coordinated by one of the most experienced professors of SAU, seems to be in place to restart it at any time.

Pyrolysis unit

This unit was designed, constructed and tested under an FAO contract by the Dutch Company Biomass Technology Group, BTG, with the participation of Twente University. After final testing in the Netherlands, it was shipped to China at the beginning of 1996. It was commissioned in May 1996 with the assistance of BTG staff, who visited the site twice more (in 1July and November 1996). The operation of it proved difficult, but by the end of 1996 SAU experts had mastered it, and were able to produce bio-oil from wood feedstock.

Problems encountered included the feeding system, based on varying amplitude of a vibration motor, high cooling rate of the sand heated to 6000C and difficulties in the procedure to clean the revolving cone reactor. According to SAU staff, they are designing several improvements to the system, which will be implemented as soon as further funding is available. One of the main constraints in operating this unit is the large cost of the LPG and electricity to heat the sand which will accompany the flash pyrolysis, and of the Nitrogen necessary to facilitate the flow of the solid biomass particles into the reactor.

Regarding staff, an Associate Professor has full knowledge of the theoretical and practical aspects of this unit, and is perfectly capable of carrying out the operation and maintenance. Two PhD students have worked closely to him during the runs carried out last year, which hopefully will remain with the Base during a long enough period to insure future activities with this system.


No activities were reported with this system, except that full mounting was complete, and that the heating device seems to be over-designed. Nevertheless, plans were in place to use this system for rabbit production. It was regretful that this system was not operated during the winter in order to prove its cold weather conditions characteristics.

Solar house, solar-heated training building

Although the external walls and materials need painting and maintenance, the overall operation is satisfactory. Nevertheless, no formal and continuous research protocol has been established.

Biogas and cogeneration system

Biogas digesters of two sizes have been built on the site and a new system was to be built during the last weeks of April 1997. No formal research agenda was followed, and there is no data available to assess the operation of these systems. The TOTEM cogeneration engine has never been used.

Diffusion of results

Except for isolated publications in National Meetings, no active policy has been followed to diffuse results of the Base's research. National Training Workshops have benefitted from the initial studies and design papers of the Base, but not from the lessons learnt during its operation.

Staff expertise

SAU staff are extremely well prepared in the academic and practical fields involved in the work of the Base. This has allowed the design and construction of complex engineering units and an efficient transfer of technology regarding the pyrolysis unit. It has a traditional leading role in the agronomic aspects of sweet sorghum plantations and the development of new sweet sorghum varieties. It has carried out excellent research on areas such as greenhouse design and monitoring and on horticulture. In order to maintain and advance in the mastering of the mentioned fields, it is urgently necessary to continuously upgrade the researcher's knowledge. Contact with international experts in the fields of pyrolysis, fermentation, ecological agriculture and solar energy, among others, is necessary. Two ways to carry this out are participation at international meetings and Internet. Little has been done in either of these fields.

Financial support

Professor Lu Nan and his staff have actively pursued external financing for the Base, and especially for what can be considered the "high tech" components, i.e., the ethanol unit and the pyrolysis system. Two proposals have been put together, one for the European Biomass Industry Association, and the other with the BTG Group. The Report Writer will assist in contacting the relevant counterparts and will promote a prompt reaction.

It is the idea of the Report Writer that the topic of work at the SAU Base is very much in line with the interests and priorities of the Global Environmental Fund - GEF. Therefore, he will draft a preliminary proposal to this effect, which will be sent to SAU and FAOR for consideration and finalization. It is important to recall that the competition for GEF projects is very large, but also that "Reduction of GHG Emissions" is one of the main priorities. The project can provide an important contribution in this regard, and could have good financing opportunities; it will very much depend on the support from the Chinese Government.

International training course

An International training Course on Planning, Application and Management of Integrated Energy Systems is being organized by SAU for the period August 20 - September 8, 1997 at the SAU Base. It has the sponsorship of the Department of International Cooperation of the State Science and Technology Commission of the People's Republic of China.


Throughout the project there has been discussions regarding the best way to manage the Base. The workload, commitment and responsibility of Professor Lu Nan towards the Base has been an example to other projects. It seemed timely to adjust the responsibilities in the light of the new activities and circumstances of the Base, of SAU and, in general, of the new Chinese way of performing research and technology development. During the last day of the Report Writer's visit to SAU, a meeting was held with top management of the College of Agricultural of SAU. It was announced that from that moment, Professor Lu Nan ceased to be Coordinator for the Base's activities, a responsibility to be taken up by the Director and Vice-Director of the College. In the future, all responsibilities are shifted to top College management, a situation which should positively influence the work of the Base.

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