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New energy sector eyeing development due to aviation carbon tax

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XI'AN, April 4 (Xinhua) -- As a new carbon tax sets China's aviation industry fidgeting over projected losses, Fu Pengcheng, a Chinese biofuel expert, is feeling the pressure.

Fu's office at the China University of Petroleum is developing new biological fuels. China's major airlines are now looking to his research to trim their flights' carbon emissions.

"We don't have much time. A locally-developed biofuel is desperately needed to protect our aviation industry and China's national interest," said Fu.

An advanced new energy sector would not just benefit the environment but also protect China against unfair attacks from foreign countries, said Fu.

Fu was referring to an EU plan to levy carbon emission taxes on flights departing or landing in the region starting next year. Airlines whose emissions exceed a set quota will be forced to buy extra credits from less prolific polluters in the industry.

Both China and the United States have expressed their disapproval, accusing the rule of being motivated by unilateralism and protectionism. Chinese airline operators complained that the unfair charge would cost them an additional 122 million dollars per year.

As a contingency plan against the worst-case scenario, Chinese airlines have launched reforms in the flight service to limit the carbon emissions yet having only achieved a modest effect.

"The kerosene, used commonly as fuel for aircraft accounts for 90 percent of the carbon emission of the fleet, prompting many countries to develop biofuel as a substitute," said Fu.

Boeing, for example, has been successful in its biofuel experiments conducted in Australia, America, and the Middle East, which bode well for the future application, said Al Bryan, vice president of Boeing's R&D in China.

"So far, we've tried a 5:5 blend of biological and conventional fuels in our pilot flight, and we expect the proportion of biological fuel to rise to 90 or 100 percent in the future," Bryan told Xinhua.

Furthermore, the sources for biological fuel, which includes alga, jatropha, and flax, would not encroach upon land and water resources need for food crops, said Bryan.

Despite the bright prospects, experts said that China's search for substitute fuels lacked momentum due to too little commercial investment and government support.

"China boasts significant breakthroughs in the lab testing of biological fuels, but most research ended in the laboratory stage," said Liu Minsheng, a leading researcher of XinAo Group. XinAo is a pioneer company in research for algae fuels sources.

Liu Zhongtian, a researcher at the Qingdao branch of the Chinese Academy of Science, echoed the sentiment, saying that the institution lacked impetus to further promote biological fuels.

In its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) released in March, China said it aims to raise its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 11.4 percent of total energy use, a heartening news to Chinese biological researchers.

"We are yearning for more financial support from the government, which is critical to the industrialization of biological fuels," said Liu Minsheng.

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