Faced with an energy crunch, China has decided to support the development of dimethyl ether, a gas derived from coal, as a possible alternative to diesel.
Standards for the use of dimethyl ether (DME) as a civil fuel are being drawn up, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the nation's top planning body, said.
Under normal pressure and temperature, DME could be compressed into a liquid and used as an alternative to diesel. Its low emissions made it relatively environmentally friendly.
Domestic and overseas research showed it was expected to become a major fuel and was suitable for China's energy structure, the NDRC said.
DME-fuelled vehicles have been developed by Shanghai Jiaotong University and Xi'an Jiaotong University as well as in Japan and the European Union.
The 'China Securities Journal' reported yesterday that Shanghai Municipality planned to open the first DME-fuelled bus line this year and operate 1,000 such vehicles before the World Expo to be held in the city in 2010.
With little likelihood of world oil prices dropping significantly, alternative energy solutions were becoming more effective, vice chairman of the NDRC, Zhang Guobao said.
China's estimated annual DME output from planned refineries was 500,000 tonnes.
Water resources and capital were the main restrictive factors as production of one tonne of DME would use as much as three tonnes of water.
However, coal resources were also limited and DME would be a stopgap solution to China's energy problems, the report said.