Environmental solutions

Solar-powered irrigation of a protection forest enables a “zero-carbon desert road” to the Tarim Oilfield

http://j.people.com.cn/n3/2024/0611/c95952-20180050.html The Tarim Desert Road to the Tarim Oilfields, opened in 1995, is 52 kilometers long. It runs north and south through the Taklamakan, China’s largest desert. In order to prevent sand erosion on the road, China Petroleum, which operates the Tarim Oilfields, since 2005 has planted 436 km2 of environmental protection forest on both sides of the road irrigated by drip technology. To this end, 109 well huts were built along the road to pump up groundwater from the desert. In January 2025, 86 of these well huts that previously ran on diesel were upgraded to solar power generation. Associated energy storage cabinets can store seven hours of electrical energy, allowing the pump equipment to operate normally even when there is no sunlight. The total power generation capacity of the solar power plant is said to have reached 3,540 kilowatts (kW), with an annual power generation of 3.62 million kWh. This power generation meets the daily irrigation needs of the environmental protection forest. As the protection forests on both sides of the desert road have an annual carbon fixation capacity of 6.4 tons per ha, the entire protection forest can fix 20,000 t of carbon per year. This is calculated to neutralize the carbon emissions of passing vehicles, realizing a “zero-carbon desert road”.

Hydrogen-fueled trucks increase in China due to enhanced hydrogen station network

http://j.people.com.cn/n3/2024/0612/c95952-20180477.html China’s hydrogen-fueled trucks have entered a stage of rapid growth in long-distance transportation. The Yutong 49-ton hydrogen-fueled heavy truck, the first vehicle to explore the Beijing-Shanghai Hydrogen Energy Corridor, is equipped with a 180-kilowatt (kW) fuel cell system and has a range of 600 kilometers. It has outstanding advantages such as fast hydrogen refueling, long life, low hydrogen consumption and high safety. Test vehicles traveled through six provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Shanghai, and were refueled at seven hydrogen stations along the way. In recent years, China has successively formulated related documents such as the “14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) Energy Science and Technology Innovation Plan,” the “Mid- to Long-Term Development Plan for Hydrogen Energy Industry (2021-35),” and the “Guiding Opinions for Energy Activities in 2024,” to promote a new qualitative transformation of the hydrogen energy industry. According to Liu Ke, dean of the Institute of Clean Energy at Southern University of Science and Technology and director of the International Hydrogen Energy Association, hydrogen-powered vehicles have the advantages of quick energy refueling, long range, and long-distance heavy load carrying. However, for many years, the application of hydrogen energy in transportation has been limited due to the lack of a hydrogen station network and high hydrogen costs. According to data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, China’s sales of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2023 was 5,805 units, up 72% from 2022.

A robot refuels a hydrogen train in Inner Mongolia even at – 25 C

https://m.ne21.com/news/show-195635.html http://en.people.cn/n3/2024/0605/c90000-20178227.html A hydrogen fueling station for CHN Energy’s heavy-haul trains recently started commercial operation in Batuta, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, north China. The station is equipped with a low-temperature resistant automatic hydrogenation robot and a high-flow hydrogenation machine, independently developed and manufactured in China. The robot can refuel a hydrogen-powered train within 30 minutes, which will power the train for eight hours, and the train boasts a range of 800 kilometers before it needs refueling. The robot can not only achieve all-weather continuous operation and large flow automatic hydrogenation at temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius, but also ensure safe and stable operation, effectively reduce personnel errors, control safety risks and save operational costs.Boasting explosion-proof, electronic control and air-operation systems, the robot’s anti-interference 3D camera combination can conduct visual positioning of moving targets. Under the outdoor lighting, it can automatically complete visual identification and fueling without manual intervention. The fault self-diagnosis and alarm functions can monitor the operating environment of both trains and the robot in real time and ensure a reliable, stable and safe hydrogen fueling service. CHN Energy, one of the robot’s developers, promised to continue promoting the application of intelligent robot technology and to extend the research on automatic petrol refueling robots and non-petrol service robots. From 2015 to 2022, China’s annual production of industrial robots soared from 33,000 units to 443,000 units. The latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the production volume in the first quarter of this year reached 120,000 units.

A display of China’s “Comprehensive Research Facility for Fusion Technology” in Hefei

http://en.people.cn/n3/2024/0605/c90000-20178153.html A research facility to incubate core technologies used in power generation of fusion energy that powers the sun is under construction in Hefei City of east China’s Anhui Province. The facility will develop and test fusion energy reactor’s key components from 2025 on. fusion hefei

China reports successful demonstration flights with food-based bio-jet fuel (SAF)

https://english.news.cn/20240605/1b3989a25829451398133724c00d9566/c.html An ARJ21 regional aircraft and C919 passenger aircraft completed their first demonstration flights with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in Shanghai and Dongying, respectively. The demonstration flights showed a sound flight performance. SAF is a liquid aviation fuel alternative to traditional jet fuel. Made from renewable materials, it can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent over the fuel’s life cycle compared to conventional jet fuel. So far, a number of Chinese airlines have conducted commercial test flights using China-made SAF, with a dozen domestic enterprises and institutes working on the research, development and production of SAF. Making full use of green resources, the SAF used in the demonstration flights was made from waste oil from meals. The oil is recycled and processed in China’s first bio-aviation fuel industrial plant built by Sinopec, before it is transformed into bio-jet fuel. The SAF  was granted airworthiness approval by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in February 2024.

CAS-DICP: Efficient CO electrolysis leads to multi-carbon fuels and chemicals

https://www.cas.cn/syky/202406/t20240606_5019174.shtml https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-024-49095-2 The synthesis of high-value fuels and chemicals such as ethylene using CO derived from coal, natural gas and biomass is an important non-petroleum route. Traditional CO thermal catalytic conversion routes such as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis require the water gas shift reaction to increase the H2/CO ratio, but emit a large amount of CO2. In addition, the synthesis gas conversion reaction usually converts 20% to 50% of CO into CO2 and methane, which increases carbon emissions. Researchers at the CAS Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) have developed an electrocatalytic process CO electrolysis conversion under mild conditions, which uses water as a hydrogen source. It  prevents the side reaction path of CO molecules to CO2 by using the reduction electrode potential conditions. The team used a copper catalyst with high-density grain boundaries and an alkaline membrane electrode electrolyzer/stack to achieve efficient CO electrolysis to produce C2+ products. At a total current density of 5A/cm2, the Faraday efficiency of C2+ products reached 87% and no C1 products such as CO2 and methane were generated, and the yield of C2+ products reached 85%. The process has high electrolysis performance and has a higher CO conversion rate and C2+ yield compared with thermal catalytic synthesis gas conversion. The results of working condition Raman spectroscopy and density functional theory calculations show that the abundant grain boundary sites on the copper nanoparticle catalyst promote carbon-carbon coupling. Furthermore, the team assembled 5 sections of 100cm2 alkaline membrane stacks, with a maximum electrolysis power of 5.8kW. At a total current of 400A, the C2+ generation rate was 118.9mmol/min and the ethylene generation rate reached 1.2L/min. This study shows that CO electrolysis is a practical route for the catalytic conversion of CO to produce high-value C2+ fuels and chemicals.

The “two mountain concept” explores synergies among economic development and ecological environmental protection

https://english.cas.cn/newsroom/research_news/life/202406/t20240604_664746.shtml The “Two Mountains concept” is an ideological support system that guides ecological civilization construction. It points out the inherent consistency between economic development and ecological environmental protection, and fundamentally grasps the dialectical relationship of the dynamic unity of man and nature. However, there is still a lack of quantitative research on the progress of “Two Mountains” practice, the transformation results, the realization of ecological product value, and how to promote the green transformation of social economy. Researchers from CAS Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) evaluated the transformation effectiveness of the green economy from the framework of synergistic coordination of ecology, air, and economy, and analyzed industrial patterns and landscape characteristics in response to these processes. Based on the ecological-social-economic composite perspective, the researchers  used a weighted method to construct an evaluation framework and indicator system integrating ecological quality and economic development. They took 421 representative county-level demonstration bases in China as the research sample to test the the practical effects of the “Two Mountains” transformation, by comparing the green transformation effectiveness of Near Pilots (NPs) (i.e., it is adjacent to the pilot base) and Far away Pilots (i.e., are separated from the pilot city by at least 3 counties) from 2010-2020. The results showed that about 98% of the pilot areas achieved an increase in comprehensive benefits, and they are significantly better than non-pilot areas in terms of ecological environment, air quality, economic development, and landscape connectivity. The pilot areas generally exhibit spatial agglomeration and spillover effects, with positive externalities for surrounding areas. In addition, the industrial structure of the pilot areas has been further optimized, exhibiting a green transformation characterized by deep integration of primary industry, secondary industry, and tertiary industries.

A 160 kmh hydrogen-powered train

http://j.people.com.cn/n3/2024/0530/c94638-20176040.html A hydrogen-powered train that emits only water vapor has recently been completed in Changchun, Jilin Province, China. The train has a maximum speed of 160 km/h, does not use fossil fuels or electricity, and has zero carbon dioxide emissions. The trains are equipped with a hydrogen energy + energy storage power system and a control system that can manage mixed hydrogen and electric energy. This ‘dual system’ is highly integrated with the control of the entire vehicle, improving energy utilization efficiency and creating a high environmental protection index. If the size of storage energy batteries can be reduced in the future, the burden on trains will be reduced and running speeds will become even faster.

Genetic editing of small grain size genes enables fully mechanized hybrid rice breeding

https://english.cas.cn/newsroom/research_news/life/202406/t20240603_664721.shtml In a study published in Nature Plants, Prof. LI Yunhai from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Profs. ZHU Xudong and WANG Yuexing from the China National Rice Research Institute have identified an ideal small grain size gene, GSE3. They demonstrated that fully mechanized hybrid seed production and increased seed number can be achieved using small-grain alleles of GSE3 in male sterile lines. Crop hybrid technologies have contributed to significant yield improvements worldwide. Rice yield has increased by 20%–30% over the past few decades through the use of hybrid rice, enhancing food security. At present, labor-intensive manual steps in F1 hybrid seed production hinder full mechanization in hybrid rice breeding. A promising approach to this problem is to develop small-grain male sterile lines and large-grain restorer lines that allow mechanical separation of small F1 hybrid seeds from mixed plantings of these two lines by using a simple sifter. An ideal small-grain male sterile line should also have minimal negative effects on F1 hybrid seed number and hybrid rice yield in field trials. Tianyouhuazhan (TYHZ) is an elite hybrid rice variety that has been widely grown in China for decades. Tianfeng A (TFA), Tianfeng B (TFB), and Huazhan (HZ) are male sterile, maintainer, and restorer lines of TYHZ, respectively. The researchers crossed TFB with various small-grain rice varieties and successfully bred an ideal small-grain maintainer line Xiaoqiao B (XQB) and its corresponding new male sterile line, Xiaoqiao A (XQA). In addition, a large-grain indica variety Kuangsijiadi was crossed with the restorer line HZ to create the large-grain restorer line Da Huazhan (DHZ). Field trials showed that the male sterile restorer combination XQA-DHZ enabled fully mechanized hybrid rice production, increased hybrid seed number, and did not affect hybrid rice yield. The researchers identified that the GSE3 gene is responsible for the small-grain phenotype in XQA and XQB. Concurrently, they performed a large-scale mutagenesis screen to identify genes for breeding ideal small-grain male sterile lines and isolated m238, a mutant with small grains and an increased grain number without compromising other agronomic traits. Further analysis revealed that m238 was a new allele of GSE3. Moreover, they performed genome editing of the GSE3 gene in three- and two-line hybrid rice systems using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, resulting in fully mechanized hybrid seed production and considerably increased hybrid seed number. They also found that GSE3 encodes a GCN5-related N-acetyltransferase-like protein that affects histone acetylation levels. GSE3 is recruited by the transcription factor GS2 to the promoters of its co-regulated grain size genes and influences the histone acetylation status of its co-regulated genes, thereby regulating grain size. This study elucidates that mechanized hybrid seed production can be achieved for some elite hybrid rice varieties only by editing the GSE3 gene in male sterile lines when the grain thickness difference between the restorer lines and the male sterile lines is relatively large. For other elite hybrid rice varieties, mechanized hybrid seed production can be achieved by editing the GSE3 gene in male sterile lines and the large grain GS2 gene or other large grain size genes in the restorer lines. It suggests a new perspective for mechanized hybrid seed production in other important crops.

CAS Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology develops enzymatic asymmetric synthesis of dextromethorphan intermediates

https://www.cas.cn/syky/202406/t20240603_5016507.shtml https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.orglett.4c01079 Dextromethorphan is one of the most widely used antitussive drugs. The antitussive effect of dextromethorphan is similar to that of codeine, but it is not addictive and is not prone to cause side effects such as constipation, sedation, and respiratory depression. (S)-1-(4-methoxybenzyl)-1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8-octahydroisoquinoline ((S)-1a) is a key synthetic intermediate for the industrial production of dextromethorphan. It is mainly obtained by kinetic resolution of racemates, iridium or ruthenium-catalyzed asymmetric hydrogenation, and deracemization of cyclohexylamine oxidase combined with boron amine, but there are problems such as low yield, low stereoselectivity, and harsh reaction conditions. Based on the imine reductase-catalyzed asymmetric synthesis of 1-benzyloctahydroisoquinoline,  Zhu Dunming and Wu Qiaqing at the CAS Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology obtained five highly active mutants by screening and designing wild-type imine reductase. The enantiomeric excess of the five mutants in the catalytic synthesis of (S)-1a is >99%, the specific enzyme activity reaches 26.51 U/mg, and the catalytic efficiency is 766 times higher than that of the wild type. On this basis, the study established a laboratory-scale preparation reaction. The substrate concentration of the preparation reaction is 58 g/L, the product separation yield is 77%, and the space-time yield reaches 542 g L-1d-1, laying the foundation for further industrial application.

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