First national laboratory to research clean energy and efficient use of fossil fuels opens its doors

China has launched its first national energy laboratory dedicated to fighting climate change as part of increasing national efforts to combat rising carbon emissions.

The Dalian National Laboratory for Clean Energy (DNL), based at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), will integrate research to explore clean energy and the efficient use of fossil fuels to meet China’s sustainable energy development strategy.

’The situation requires a faster step to develop and use low carbon energies,’ says DNL director Li Can.  According to Li, in the three years prior to becoming a national lab, DNL developed 10 research departments, including low carbon catalysis, engineering and fuel cells, energy storage technologies and tidal energy. The total investment was 240 million yuan ($37.5 million) and while around 600 research fellows are currently working with the lab, its promotion to a national lab will see the number top 1000 in the near future. 

’We have a better research foundation in the fields of fossil energy catalysis and low-carbon catalysis and engineering, but technologies of hydrogen energy, biological energy, solar energy and ocean energy are still very weak,’ Li says. ’With the formation of the national lab, we need to make a breakthrough in combining these researches.’ 

But funding could be a problem. Presently, DNL’s funding mainly comes from research projects supported by industry, CAS and local government. However, central government, the main funder for national labs, has not given any extra money to DNL. Mao Zongqiang, a professor of chemistry at Tsinghua University, adds that the management issues, such as how to cooperate and compete within a big national lab, are also important and could be challenging for DNL. 

However, industry, including leading firms like China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), parent company of PetroChina, and BP, is cooperating with DNL on clean energy research thanks to DNL’s strong research base. Last year, in collaboration with industry, DICP successfully commercialised China’s first large scale methane to olefin facilities.  

’With its unique strength to resolve fossil fuel resource problems, DNL can help our company utilise our energy resources more efficiently,’ says Zhang Jiyao, general manager of Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group, which has set up a joint lab with DNL. 

Zhiguo Xu