Focus: Turning cotton waste into clean electricity in northwest China

As part of our Greenhouse Neutral Programme, we compensate all the CO2 emissions we have not been able to avoid. The projects we select for this purpose need to be of the highest quality and to benefit communities highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Based on these criteria, in 2018 we supported the Gold Standard-certified Bachu Biomass Project in China’s northwestern Xinjiang, the largest cotton-growing region in China.

Climate change-induced natural perils such as drought, hail, wind and low-temperature waves pose a threat to the thriving cotton production hubs of the Xinjiang region, including Bachu County. For that reason, Swiss Re delivered the first low-temperature weather index insurance programme for cotton production in Xinjiang in 2015. The scheme addressed the problem of reduced crop yields from cold weather not addressed by traditional insurance products and provided coverage for about 840 hectares of cotton.

Next to extreme weather conditions, Bachu County faces further problems because power generation is predominantly coal-fired, leading to the release of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Cotton farmers have further contributed to air pollution by burning cotton stalks, which they used to consider as waste, in the open field.

A farmer delivering cotton stalks to a biomass power plant in northwestern China (photo)

A farmer delivers cotton stalks to a biomass power plant in northwest China instead of burning them in the open field, thus helping to generate energy and avoiding CO2 emissions. We support this project through the Voluntary Emissions Reductions we bought in 2018.

Thanks to the Bachu project, these cotton residues are now used as renewable fuel to fire a new biomass power plant. In this way, the project reaches several objectives at once: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves air quality and makes the local power supply more stable.

Since its implementation in 2008, the project has mitigated 62 774 tonnes of CO2e and generated an average of 79 200 MWh of renewable electricity annually – enough to power around 53 000 Chinese homes.

The project has also created a number of social benefits that increase the resilience of the local community.

As cotton stalks have turned from being seen as waste to a valuable by-product, selling the residue has allowed farmers to boost their combined income by up to USD 5 million per year. Furthermore, the combustion process at the plant creates ash that the farmers can use as fertiliser.

All in all, the Bachu project has created more than 100 jobs in the local communities. More than half of these positions are held by Turkic Muslim Uyghurs and other regional ethnic minorities, while a quarter of total project staff are women.