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CNPC: Creating a Green Miracle in 'Sea of Death'

Updated: July 14, 2022

China's first net zero-carbon desert highway demonstration project was completed and put into operation at the Tarim Oilfield in the Taklimakan Desert in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in early June.

The project was built by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

With the project now overlooking the desert, the vast land is covered with uncountable black blue photovoltaic panels, reflecting the sunshine. Several 100-meter-deep wells are also in service, providing water for protective plants.

The flowing sand and the green linear areas show a sharp contrast, behind which hides the story of the green miracle in the Taklimakan Desert that was previously known as the "Sea of Death".

Building "frontline troops" against desertification

Standing by the road side of the desert highway and watching the galloping vehicles, Li Jian, deputy-director of the production office of the Tarim Oilfield project, recalled the net zero-carbon desert highway project construction.

CNPC workers planted a shelter forest belt covering over 400 kilometers in the desert more than 10 years ago. After more than 140 days of installation work, irrigation of the forest now relies on solar power instead of that generated by diesel engines, which contributes to the country's "dual carbon" goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.

Li said that he will never forget the days when he and his colleagues lay on the baking-hot sand, adjusting the equipment to guarantee normal operation of the photovoltaic power system.

Completion of the net zero-carbon desert highway is a new start of never-ending green development. The forest and the green operation in the desert are a story envisioning "lucid waters and lush mountains".


A view of the photovoltaic panels for power generation in the protective forest irrigation system along the desert highway in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region [Photo/sasac.gov.cn]

Protecting the "green Great Wall" in desert

For Liu Yushan and Chen Shurong, a couple responsible for green work of the No. 49 wellspring area along the desert highway, it was surprising to work in quiet without diesel engines booming for water pumping and irrigation. Such serene working conditions owes much to operation of the solar power generation facilities.

With less than 100-millimeters of precipitation and an average evaporation amount of 2,500 to 3,400 millimeters annually, the Taklimakan Desert is extremely dry which makes it an ideal place to develop solar power generation.

In 2010, 12 pilot photovoltaic-based pumping irrigation demonstration water source wells were built along the Taklimakan Desert Highway. Another 11 wells powered by the power grid and 86 wells relying on diesel engine were also put into operation for irrigation.

As the net zero-carbon desert highway demonstration project progressed this year, the diesel engines were replaced by the photovoltaic power generation facilities, realizing full green power pumping irrigation of the 109 wells along the desert highway.

At present, all saline-alkali tolerant and drought-resisting plants along the desert highway are irrigated by the green-powered facilities acting as barriers against sand and desertification.

Du Yousheng, a driver who often travels on the highway said that thanks to the protection forest, vehicles can drive safely on the highway without concern about sand storms.

Guaranteeing power supply

Material purchase and transport had been greatly troubled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ma Miao, general-manager responsible for transport to the project, said that as the photovoltaic devices have been in high demand all over the country, several employees were sent to factories in various regions to prevent the products being snapped up by other companies.

Some equipment needed to be transported from East China's Shanghai Municipality and Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province to Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province for assembly.

Employees at the project stuck to their positions, guaranteeing on-schedule transport and assembly.

The project was built following the principle of limiting land occupation and avoiding tall trees to protect the ecological environment. Builders also sowed seeds under the photovoltaic panels, trying to create oases.

(Executive editor: Wang Ruoting)