State-owned energy firm Saudi Aramco has started production from its joint venture Fujian refinery in China in an effort to build refineries capable of handling heavier grades of crude oil.

Aramco says the project, which includes a 240,000-barrel-a-day refinery and petrochemicals output of 2.2 million tonnes a year, started commercial operations in the second week of November.

China’s Sinopec holds a 50 per cent stake. Aramco and the US’ ExxonMobil Corporation split the remaining shares.

Over the next 15 years, China’s demand for oil is expected to double.

By 2010, 95 per cent of Beijing’s imported oil will come from the Middle East, with an estimated 75 per cent from Aramco.