In another milestone for smart-card projects on the mainland, database maker Sybase has won a contract to provide software for an electronic payment system that will be used at up to 30,000 petrol stations across China. The project is being tested at 4,200 stations run by China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (Sinopec) in 29 cities and 11 provinces, according to Sybase officials. The officials said Sybase's portion of the project was worth US$4 million for database and application development software. No details were available about hardware or the exact timing of the commercial launch of the card project. Sinpopec's project represents one of many initiatives aiming to use smart cards and electronic systems to automate and record purchases. With projects for mobile phones, transportation and identification cards already launched or under testing in the mainland, China is considered one of the largest smart-card markets in the world. According to Mark Wang, Sybase general manager for Asia Pacific, the new Sinopec system will replace one using cash and paper chits which made it more difficult to keep records and track consumer behaviour. 'They need to manage and control the gasoline distribution system. In the past it's been manual. As you can imagine in the past few years, the market has grown dramatically,' he said. Sinopec, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, does make extensive use of computers and information technology in other parts of its operations, Mr Wang said, but 'they're not connected for this purpose and it's not uniform'. Other projects in the works include government-issued identification cards in Shanghai and Guangzhou, and a stored-value transport-system card in Shanghai similar to Hong Kong's Octopus card. The latter two projects use a chip from Shanghai Hua Hong, the developer of China's first contact-less smart card chip. A number of mainland banks also recently connected their networks under the umbrella of China Union Pay to facilitate the use of cards in the banking industry. Greg Pote of the Asia-Pacific Smart Card Association said China's smart card projects were numerous and sometimes large but 'in some ways they can be unco-ordinated'. The national identification card being planned in Beijing, in which requests for tenders have not yet been made, is already well known internationally. Yet there were many small pockets of China where smart-card use had been going on for years but not publicised, Mr Pote said. The Asia-Pacific accounts for almost a third of the world's smart-card shipments. Manufacturer SchlumbergerSema expects the region to consume 597 million units this year, compared to 923 million in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. North America would account for 58 million smart cards this year, according to the company. As of press time, no details were available on the electronic payment element of the Sinopec card. Gas payment cards in some countries are tied to credit cards or bank accounts, but the Sinopec card may be stored-value. 'A lot of the details haven't been finalised yet because this is still a concept,' Sybase regional marketing manager Kathy Au-yeung said.