After studying chemistry at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Jane Chuan and Wang Youqi pursued doctorates in the U.S. She got hers from what’s now the University of Buffalo in 1988, the year they married. Wang graduated in 1994 from the California Institute of Technology.
A few years later, they were cashing in stock options in Silicon Valley companies they’d co-founded, one of which created a luminescent chemical to store X-ray images. Their home in Atherton, California, had seven bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and an acre of land…
By 2000, Wang was convinced that the research methods he was patenting could help stave off the environmental nightmare he saw unfolding during return visits to his homeland. China, already reeling from pollution, was poised to more than double coal consumption during the decade. That would choke cities with smog and exacerbate global warming.
Chuan, 61, bespectacled and smiling in her white lab coat, remembers pounding the pavement to pitch U.S. investors on cleaning China’s coal. Only a handful of California’s Internet- obsessed venture capitalists bit, she says.
So, in 2003, the couple moved back to Shanghai, the city from which they had emigrated 18 years earlier. They crammed into a 1,100-square-foot apartment that was hot in the summer, cold in the winter and crowded with two teenage children home from boarding school on weekends.
By 2006, Wang had his breakthrough in sight. He’d found a way to unlock a chemical stored in the coal that was poisoning his country and to put it to an unlikely use: cleaning China’s air.
The catalyst he discovered speeds reactions that convert methanol extracted from coal into a substance called dimethyl carbonate. By adding dimethyl carbonate to diesel fuel, Wang now plans to cut 90 percent of black carbon soot from the tailpipe emissions of 1,800 Shanghai buses by year-end…
Yashentech’s emissions-busting effort is one way in which China is racing to solve its clean-energy riddle: How can a country that’s hooked on coal mitigate environmental damage from the dirtiest of fossil fuels..?
With 1.3 billion people, power-hungry industries and scant oil or natural gas, it has no immediate alternatives to coal for fueling its economy. China gets 70 percent of its energy from coal, three times the U.S. figure. It even converts coal into diesel fuel and ammonia that’s used for making fertilizer…
China can’t quit coal. But with efforts from entrepreneurs, mining enterprises and electricity giants, it’s ready to tackle its addiction, says Zhou Fengqi, senior adviser to the Energy Research Institute of the government’s National Development and Reform Commission.
“Now that people have meat and fish to eat every day, the environment has also become a big concern,” Zhou says. “China is not like a developed country. We can’t simply stop using coal. If we want to use it, we have to clean it up.”
RTFA. The is only an excerpt from the beginning of an extensive review of the multiplicity of tech used, experimented with, being developed in China to handle the severe environmental questions they need to answer and solve. Fortunately, the resolve is there as well as the political will.
The article covers everything from coal to spirulina, omega-3 fatty acids to carbonated drinks. What’s most important? “In China, we get lots of support from the people, politicians and moneymakers,” Chuan says.