Full steam ahead toward a cleaner, more efficient China

Updated: 2012-08-09 08:04

By Cai Xiao (China Daily)

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Full steam ahead toward a cleaner, more efficient China

China Guodian Corp's power plant in Jiangnan, Jilin province. The Ministry of Environmental Protection announced in September last year that starting in January, all Chinese power plants should adopt measures to meet new national standards for nitrogen oxide emissions in two years. Zhu Wanchang / for China Daily

Full steam ahead toward a cleaner, more efficient China

Cutting-edge technologies can help clean-up country's coal-tarnished environment

Just as pandas are attracted to bamboo, companies and individuals who are experts in coal-based clean technologies are being drawn to China in increasing numbers, by the lure of an industry estimated to be worth $25 billion globally.

That's why William Latta, a former senior executive with Alstom Power, the world leader in conventional power generation equipment, came to the country five years ago.

Latta is the founder of the Beijing-based environmental engineering company LP Amina, which says it has developed technology that can vastly reduce the amount of pollution produced by burning coal.

According to the latest industry figures, about 70 percent of the country's electricity supply comes from thermal power plants, or plants fueled by coal.

Latta's company specializes in delivering complete cleaning solutions for power plants - particularly thermal power plants - while also making them more efficient.

Its key technology is a revolutionary system of getting rid of poisonous nitrous oxide gas. It eliminates the pollutant when coal is burning in a boiler, not only reducing the nitrous oxide produced by up to 65 percent, but also improving efficiency in the boiler's energy output.

Latta said that as China's energy industry continues to burn coal, LP Amina's De-NOx technology is poised to clean up, literally and figuratively, as the government continues to target cleaner and more efficient ways of cutting emissions.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection announced in September last year that starting from January, all Chinese power plants should adopt measures to meet new national standards for nitrogen oxide emissions in two years.

"Coal is the most widely used energy source in the world and every country needs clean-coal technology.

"So when you develop a technology that is better than any others, it's not hard for you to find customers," he said.

Since 2009, when the De-NOx solution won its first client, Yixing-Union Cogeneration, LP Amina has completed 20 projects in China as power plants look for ways to control their gas emissions.

There are only two companies in China, according to Latta, that own such proven in-furnace technology: LP Amina and Yantai Longyuan Power Technology Co, a State-owned enterprise listed on Shenzhen's new growth market, ChiNext.

China has the world's largest number of coal-fired power plants, with more than 1,500 large and 4,500 small units in operation.

According to a study by HAO Capital, the Beijing-based private equity firm and an investor in LP Amina, 99 percent of those have yet to install a solution for their nitrous oxide emissions.

Based on conventional SCR/SNCR technology - the method of lessening nitrogen oxide emissions in conventional power plants that burn biomass, waste and coal - LP Amina's systems are particularly tailored to provide solutions for the unique challenges facing the Chinese power industry, such as its use of high ash, and low volatile coals, Latta said.

LP Amina now has R&D engineers working in the United States and China, and Latta says there is great willingness in China for new technologies to be accepted by the coal and energy industries.

"We cooperate with many Chinese companies on new technologies, and we have also been able to sell our products and knowledge all over the world," he said, adding that the average price of what would be considered a large-scale contract is $2 million.

In China, LP Amina has completed projects in various locations including Yixin, Jiangsu province; Xingtai, Hebei province; Fengtai, Anhui province; Guangzhou, Guangdong province; and in Beijing.

It has also completed two projects in the US, and is looking to expand into Mexico, South Korea, and Columbia.

Latta uses the example of Yixing-Union Cogeneration, a coal-fired power station in Yixing city, Jiangsu province, as being typical of what can be achieved, after cutting nitrous oxide emissions there by 50 percent.

Hu Zhijie, deputy general manager at the Yixing-Union plant said: "We had a great experience working with LP Amina in 2009 - we were amazed by the passion and technical expertise they put into this project.

"In the years since, we have developed a trusted relationship and that's one of the reasons we have just awarded it three more contracts."

Latta said in the short term, the company plans to set up three or four more R&D centers to further develop its technology.

The company is also working with the global company Bayer Technology Services to develop ways of better-using coal-based chemical resources.

LP Amina raised about $10 million from China-focused HAO Capital in 2010, and previously received money from Qiming Venture Partners, another local venture capital investment company.

Elaine Wang, HAO's founding partner, said that it only invests in companies that are looking to expand.

She first met Latta in a Beijing restaurant in 2007, when he had just left Alstom and was planning to set up LP Amina.

"We were impressed by his technology background and his determination to make China cleaner," Wang said.

"Of all De-NOx technologies available, we view his in-furnace solution as the best available to operate right in the heart of a boiler."

Wang said HAO Capital's support of LP Amina includes not only direct financial investment, but also access to its business contacts and other resources, which will help it expand.

She said some large international companies hesitated to get involved in LP Amina because they were wary of the technology; but she very quickly understood the massive potential.

"Coal is still widely used in China and around the world," she said, and HAO Capital will continue to support LP Amina in its work.

Ellen Carberry, co-founder and managing director of The China Greentech Initiative - a company focusing on accelerating the commercial success of enterprises in the clean technology sector - said LP Amina has exceptional potential.

She added that she considers it lucky, too, in that most venture capital and private equity companies prefer opportunities with companies that can earn them money quickly, normally within five to seven years.

Latta pointed out that according to the International Energy Agency, one-third of the world's electricity is still be derived from coal, and that its use is expected to continue rising for the next 20 years.

With over 50,000 coal-fired power stations worldwide, the demand for engineering expertise in emission reduction and operational optimization looks likely to remain extremely high for many years to come - and not just in China.

Contact the writer at caixiao@chinadaily.com.cn

Full steam ahead toward a cleaner, more efficient China

(China Daily 08/09/2012 page15)