The active involvement of the Chinese and U.S. governments has given clean energy cooperation top billing, but it may be grassroots efforts that turn paper work into real benefits.
"The cooperation of countries will inevitably be implemented by grassroots units," said Li Peigen, President of the Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Therefore, cooperation among academic institutions and enterprises is very important, Li said.
Li told Beijing Review that his university, based in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei Province, has been chosen by the Chinese Government to lead the Chinese team of the China-U.S. Advanced Coal Technology Consortium, a five-year CERC research project unveiled at the Washington clean energy forum. It involves participation of universities and companies from China and the United States, such as the West Virginia University and the China Huaneng Group.
With the increased efforts of participating companies and research institutions, Li said the project "will definitely step up the development of clean coal technologies in both countries."
The clean energy sector has also been a hot topic for small and medium-sized enterprises and startups in China. Some of them have already teamed up with U.S. companies and others are working on it.
The Shanghai-based Pearl Hydrogen Technology Co. Ltd., which is funded partly by U.S. venture capital, is currently cooperating with a number of U.S. companies in the development of fuel cell-powered forklifts. "So far, we've been working together pretty well," said General Manager Brian Tian.
Tian, whose company has focused on zero-emission fuel cell products since its establishment in 2006, is a firm believer in the low-carbon lifestyle. He said he has very high expectations for cooperation with his U.S. counterparts, and that it should further the development of low-carbon products.
When Liang Wenqing and his friends co-founded the Changzhou Hongyuan Energy Technology Co. Ltd. in Jiangsu Province in December 2009, he was thinking of the country's fast expanding solar power market. Liang earned his Ph.D. in cryogenic engineering from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and was a part of a research team at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands before he returned to his hometown in 2008.
The capital Liang used to start his company came from local government funds designed to encourage Chinese scholars to start their own businesses in Jiangsu after finishing studies abroad and from local venture capital, which has been heavily directed to such startups, especially in the clean energy field. His company is now manufacturing solar-powered stirling engines.
He told Beijing Review he is planning a trip to the United States to look for business partners, with whom he expects to build a knowledge-sharing partnership that will increase their overall capabilities.
The Beijing Sinen En-Tech Co. is more like a technology exporter in its partnership with the New Orleans-based Louisiana Steam Equipment Co., said Chairman of the Board Yang Yucheng,
Established in 2004, Sinen is a hi-tech company focusing on energy-conserving products. Yang said the company owns the leading high-temperature steam condensed water treatment technology, which is recognized by its U.S. counterpart.
"That's one of the important factors that have led to the partnership," Yang said. His company's patented technology can purify used steam into high-temperature water, thus helping to conserve water and energy.
Yang is interested in learning enterprise management mechanisms from his U.S. partner. He is also expecting the cooperation to better equip his company with the capital and human resources needed for large projects. He told Beijing Review the two companies are working together on the research and development of new technologies and products.
Different cultures and business techniques can sometimes generate problems for Chinese and U.S. companies that are trying to work together, Yang said.
His thoughts were echoed by James E. Rogers, Chairman, President and CEO of the Duke Energy Corp. In an interview with Beijing Review, Rogers said one of the challenges he faces in cooperating with Chinese companies is imparting upon them an understanding of the U.S. regulatory system and its various rules and regulations. "My job as a good partner is to help them understand that and help them digest it," he said.
(Reporting from Washington, D.C.)