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, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its May issue.
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 (100-square-meter) 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.
"We said, 'Let's go to China, where we can leverage brainpower that's cheaper and do something important for mankind," says Wang, 55, a wiry, self-described workaholic who, on this January day, is taking a break from his laboratory to greet visitors in a conference room at Yashentech Corp., the couple's Shanghai-based company.
Hooked on Coal
Yashentech's (0214009D) 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?
David Fuller's view This is a terrific article which I commend to all subscribers.
Technology remains the key to solving most of mankind's biggest problems and we live in an era of accelerated technological innovation. Couple this with wisdom, vision and venture capital... and the seemingly impossible can be achieved.
An energy-hungry world needs its coal and other fossil fuels. Pollution from these has been a health hazard long before it became a climate change issue. 'Needs must' remains the mother of invention and we can expect to hear a great deal more about not only the capture of carbon and methane, but also their transformation into useful, beneficial products.
Note: The conclusion in this article refers to "China's paucity of oil and natural gas…" This is only accurate concerning conventional oil and gas reserves. China has the world's largest known reserves of shale gas and second largest known reserves of shale oil. This is why China has been acquiring fracking technology. Following the USA's lead, China could be energy independent within 15 to 20 years.