The World Wide Fund for Nature announced the four winners of its first Climate Solver China Awards in Beijing last week, the first time it selected winners outside Sweden where the initiative began.
The awards are "the result of a yearlong search for products developed by small and medium-sized enterprises that are the elusive triple threat - innovative, adept at meeting a market need, and help reduce society's carbon emissions", said a WWF statement.
"We are looking for technologies that have it all," said Lu Lunyan, director of Climate and Energy Programs at WWF-China.
"Being good at the single variable in reducing carbon emissions isn't good enough," Lu said. "Our award winners are also very capable at meeting a market need, so there's the potential for large scale purchase out in the real world with enough ubiquity to significantly bring down emission levels.
"And the reason they are good on both the business and low carbon fronts is that the underlying technology is so new and different," she said.
A cooling tower, a battery charger, a refrigeration system and a power generation system were selected as the award-winning breakthroughs.
One of the four winners is Wuhan Yunhe Dingyu Refrigeration Science and Technology Co, whose CEO Zhou Qing said the company was "hindered due to the lack of standards in the industry when our new technologies were introduced to the market".
"It is much easier to persuade one customer to buy an innovative idea that is yet without standards than it is to get the entire society to accept it," Zhou said.
With a staff of just around 20 - most involved in R&D - the company has created two core energy technologies that are both at the forefront in their fields in the world, said Cheng Qiuhai, Yunhe Dingyu board chairman.
Its solar steam system operates using a "fundamental change" in heat transfer technology. It enables temperatures as high as 200 C, much higher than the 80 degrees in an average solar energy system.
Conventional solar energy is normally used for bathing and heating, but the new technology can meet a wider range of uses including cooking, said Zhou.
The Lhasa city government in Tibet autonomous region wants to expand use of the new kitchen technology after inspecting a demonstration project in Shanghai, he said.
Yet some bids require the company to comply with national standards. "But how?" Zhou asks. "We are the pioneer in this field. Before us, there were no relevant standards."
Shortage of capital is another major concern, the manager said.
The company is now badly in need of investment to increase production scale of its other innovation, a thermal-chemical refrigeration system, he said.
The system replaces electricity by using heat from auto or ship engine exhausts, industrial heat or solar energy.
Otherwise wasted heat triggers a reaction between ammonia and other substances in a proprietary formula, enabling refrigeration without compressors - the troublesome components in conventional systems that are heavy power consumers and use greenhouse gases as refrigerants.
The technology can be widely used, including in air conditioners, ice machines and freezers.
"When we turn the heat in engine exhaust into a strong capacity for refrigeration, it is not merely a magical shift from heat to cold," Zhou said. "In this way, we are practicing and participating in a green revolution in energy use.
"We believe in our technologies, we believe in the effect that the technologies will bring to the society, and we believe in the returns that the society will award us," he said.
"That is the faith backing our shareholders to continue their investment," he added.
That faith has also sustained the team through difficult times. Board Chairman Cheng said that he was unable to make payroll for four consecutive months, yet no one wanted to leave.
The team includes experts in thermal treatment, mechanical design, automated controls and refrigeration.
Their research has resulted in more than 20 patents, half of them for inventions.
Yet most of the patents still seem only honors for the company rather than operational assets, said Zhou, who earned his doctorate degree in the Netherlands, where he also founded a technology consultancy firm before he returned to China.
"I can understand banker concerns about patent risk evaluation," he said.
Different appraisers might differ in their judgment, he said, adding that bank loans are generally for at least half a year and bankers are concerned about potential changes in patent value.
"It would help if a patent insurance firm was involved," he said.
"We need to purchase a new production line as soon as possible," the manager said, noting that the company's agent in Hong Kong told him there could be mounting orders next year from firms in Malaysia and Vietnam that have shown an interest.
"We hope that the award will help us attract more investors, but it will still take time to tell," he said.
Most of this year's candidates for the WWF awards were recommended by local authorities. Next year, any entry that meets requirements will be eligible to apply, said Lu.
(China Daily 12/19/2012 page17)