- New energy vehicles
- High-tech ship components
- New and renewable energy equipment
- Industrial robots
- Higher-performance medical devices
- Large tractors and harvesters
- Mobile phone chips
- Wide-body aircraft
Overseas education and job experience have risen dramatically. More Chinese families are sending their children overseas to study. 80% of the students return to China, transferring intellectual property from the West to China. As long as this continues, we will continue to Americanize China. According to China’s Education Ministry, nearly 600,000 Chinese students studied overseas in 2016. This increased from 180,000 in 2008!
And, number two, China has pumped 800 billion Renminbi (6.7 to the USD) in subsidies to help China reach its MIC2025 goals. This is serious money in terms of investment in research and development. A great example is Huawei in Shenzhen and their work on inverters that harness the sun’s energy. Some of your emails criticized my praise of Huawei. Let’s be clear. I was and am incredibly impressed by their development of an inverter which converts solar energy (DC, direct current) into AC (alternative current) that can be fed into our power grid at a reasonable cost. This is a game changer in my opinion. This reduces climate change.
However, if Huawei has supported trade with Iran and/or violated financial sanctions that are in place with Iran, they should be prosecuted. Huawei is such an enormous company and has so many moving parts, it is hard to put the pieces into one package. I praised Huawei for their contribution and development of technology that will help us reduce our dependence on fossil energy, not for violating sanctions.
Finally, I’m not defending China’s economic policy or the methods they employ to reach their objectives. All I’m saying is, “It’s happening.” I’m also saying that their government believes that climate change is a major problem, hence their focus on renewable energy and their financial support of companies like Huawei. This leads me to what this column is supposed to be about: Another form of renewable energy, WTE, waste-to-energy. I believe there is as much opportunity for renewable energy from WTE as there is from solar and wind. Let me first start with a breakdown of the waste industry here in the United States. At the end of 2017 the waste infrastructure looked as follows:
WTE Facilities 76
Anaerobic Digestion 25
Material Recycling Facilities (MRF) 586
Hybrid MRF 70
Curbside Recycling 3,350
(Source – Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc.)
Keep in mind that each of the above facilities will vary in size, capability and age. So, to be sure, this is nothing more than a snapshot of the waste business, dominated by two or three large companies, Waste Management and Republic. The above infrastructure handled between 350 – 400 million tons of solid waste in 2017, with at least 200 million tons, or half, being landfilled. Based on these numbers, it would seem to me that there’s an enormous opportunity to divert and use this material as feedstock for energy. This undoubtedly would reduce CO2 and methane emissions, which create climate change.
Waste to energy is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the treatment of waste, or the processing of waste into a fuel source. WTE is a form of energy recovery. Naturally, the world’s largest WTE facility is being built in, where else, but in Shenzhen, China, right down the street from Huawei. The point here in the US is that even with gasification, anaerobic digestion, and a variety of other diversion opportunities, we’re still landfilling over 200 million tons a year of a potential feedstock for energy.
Our own industry has several truly successful renewable energy stories. One of these, Convergen Energy of Green Bay, has developed a business model that “produces renewable fuels and power for sustainable business.” This company has closed the loop on waste and renewable energy, creating a true circular economy. Convergen Energy is producing an alternative fuel that can be sold as a cost competitive substitute for coal and other fossil fuels. Their plant in Green Bay, WI has the capability of producing 120,000 tons per year of an engineered fuel in the form of a fuel pellet. The feed stocks for their pellets are non-recyclables like matrix and flexible packaging byproduct. The pellets are delivered to a Convergen Energy owned partner in L’Anse, Michigan, Warden Electric Company. This facility is rated as a 20 megawat power plant. The energy that is generated is defined as renewable and is sold to the grid. If we consider Convergen on the basis of a circular economy, it looks like this: Non-recyclable feedstock is diverted from the landfill and processed into a fuel pellet –> the pellets, defined as non-waste and renewable, are delivered to Warden Electric, where they are used as a feedstock to create renewable energy, which is then sold to the grid. The converter that generated the non-recyclable feedstock in the first place could buy renewable energy from the grid, some of which the converter had generated in the first place. Hence, you have closed the loop and created a circular economy. The Convergen Energy pellets burn cleaner than coal.
I am delighted to end this first column with such a positive success story. This has nothing to do with China. It supports renewables and allows for landfill avoidance. Good luck to Convergen Energy in the years to come. It is another example of a successful waste-to-energy application.
Another Letter from the Earth.
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is