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Jin Yong: Carbon Neutrality Is the Necessity for China’s Development| Insight

Time: 2021-10-19 15:30 Print

Seminar series "Mentors and Alumni Salon", by Finance EMBA in Tsinghua PBCSF, was held on the afternoon of October 9, 2021, in Beijing. Jin Yong, well-known chemical engineering expert, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and dean of the Institute of Chemical Science and Technology of Tsinghua University, was invited to deliver a speech themed "Carbon Neutrality". The seminar is held on-site with simultaneously online broadcast.

In the seminar, he discussed the innovative demand raised by the "Goal of Achieving Carbon Neutrality" to the present economy and society and the low-carbon development way of key industries related to energy with entrepreneurs and scholars. The event was held both online and on-site. Nearly 200 students and alumni join the seminar.


The photo of the seminar

How does the chemical industry ensure China’s transition of "Carbon Neutrality"? How can the chemical industry achieve sustainable development? These questions are not only related to the development of the national economy and society, but also people's welfare. 

"Carbon Neutrality"—A Great Change Affects the Overall Scope

Jin Yong said that all of the industry has attached great importance to the changes since the “Double Carbon” goal was issued (the goals of achieving peak carbon by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060). He noted that achieving peak carbon and carbon neutrality is not just about energy and the environment, but also a profound issue for China’s economic and social development. It means a great change that affects the whole situation.

In achieving “Double Carbon” goal, China is driven by the factors from two aspects. On the one hand, China is under the pressure from Western countries to improve environmental protection; on the other hand, it is the inevitable step for nation’s future development. China now has largest carbon emission, which accounts for one-third of the global emission, twice of the US. The difficulty is easy to be seen, while achieving the “Double Carbon” goal should be at the cost of economic stagnation. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to maintain stable economic development while lowering down the emissions.


The photo of Jin Yong

To achieve the “Double Carbon” goal, innovations are needed.

According to Jin Yong, to meet the “Double Carbon” goal, leap-forward innovations are needed. The industry should think out of the box.

  • The industrial structure of China needs transformation:

Primary products with low added value and output and high energy consumption will gradually exit from the market, while high value-added products with low energy consumption, such as high-end intelligence industry, information technology and 5G communication industries will become the mainstream.

  • Traditional energy will be replaced

It is inevitable that fossil fuels will be replaced by new energy.

  • Traditional fossil fuels should find the way for sustainable development when they are gradually exiting electric power supply:

For traditional energy, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas, the potential applications in other industries still wait for further exploration. New research and development in technology are needed.

  • The era of resource recycling is coming:

Resources will be well recycled to reduce the energy consumption.

The era of fossil fuels—change fossil fuels into high-end materials

Fossil fuels have played a vital role in the development of human society. The third industrial revolution is driven by the fossil fuels. If they are no longer used for “burning”, then there would be no carbon dioxide. In Jin Yong's speech, China needs to find out new approaches for fossil fuels to promote the transformation of industrial structure. China now is in the transition from the era of fossil fuels to the era of “fossil-based materials. Fossil fuels are supposed to be processed into high-end materials for high-tech industries.

  • Petroleum: not fuels, but high-end materials

With the transformation, petrochemical enterprises will not produce fuels but daily materials like rubber, fiber or even high-end materials like paint. It is a possible way for petrochemical enterprises to achieve the industrial structure transformation and it's also a globally recognized way. Some foreign petrochemical enterprises have started to make ready for the change. The Department of Chemical Engineering at Tsinghua University has been conducting researches in this field since a decade ago.

  • Coal: quality-based utilization to manufacture chemical products

What is the best way for coal to take part in the transformation? China needs to make a disruptive breakthrough in this field. Now, the best way of coal utilization is a quality-based application. Jin Yong said that the combined cycle gas-turbine (CCGT) is now applied to the power supply. The energy conversion rate of this technology can reach up to 60%, much higher than that of the traditional technology 45%. In this way, the resource utilization efficiency of coal could be increased so does the related economic value.

After the quality-based application process of coal, semi-coke will be generated. If it is used for burning, there will be carbon dioxide as well. Therefore, a new approach to transfer semi-coke while without the generation of carbon dioxide has to be found. Coal is a reducing agent. So if semi-coke is heated to a certain temperature and then exposed to carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide will be reverted back to carbon monoxide. Through the reduction, semi-coke will no longer generate carbon dioxide and at the same time, carbon monoxide can be reverted from it. "Carbon monoxide can be used to produce more chemical products. So it's a good way for coal to take part in the industrial transformation, said Jin Yong.

  • Natural gas: cooperate with industries and reduce the civil consumption

At present, natural gas is mainly for civil consumption in China. People use it for cooking. But the utilization rate is quite low with 30% to 40%. Therefore, the electrification of households should be applied in the future. Natural gas is supposed to be used mainly in manufactures. The electrification rate of households in the US is about 50% and some areas in Europe have restricted the household installation of natural gas gradually. Natural gas could be more efficient when it is utilized in the industry. For its chemical constitution (CH4), every carbon atom is accompanied by 4 hydrogen atoms so natural gas could be the best raw material to produce hydrogen. In general, natural gas will closely cooperate with industries in the future. 

High-end manufacturing - keep the advantages and strive to fill the gap

In the future, industries related to fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal and natural gas will gradually step into the transformation with which great contributions could be made to cut emissions. With the transformation and upgrading of fossil fuels and relevant industries, high-end manufacturing industry needs further improvement, so as to maintain the advantages and fill the technical gap in this field.

Jin Yong pointed out that, presently, China’s high-end manufacturing can be categorized into 4 levels:

  • Advanced level: 5G information transmission technology, battery electric vehicles, battery technology, high-speed trains

  • Fair level: large-scale construction machinery, drones

  • Basic level: civil aviation, AI, robots 

  • Lagging behind: microchip, pharmaceuticals and etc.

Moreover, the utilization of nuclear energy could also be one of the means to cut emissions. The technology to apply the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is quite developed at Tsinghua University. With this technology, 700-900 degrees of steam can be regenerated. Then this stream with high energy can be converted into hydrogen by chemical looping technology. In September 2021, the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor in Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Plant first reached the critical state. In the future, the successfully operated Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Plant will provide power for 2 million residents, reducing 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The success of nuclear fusion will be one of the efficient ways to cope with energy problems in the future.

At last, carbon neutrality is a key issue for the future planning of humanity, Jin Yong added. Achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 marks the change of an era. The era which depends on fossil fuels will be replaced by that of renewable energy. In the new era, petroleum, coal and gas will not be regarded as fuels, but well recycled materials of high utilization rate. We will usher into an industrial change that are promoted by the whole humanity and the whole industry in an all-round way. For China, the change will help for a long term, stable and sustainable social development. In conclusion, the achievement of carbon neutrality is significant for China and the world, and every one’s effort is needed.

Since the first seminar in April 2019, the "Mentors and Alumni Salon" has experienced on-site lecture, online lecture, and on-site lecture with simultaneously online broadcast. The improved seminar series integrates the insights of faculty and students from finance, industry and technology innovation. Through academic exchanges, case studies and practical visits, the seminar series aim to build a life-long learning platform for PBCSF alumni in the new economic ecological system.