With a new technique for reusing steam, a Chinese company helps industry save water and conserve energy.
China is currently suffering its worst drought in sixty years. The effects of drought have been exacerbated by increased water demand  from China’s rapidly growing industrial sector. In some towns, villagers are not allowed to use water from certain rivers because it has already been designated for industry. As China’s economy grows, fueled largely by industry, its need for water will also increase. However, water is in short supply in China – the country has only one-fourth the global average amount of water per capita .
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A New Approach to Steam Recycling
Industries such as petroleum, steel and textiles regularly use steam for industrial production, consuming large amounts of water and energy in the process. Once steam has been used, it can often be polluted with metals and organic particles, and is therefore usually discarded as wastewater. Chinese entrepreneur Yucheng Yang decided to create a new technology to address water and energy wastage in industrial steam by filtering and then recycling it at high temperatures for reuse.
Mr. Yang previously focused on energy efficiency issues at a Chinese research institute, but felt that he could develop better solutions to China’s water and energy issues by starting his own company. “I am the type of person who likes to make things happen,” he says. In 2001, after developing two key technologies for advanced industrial steam recycling, Mr. Yang started his company, Beijing Sinen En-Tech .
Saving Water, Energy, and Money
Typically, in order to reuse industrial waste steam, the steam must be cooled for the treatment process and then reheated for reuse. This process is costly and is currently reliant on fossil-fuel based energy. Sinen En-Tech’s patented micro-filtration and membrane technology treats industrial waste steam at high temperatures, thus reducing energy costs and creating steam that is ready for reuse.
The process also saves money for its clients; although Sinen’s system costs between RMB 6 and 7 million to purchase and install, it saves customers approximately RMB 10 million in energy costs each year and pays for itself within seven to nine months. Since its founding, Sinen En-Tech has, in total, helped its clients save 25.2 million tonnes of water and 252,000 tonnes of coal that would have been used to reheat steam.
“The market potential for this technology is huge,” says Mr. Yang. “New opportunities continue to emerge on the horizon.” Sinen En-Tech technology can be applied to a variety of industries, including the oil-refining, steel and iron, thermal power, pharmaceutical, and alcoholic beverages. The majority of Sinen’s current oil-refining customers are from Sinopec, one of the three largest state-owned Chinese oil companies. According to Mr. Yang, the oil-refining industry alone produces over 3 billion tonnes of wastewater annually.
Innovation to Meet Demand
“Although we have solid financing, we still have a hard time meeting the demands of the market,” says Mr. Yang. As Chinese industry grows and resources become increasingly scarce, Mr. Yang sees the demand for his technology continuing to rise. One of the biggest challenges Sinen faces is how to balance fast growth versus the steady development of the company.
In order to meet the demands of the market, Sinen needs to continue to put money into research and development and into recruiting talented staff. The company is well-financed from Chinese sources, but is ready to seek international investment for its future growth plans, which include targeting an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the next three to five years.
Mr. Yang will travel to New York City in April for the New Ventures Global Investor Forum  to seek investment from a group of international investors. “Our vision in ten years time is to become a famous brand in the energy-saving space,” says Mr. Yang. In order to achieve this vision, Sinen will continue to develop innovative solutions to conserve water and energy, addressing two of China’s most critical environmental issues.
Special thanks to gold sponsors Fundación AVINA and Alcoa Foundation, and silver sponsors Halloran Philanthropies, Related Companies and Harmon Foundation for supporting the New Ventures Global Investor Forum. WRI's New Ventures program is supported by Alcoa Foundation, Citi Foundation, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fundaci ón AVINA, Morgan Stanley, Rockefeller Foundation, UK Department for International Development, UPS Foundation, US Department of State - Asia Pacific Partnership, Zennström Philanthropies