This article was taken from Time magazine on 5-2-2006
Clean Power for China
By: Bryan Walsh/Hong Kong
“Like just about every ambitious engineering student at China’s Tsinghua University in the early 1980s, Li Zheng had his heart set on the high-tech, high-profile electronics field- up until the day he bombed on an electronics exam. But his uncharacteristic classroom stumble led Li to a field that could play an even larger role in China’s future: energy production. “I think the choice was a very fortunate one in the end,” says Li, who studied thermal engineering and in 2000 became a full professor at the Tsinghua – China’s M.I.T. – at the remarkably young age of 35. “Engineering is incredibly important for a growing society like China.”
But energy means carbon, and China’s booming economy puts it on a path to become the world’s No. 1 greenhouse-gas emitter as early as 2020. Li knows China needs clean energy as baldly as the developed world needs China to clean up, which is why he joined the Tsinghua – BP Clean Energy Research and Education Center as director when it opened as director when it opened in 2003. The center’s most promising project is a new technology called polygeneration, by which coal is converted into a cleaner gaseous fuel that can both generate electricity and be processed into a petroleum substitute. Polygeneration could cut the carbon emissions China generates by burning its copious coal reserves and reduce its dependence on oil imports. While his team continues to refine the technology – it’s still more expensive than direct coal combustion – Li is lobbying the governments a $600 million demonstration plant, and he’s optimistic he will see it built. “China is motivated to develop this technology,” Li says. And the rest of the world is hoping it does."