News / Asia

Chinese Science Minister Visits Argonne Laboratory to Study Alternative Fuel

Chinese Minister Gang Wan's visit to Argonne National Laboratory.
Chinese Minister Gang Wan's visit to Argonne National Laboratory.

In a report recently published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, China has surpassed the United States as the leading emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Scientists in both China and the United States are working to develop technologies that could replace gasoline as a source of fuel in automobiles and, in turn, reduce the amount of pollution contributing to global warming. 

Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Gang Wan knows automobiles.  His resume includes positions as a technical manager for the German automotive company Audi, and professorships in Germany and China instructing graduate students in the development of fuel cell technology.

He is a leading voice in the push to transform China's automotive industry to clean fuel, something he first introduced to the Chinese government in a report in 2000.  That report helped him earn a position in the ministry of science and technology.

"The development of clean and electric vehicles, it is a national strategic, emerging industry," Wan says, "We will devote every effort to promote this industry."

Speaking through a translator at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, Wan emphasized the importance of clean energy to China's international commitments.

"Now China is devoted to cut emissions and save energy.  And, during the Copenhagen conference, China's government made a commitment," Wan explained. "In order to realize these goals and these commitments, we have to develop clean and electric vehicles."

Researchers at Argonne say by 2020, China is expected to sell more cars per year than the United States and, by 2030, will have more cars on the road than the United States.  More vehicles burning petroleum means more green house gas emissions, which most scientists say contributes to climate change.

It is a problem Wan is hoping can be solved by getting more drivers in China behind the wheel of a vehicle not powered by gasoline.

Argonne National Laboratory is a sort of ground zero (the center) in the field of alternative automobile fuel technology.

In several different buildings throughout Argonne's sprawling campus southwest of Chicago, researchers are working on everything from lithium ion batteries to hydrogen fuel cells as a way to get cars and trucks down the road without polluting the atmosphere.

Scientists and engineers at Argonne's Transportation Technology Research and Development Center have been working with their Chinese counterparts since 2003 to develop those technologies.

Wan's visit helped him better understand how research conducted at Argonne could one day power future Chinese automobiles.

"He's looking for different ways to structure Chinese research," David Sandalow stated. Sandalow is the assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy.  Sandalow was part of a team of U.S. officials helping Minister Wan and the Chinese delegation answer questions about what could be learned from the research conducted at Argonne.

"Another question is, 'What do we have to learn from the Chinese?' And the answer to that is, a lot.  The Chinese are world leaders in some of the manufacturing technologies here.  It's an interesting example in my view of where we have a lot to learn from each other," Sandalow said.

China and the United States are the two biggest producers of carbon dioxide, which causes global warming greenhouse gases.  Both countries also import most of the petroleum they consume from third countries.  Wan says energy independence and a cleaner environment is not just a priority for his country.

"For China and the U.S., we both have these national priorities, we have the common goals, then based on these common goals, we will work together more closely," Wan said.

That effort to work closely together will bring some members of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology back to Argonne in September, for a workshop devoted to further developing electric vehicles and battery technology.

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