DuPont: Inside Many Chinese Breakthroughs

You won't see the DuPont DD brand on the wind turbines being installed at the sprawling Shangyi Manjing Wind Farm near Beijing. Don't look for the company's name on the solar arrays at the entrances to the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium. But these and dozens of other emblems of China's push into green technology are built with materials and components from DuPont, a global leader in industrial biotech, chemicals, electric parts, and agricultural technology. A single windmill turbine may contain 14 different DuPont products, including special varnishes, enamels, and resins. An advanced, fuel-efficient automobile may have many more. "We won't sell a car that gets 100 miles a gallon, but that car will have a lot of DuPont components," says Linda Fisher, the company's chief sustainability officer.

DuPont's involvement in so many facets of China's green transformation won over BusinessWeek judges such as Changhua Wu, Greater China director of Climate Group, a green advocacy organization. She wasn't merely impressed by the fact that DuPont provides eight different components in Chinese-made solar panels, or that its Kevlar fabric is used to make windmill blades lighter and more stable. What won Wu over is the way DuPont "is tackling challenges on energy, food, climate change, security…and other key issues for sustainable development," she says.

The trust DuPont has won from environmental groups in China, as well as from its partners and government regulators, helped the company build a base in Greater China that brought in about $2.1 billion in revenues last year. The company says sales of its solar materials tripled in 2008, while its wind power business doubled.

Collaborating to ventilate coal mines

Amid this rapid expansion, DuPont has encountered some setbacks. Last year residents near a DuPont soy protein plant in Zhenzhou complained about foul odors coming from the factory. Douglas Muzyka, president of DuPont Greater China, says that after a residential community sprang up around the plant, DuPont decided to move the factory to the city's new economic development area, away from dense residential quarters. The important thing, says Muzyka, is that "we work closely with the local authorities."

Such collaboration sometimes leads to new business opportunities. Consider China's persistent problems with coal mine ventilation, which is implicated in gas explosions that kill as many as 6,000 miners a year. Researchers in several DuPont labs in China and other parts of Asia recently worked with the Chinese Academy of Safety, Science & Technology to develop a flexible, lightweight mining ventilation pipe based on Kevlar and polyvinyl chloride. It's designed to dilute gases by flushing fresh air deep into the mines. "Our safety-resources business will double in revenue this year because of opportunities like this," Muzyka says.

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