Archive for June, 2015


Monday, June 29th, 2015

Although I’ve lived in China for almost a year, many of my friends and colleagues in Beijing saw more of me when I was based in the U.S. — and visited the country solely on a project basis. So on my way back home for the summer, I spent a couple of days in Beijing, having lunches & dinners with a number of folks I’ve known for a long, long time.

Mao’s mausoleum

While I was there, I also took the opportunity to see a major Tiananmen Square tourist site that I’d never visited, despite some 25 years of trips to the city: Mao’s mausoleum. The visit was actually spurred, however, by a short story in a recent prize-winning book: The Dog: Stories, by Jack Livings. Livings’ collection is really quite remarkable; all of the stories are set in China, even though he hasn’t visited the country since the late 1990s. The NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani called it a “stunning debut,” & included it on her list of her 10 favorite books of 2014. The longest story – “The Crystal Sarcophagus” – received particular attention from numerous critics. It describes the heroic efforts of a group of glassmakers back in 1976 to create the glass coffin holding Mao’s corpse, delving deep into the technical, political and exceedingly human aspects of that harried enterprise. I have to admit that it led me to spend as much time focused on the glass artifact as Mao himself, for reasons that the author suggests: ‘…the coffin is flawless. It is unbreakable. It gives off no reflection. It is otherworldly, a miracle, a triumph of the revolution.”

[Note: photos are forbidden inside the mausoleum, so I had to use an exterior one for this posting; for a hint about the crystal sarcophagus itself, please see this 2008 NY Times article.]


Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Immediately after the Council trip (see posting below), I headed over to Paris to lecture in the Petroleum Economics & Management program at the IFP School, as well as their joint Executive Master’s program in Energy Management with Norway’s BI business school. Everyone is getting ready for the upcoming COP meeting in Paris at the end of this year – and interestingly, IFP students have already been modeling Chinese emissions trading approaches as part of their carbon studies under Sidney Lambert-Lalitte. (Prof. Liu Beibei — shown in a posting last November— has graciously been helping them gather regional power system data for that same effort).

Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’

You might remember that I took a stroll along the Promenade Plantée a couple of years ago on one of my Paris visits, and passed by a building which had a rather remarkable architectural tribute to Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ (see the July 2013 posting). I decided that this year’s trip offered a great opportunity to go and see the real thing — especially since I hadn’t been to the Louvre in a number of years. Needless to say, the original ‘Dying Slave’ was quite an awe-inspiring piece of art, fully deserving of such tribute. Wandering around in the museum for a couple of hours, I also had a chance to check out other Italian art (such as that of Giotto — see last October’s posting — displayed nearby). But one important change had occurred at the museum since my last visit: yes, it seemed that I was now very alone in NOT doing a ‘selfie’ with the Mona Lisa & Venus de Milo.

And this year’s Parisian stroll — along the Rue de Rivoli – resulted in a very different kind of architectural tribute…. as I happened to stumble upon a fashion shoot. Every time the traffic light turned red, the leggy model strutted across the street — indicating that Paris indeed has many forms of beauty…. and many, many things in this city are truly sublime!

Paris fashion shoot on Rue de Rivoli

Travels with the Hopkins-Nanjing Council

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

The Hopkins-Nanjing Council is a very distinguished group of individuals who provide advice and guidance – and considerable support! – to the operations and overall development of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center…. and in early June, a 12-member delegation came to China to learn about the country’s energy/environment situation, and to find out how our new ERE program was progressing. Dr. John Lipsky — former Chief Economist at Salomon Brothers, J.P. Morgan & Chase, who recently headed the IMF during the period between DSK & Christine Lagarde – is Honorary Chair of the Council, and led the delegation. It also included Dr. Jill McGovern, wife of the late, long-serving President of Johns Hopkins University, Steven Muller (the founding father of the Center back in 1986); and numerous other illustrious U.S. & Chinese business, philanthropic, and academic individuals.

We started in Beijing, meeting with senior officials at the Ministry of Environment; exploring one of China’s seven pilot emissions trading projects at the China Beijing Environment Exchange; discussing recent air quality/climate technical reports & outreach efforts by the Paulson Institute; and seeing some of the new technology and software packages coming out of the Microsoft One research center. Another fascinating stop was Parkview Green – the first mixed-use commercial project in China certified as ‘LEED®-platinum.’ LEED is a well-known green building standard, and Parkview Green – built by the Hong Kong-based property developer & art collector George Wong — has quite a stunning design. It is especially unique in integrating modern art — galleries, exhibitions, and all kinds of set art pieces (including some 40 works of Salvador Dali) – throughout.

Parkview Green

The next stop was Nanjing, where Council members had a chance to meet HNC students, and to attend one of my ERE classes. One ERE student group made a presentation about their visits to Beijing and Delhi, India last March (supported by the Starr Foundation & ExxonMobil) to scope out the positions of China and India in the upcoming COP 21 meeting in Paris. In the classroom session, students discussed the recent (and very controversial!) Ecomodernist Manifesto — including its potential applicability in a number of major countries around the world, and comparisons with Deep Decarbonization options in those same countries.

The final stop was Shanghai, where we toured Honeywell’s research facility, and also met up with the Nicobar Group – a small technical company working in China’s nuclear industry. We wrapped up at Three on the Bund, where Dr. Lipsky made a Hopkins China Forum presentation about the UNEP Finance Initiative’s efforts to ‘green’ the financial system in China. Dr. Lipsky is a member of the Advisory Council for UNEP FI’s Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, and his presentation covered a recent report specifically focusing on financial measures in China. [And a special shout out to Hugh Sullivan & Emily Spencer in DC, who coordinated this venture!]

Guodian Changzhou Power Plant

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

HNC students at Guodian power plant
Photo credit: Matt Hess

China’s economy is largely supported by coal-fired electricity, and power plants in this country have a huge impact on the local, national and international environment. All of the ERE courses I teach here at HNC – addressing air pollution control, global energy fundamentals, global environmental challenges, etc. – are very much affected by the design and operations of these facilities, and it is therefore extremely important that students have a solid understanding of what goes on in such a plant.

I was therefore extremely pleased when Prof. Zhou Yuanchun – shown in the Changzhou WWT write-up four postings below – arranged for our ERE students (& faculty) to visit a major coal-fired power plant in that same city. China Guodian Corp. is one of the five big power generating companies in China, and their plant in Changzhou is quite large – two supercritical 630 MW units, with two more (ultra-supercritical) units on the drawing board, and scheduled to come on-line in 2018.

Control Room visit
Photo credit: Brandon Yeh

And what an amazing tour they provided! Six Guodian engineers spent a considerable amount of time with us beforehand, going over their operations in detail, addressing all questions, and being very open & informative. They then gave us a really fantastic tour of their facility…. & went out of their way to point out specific pollution control units & operations. The facility itself had exactly the kinds of technologies we had covered in class — “scrubbers” (i.e., flue gas desulfurization [FGD] units); selective catalytic reduction (SCR) de-NOx systems; electrostatic precipitators for particulate control, etc., etc. — and on really sizable units, so students could get a good impression about scale as well.

Changzhou plant ‘scrubbers’

These larger, cleaner coal-fired facilities are replacing smaller, inefficient, dirtier units…. and that is obviously a good thing to see. The next transition — away from coal altogether — will probably not be as easy, but ultimately will be necessary as well.

Solar Impulse

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Our ERE student group has been very active this year, and after running into members of the advance team for Solar Impulse – the solar airplane making a pit stop in Nanjing on its current round-the-world tour — they were able to schedule a visit for us when it arrived.

Solar Impulse in Nanjing

The airplane left Abu Dhabi on March 9th…. and the Nanjing stop came after a flight from Chongqing, the sixth leg of the flight. It took off from Nanjing on May 30th, aiming to make the six day ocean-crossing marathon from Nanjing to Hawaii – by far the longest (and almost certainly the most dangerous) of the entire trek — but ultimately got diverted to Nagoya, Japan when a cold front made flying conditions too risky.

The airplane itself has a very large wingspan (72 meters [236 feet], longer than a Boeing 747) holding more than 17,000 solar cells…. but it was the flying conditions that were really eye-opening, and made one appreciate the pilots’ tremendous dedication. For that six-day period, the pilot (only one flies at a time) would be seated in a cockpit and could not stand; could only sleep in twenty minute intervals; had no cabin pressurization, and hence would need an oxygen mask for much of the flight; and could be subjected to temperatures ranging from minus to plus 40 degrees C (i.e., -40 to 100+ degrees F). Obviously, he couldn’t take a stroll down the aisle to take a bathroom break either — and there is always the very real physical danger. Other than that…. well, I’m just glad that I’m an observer rather than participant!

Solar Impulse instructor
Photo credit: Matt Hess

The visit did gave me an incentive/excuse (as if either was needed!) to pick up & read David McCullough’s new book about the Wright brothers, describing their similarly intrepid efforts to undertake new – and indeed very radical – aerial experiments & tests more than a century ago. One can only hope that Solar Impulse’s results are as positive & as heralded as those groundbreaking endeavors described so masterfully in McCullough’s tome.