A fieldtrip week in China: from Beijing to Henan

Par Karim Thibault & Vincent Mougammadoussane

fieldtrip-1For the first two days of our fieldtrip week, we travelled to Henan province to visit several industries in the region, and to discover another side of China’s development. Our train stopped in Xinxiang, which is a prefecture-level city nicknamed -not without humour- New-York by Chinese people themselves (as Xin 新, actually stands for New in Chinese). Xinxiang, though experiencing a rapid growth, remains a middle-sized Chinese prefectural city with its 5,707,801 inhabitants and an area of 8,629 km².


There, we were warmly welcome by local government officials from the bureau of environmental protection, who accompany us to Weihui City where we were to visit the Chunjiang cement factory (春江水泥有限公司). The Chunjiang group was created in September 2006, and first established there, by a PRC representative of the People’s congress who invested 30 million RMB to start this company, which has then become the biggest in Henan. Nowadays, it covers a wide range of activities ranging from cement production to financial services.


After an instructive introduction on the background of the group, we were invited to visit the cement factory to discover the process of production from the initial raw material to the final output. The cement is initially made from inorganic material such as limestone, bauxite or magnesium. These are blended into appropriate proportion and further grinded before entering the preheater tower. The heated mixture of raw materials then enters a rotary kiln, where it is partially melted to form a new material known as clinker. Finally, the clinker is cooled down and further grinded to give the end product. Each of these steps is monitored carefully in the control room.

In an effort to protect the environment and the health of their fellow citizens, the company also implemented specific measures. The dust emissions are limited by covering the coal storage, and also by installing a dust collector at each end of the rotary kiln. Moreover, fly ash issued from coal burning is added to the clinker to alter the quality of the cement. Finally, the heat recovered from the cooling process is recirculated into the rotary kiln in order to save energy.


After the visit at Chunjiang, we were given a presentation by the delegate from the local government who introduced us to the city, its history and its environmental background. The geographic situation of the city is particularly challenging as the neighbouring Yellow River is higher, in terms of elevation, than the city, and the average wind direction is perpendicular to the river’s bed.  It leads to high water risk and a potentially high pollution. In order to deal with this peculiar situation, the local environmental policy is based on five pillars:

  • Improve control on coal burning
  • Promote an adjustment of the local industry structure
  • Save energy
  • Develop circular economy
  • Improve technologies in the sense of carbon efficiency

The economy of the Henan province has been mainly based on the mining exploitation and heavy industries, it is the fourth producer of coal in China. In the afternoon of our first day in the Henan province, we had the opportunity to visit the sub-critical coal power plant operated by the Huadian Qudong Power Generation Company in the Xinxiang city.

The Xinxiang coal power plant has an installed capacity of 1,320 MW with two generating units of 660 MW, the main goal of the visit was to get an overview of the general process to produce electricity from coal:

1/ The coal is crashed into powder by the pulveriser grinds before being mixed with hot air, it is then moves to the firebox of the boiler for an optimal combustion.

2/ The coal and hot air mixture heats the water of the boiler which turns into steam reaching 500 degrees at a pressure of 165 kg/cm2.

3/The steam is then released to power a turbine turning the heat from the steam into mechanical energy which is used to spin the turbine engine.

4/ The spinning turbine is linked to a generator: magnets spin within copper coils to produce electricity.

5/ The steam moving through the turbine is cooled by a condenser. in this step, a nearby water source is used to pump cool water through a tubes network. As the steam is cooled, it turns back to water which is reused in the process by returning in the boiler.


The company running the coal power plant also underlines some effort made to reduce the environmental impact of the coal power plant process: dust collection, by electrostatic precipitators, NOX (nitrogen oxides) control by non-catalytic reduction system, SO2 (sulphur dioxide)  reduction in the preparation of coal.

To bring that first day to a close, we went back to our hotel where we had a taste of the local food, before returning to our respective rooms for a night of sleep.



The next morning, we appreciated a hearty Chinese breakfast providing us an energetic start for our last day in the Henan province. Our environmental friendly group then headed in the direction of the Henan Xinlianxin Fertilizer company located at the ancient riverbed of the Yellow River in the Xinxiang Economic Development Zone.

With more than 6,000 employees and 45 years of experience, the Henan Xinlianxin Fertilizer co. has evolved from a small nitrogen fertilizer plant to one of the major actor in the fertilizer sector in China. The company produces and sells urea, compound fertilizers, alcohol, methanol, melamine products for a total asset of nearly 1.6 billion yuan?. After a cordial greeting from the company team, we had an introduction of the enterprise background and environmental policy. It was first established in 1969 and has changed from a private to a state-owned company in 2003. Xinlianxin fertilizer company owns four production branches of urea and other chemicals in its two factories in the Xinxiang, Henan province and Xinjiang province producing more than 4 million tons of products.


The company has made considerable efforts to reduce its environmental impact, thus it has been awarded « the national petrochemical industry leader of energy efficiency benchmarking enterprises » by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology thanks to the optimisation of its process. Research and Development at Xinlianxin Fertilizer Co. is organized in 5 scientific research centres working on various subjects such as: smart greenhouse, waste energy, reused water process in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Zhengzhou University. The company has built a strong environment management system and invest more than 500 million yuans to develop circular economy in the manufacturing process of fertilizers.


After the presentation of the background company and its environmental strategy, we had the opportunity to have a tour of the manufacturing site and the different solutions developed to improve the environmental impact of the process. Xinlianxin Fertilizer has gone beyond China’s environmental standard concerning the emission of SO2, NOX, and dust by developing technological solutions to capture NOX in the process by catalyst and conversion to nitrogen. Although, other improvement of the manufacturing process has been implemented to recycle the carbon dioxide : 60 % is reinjected in the process and 20 % is addressed to other companies using carbon dioxide for their own products process.


To conclude the fieldtrip in the Henan province, the afternoon was dedicated to the visit the Xinxiang museum which is one of the largest collection including ceramics, jade, paintings, porcelain art, and calligraphy. After visiting the museum, we then moved towards the train station on our way back home  to Beijing…


Discovering Gansu and remote China (for National Holidays)

When you plan a trip in a remote area, you expect to find breath-taking empty landscapes and friendly globish-speaking locals to help you. National Holidays in China showed us that no matter how far to go, you will always find crowded places and communicating with locals will turn out to be a daily challenge. It also turned out to be the funny part of the trip. We experienced a thrilling adventure while finding our way, asking people to translate, using all means of communication (including mimics), missing trains or desperately trying to find a hotel for the night. It made me realize how helpful and patient Chinese people are and live tiny comforts of life – such as a hot shower – like a true miracle.

We were only six to leave Tsinghua for Gansu. Our Chinese classmates were going home and the rest stayed in Beijing for various reasons. We had an idea of the itinerary and spotted places to sleep, had booked the last train tickets for Xining in Qinghai, and that was it. It began the tough way with the 21 hour trip on “hard seats”. We did not really sleep, but we thought that we were lucky compared to those who just did not have a seat and were standing next to us.


In Xining, we visited the Kumbum Tibetan temple, one of the biggest bouddha temple of the region, 25km away from Xining. We mostly used buses and trains.

In Zhangye area, we went to the Rainbow Mountains (Danxia), the troglodyte temple of Matisi, the Grand Canyon of China (Ping Shan Hu) and the Temple of Sakyamuni.

In Jiayuguan, we walked on the Great Wall, one of the last Western part and the Fortress.

And finally, in Dunhuang, we penetrated the Mogao Caves and hiked the sand dunes around Crescent Lake in the Gobi desert. It was beautiful, though crowded. I noticed that Chinese people had a certain way to behave as tourists: they would take pictures of themselves in front the landscape or the monument, or a selfie, but aside from a few well-equipped photo amateurs, they would not take a photo of the landscape alone.

Chinese people have been very patient and helpful with us. Many times, they showed us the way by walking with us, booked rooms for us on their phones or helped us find a hotel, translated for us or just smiled at us or asked to take pictures with us. Patience, kindness and smiles always worked well when communicating with them.

Some of us took two days to get back from Gansu by train, distances are longer in China! Getting back to Tsinghua felt like going home, and that is a weird thing to say considering that we have been there only for three weeks.

Funny facts:

  • Vincent and Joseph had taken their guitars, but when a Bouddhist monk asked Vincent to play in front of a public, he totally missed it.
  • Vincent and Joseph had bought sledges to ride the sand dunes at Crescent Lake, but it did not work at all.
  • We almost got stuck outside the guesthouse in Dunhuang because the owner had gone to bed. She opened up for us and did not get angry at us for waking her up.
  • We arrived at the wrong train station in Zhangye and had 20 minutes for make the connection with another faraway train station. Ultimately, we managed to change tickets in the last moment to take another train later.