FAS Goes to China

In mid-November, Joe Hagerman and I traveled to China to speak at the US China Green Energy Conference in Beijing, and to meet with officials from Sichuan University and the town of Mianzhu regarding rebuilding housing after the Sichuan Earthquake.

The first leg of the trip was to Beijing to attend the US China Green Energy Conference, a meeting of business, technology, academic, and government leaders from both China and the United States to discuss energy issues of mutual interest, including innovative energy technologies, energy efficiency, and models for China/US business ventures. The conference itself was full of compelling speakers and interesting sessions, including a keynote from FAS Board Member and Dean of the College of Engineering/ Professor of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley Shankar Sastry.

Our turn to present came during the final session of the conference, titled “Rebuilding After the Sichuan Earthquake.”  The session was moderated by Mark Levine, Group Leader of China Energy Group, Former Director of Environment Energy Technology Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and included presentations by:

·         Wu Yong, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Construction, Beijing

·         Li Bixion, Professor, Sichuan University

·         Joe Hagerman, Federation of American Scientists

The session was very well attended, and sparked a very interested, intense discussion. Wu Yong presented about the current state of rebuilding efforts by the government in the Sichuan area, and Professor Bixion presented her research into the structural reasons for, and the extent of the earthquake damage. Joe’s presentation concluded the session, focusing on FAS’s past work with CSIPs (including demonstration homes and seismic research), as well as its experience with emergency relief housing work, with the idea that CSIPs are an ideal candidate for rebuilding in Sichuan. The group fielded questions well past the scheduled end of the session, with a clear air of concern and optimistic enthusiasm from the audience.

Joe’s presentation from the conference can be found here.

Following the conference, Joe and I traveled to Chengdu, a city of 11 million in the Sichuan Province and one of the economic hubs of Southwest China. We were met by members of Sichuan University’s International Office, who took us back to the university to meet with with officials from the Engineering School and the International Office of Sichuan University. After settling in, the university led a tour of earthquake damaged areas and temporary relief housing in Dujiangyan, an town roughly 20 kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter and a center of extensive destruction. The majority of our tour focused on a set of buildings that were in the varied stages of construction during the earthquake – providing a snapshot timeline of how typical Chinese construction reacted. The results were discouraging – most buildings suffered massive failure, with several toppled over entirely. However, it did offer a good learning opportunity, and we were able to pick up many of the shortcomings of Chinese building, ranging from techniques and typical construction approaches, to lacking measures in the Chinese seismic code.

We departed the building site and, on our way back to Chengdu, stopped at a temporary housing village. The village was large, full of small white buildings with blue roofs. We had the opportunity to speak with an older couple whose home had been destroyed and was relocated there. While the living arrangements were small and bare, they were very happy – they felt that the Chinese government had acted very quickly, and that they were being well taken care of in their time of need. They will be living in the village for at least two more years.

The following day, Joe and I traveled to Mianzhu, another town near the earthquake’s epicenter, for our final stop before flying back to the States – a meeting with the Director of Reconstruction for the town. The damage there was extensive, with roughly 100,000 households in Mianzhu needing homes. The meeting was an exploratory one, where we presented our past research on CSIPs to the Director. We believe that CSIPs are an ideal candidate for rebuilding – they are energy efficient, easy to construct, and seismically robust. The meeting has resulted in preliminary approaches to a demonstration home between Mianzhu and FAS. This would involve design and engineering, quality assurance and control inspections of Chinese CSIP manufacturing, and working with builders in Mianzhu to construct the home. We believe a successful demonstration project could mean significantly safer and more comfortable housing in the region, as well as a significant reduction in energy use. FAS also sees this as the first step towards the broader creation of a CSIP industry in China. FAS is currently seeking funding for this initiative.

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