China's green building boom good for Australia

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Monday, 25 February, 2008



In a recent report issued by Austrade, demand for green building technology is on the rise in China, with the country expected to be home to half the world's building construction between now and 2020. According to the report, without intervention building-related energy consumption is set to double in this time, which has led Chinese authorities to establish a raft of environmentally friendly building plans and policies.

Peter Osbourne, Austrade's country manager for China, says that these trends are creating opportunities in China for Australian businesses offering green products and services.

"Not only has the Chinese Ministry for Construction instructed all Chinese cities to cut their building energy use in half by 2010, but there is also a plan to retrofit a quarter of existing buildings to increase their energy efficiency in the same time frame," he said.

"The ministry has also established an international conference on energy-efficient building technologies, which will be held in March for the fourth time in Beijing. A wide range of Australian businesses have already achieved success in China, such as PTW Architects, co-designer of the award-winning energy-efficient 'Watercube' National Swimming Centre, which will be used at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games," he says.

"However, the enormity of China's ongoing demand for green building technology means there is potential for further Australian businesses to expand into China, and although we face competition from around the world in the Chinese green building sector, Australia has the largest foreign government network in China through its 15 Austrade offices, giving Australian businesses an advantage."

Since 2001, when licensing manufacturing got underway in China, Rapidwall, a low-cost prefabricated walling system, has been collecting the waste product from power generation plants in China. The flue gas gypsum, which is produced as a result of desulphurisation, is turned into plaster and subsequently into the Rapidwall product, thereby helping clean up the environment.

According to Rapid Building Systems CEO Peter Zwaans, South Australian developed Rapidwall has increasingly become the building material of choice in China.

"Local authorities class Rapidwall as the second most economical building system available and it's proved to be one of the most popular because it helps reduce pollution from the coal fire plants and chemical plants, and it's very quick to assemble," he says.

"In 2006, Beijing City Council established a 20,000 RMB (AU$3000) grant for people using green building materials, including Rapidwall, to construct a home. So there is extra incentive for locals on top of the fact that it's low-cost, earthquake-resistant and is a fire-proof product."

Rapidwall has been used for a variety of buildings in China, including community centres, factories and supermarkets, as well as residential townhouses, village houses, terraces and apartment complexes.

For Sydney-based insulating company Insulating Technology, which manufactures an insulating paint that reflects the sun's rays, initial attempts to get into the Chinese market were difficult; but with the help of Austrade's office in Guangzhou, effective distribution channels in Southern China have been successful.

"Exporting accounts for a considerable portion of Insultec's sales and China is a hot spot for us," says Tushar Bhatt, CEO of Insulating Technology.

"We estimate that sales will grow ten-fold in the next five years as the demand for green building continues."

"Insultec is featured on a high-rise residential tower in Beijing and various commercial buildings, and the product has been registered as a potential supplier for the 2010 Asian Games village in Guangzhou," he says.

Australian companies are also meeting the demand in the energy-saving retrofitting industry. IIum-a-Lite, a designer and manufacturer of energy-saving products for fluorescent lighting, set up a joint venture (JV) in China three years ago, which is now, according to reports, rivalling its Australian parent company in turnover and profit.

"In addition to the JV company, Light (Beijing) Electric Equipment Company has now undertaken R&D and developed some products with unique applications in China," says IIum-a-Lite CEO Mark Rutherford, adding that the demand for energy-saving products in China meant IIum-a-lite's JV would be kept busy in the future.

"I expect the JV to become bigger and more profitable than IIum-a-Lite over the next 12 months and it has the potential for explosive growth in such a large and energy-constrained country like China."

In the busy tourist hotspot of Macau, Victorian-based company EnviroBond, a manufacturer of carpet underlay made from recycled PET bottles, has installed its product into the new six-star Crown Casino which opened last year.

More than 14,000 square metres of the environmentally friendly underlay was used on gaming floors and in guest rooms. Made from 17,000 tonnes of PET fibre, the underlay is also fully recyclable and contains no volatile organic compounds.

"Green products are the way property developers, architects and builders in China are leaning towards," says Neil Young, general manager of EnviroBond.

"With the assistance of Austrade, we are also investigating openings in mainland China."

"There is also demand from the general community [in China] for more environmentally friendly products," he says.

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