China Focus: Steel giant's green transition

Alan Yang

SHIJIAZHUANG, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Li Min, 57, was once labeled "crazy" when the former iron ore mine owner poured much of his money into a deserted mine.

Having spent 270 million yuan (about 41.3 million U.S. dollars) on the wasteland in the city of Qian'an, north China's Hebei Province, over the past three years, Li is now content to see the mine transformed into an ecological park.

Li is a native of Caiyuan Township, where the Jinling iron ore mine restoration and tourism project is located. He recalled that when he was a child, the mountain used to be green and the river was clean.

"I believe the restoration project will revive the original look of the mountains ruined by mining," he said.

Neighboring Beijing, Hebei is a leading producer of iron and steel. Facing pressure from the overcapacity of iron production as well as industrial air pollution, many steelmakers and iron ore mines have been closed in pursuit of green and high-quality development.

According to Li, the Jinling restoration and tourism project mainly consists of an ore waste processing line with an annual processing capacity of 6 million tonnes, and land reclamation to turn the scarred mountain into farmland and green space.

The park currently boasts more than 66 hectares of flower land and it received over 30,000 tourists during the National Holiday in October.

At the entrance of the park lies Liuzhuangzi Village of Caiyuan Township, Li's hometown. A cooperative has been established in the village to lease farmland from villagers, organize them to plant trees and flowers in the park and support them to develop homestay business.

"By leasing the farmland to the park, villagers have become shareholders in the project. We have enjoyed both a better environment and higher income," said Zhang Lina, a local villager, adding that three nearby villages have also formed similar cooperatives.

Including the Jinling project, the city of Qian'an has restored and reclaimed nearly 2,000 hectares of land from iron ore mines in recent years.

Hebei cut iron and steel production capacity by more than 68 million tonnes from 2016 to 2019, almost half of the capacity slashed by the entire country during the same period, official data showed.

While the outdated capacity has been reduced for environmental-friendly industries, the steelmakers that remain operational have upgraded their technology and equipment to save energy and cut pollution.

The HBIS Group, one of the world's largest steelmakers based in Hebei, has adopted more than 130 advanced technologies, such as desulfurization and denitrification, in its new plant in the city of Tangshan, where zero-emission of wastewater and the safe disposal of all solid and hazardous waste have been realized, said Wang Xindong, deputy general manager of the group.

The excess heat and energy are used to generate power for the plant, and provide heating to residential communities with 5 million square meters of floor area, Wang added.

Continuous efforts driven by green development have borne fruits.

According to a September report by the World Bank team on Pollution Management and Environmental Health, the reduction in PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei is among the most substantial air quality improvements ever achieved globally in the past five to six years.

Figures of the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment showed the average annual concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing dropped from 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter in 2013 to 42 micrograms per cubic meter in 2019, a decrease of more than 50 percent, while the carbon emission intensity fell by 43 percent from 2010 to 2019.

Standing on a sightseeing platform converted from a waste station as Li envisioned the prospect of the park, he appeared optimistic.

The Jinling project with a total investment of 850 million yuan will cover more than 660 hectares, where an extreme sports zone and a water park will be built, according to the plan.

"Tourists will be able to enjoy the flowers in spring, swim in summer, pick fruits in fall and play with snow in winter here," Li said.