Shanghai lends a hand to help remote desert oil city diversify its industry

A delegation has signed a series of agreements that will take science and technology assistance to Karamay.

In Karamay, 4,000 kilometers from Shanghai in a remote desert basin of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, one of China’s largest oil fields has been the sole driver of the economy.

Now Shanghai is trying to help the area diversify, with a shift toward more sustainable, greener industries. Last week, Karamay officials signed science and technology agreements on eight projects with universities and companies from Shanghai.

Karamay’s name in the Uyghur language means “black oil.” It’s been “black gold” for oil companies and local residents. One travel blog calls the city “the most remote and richest” in China.

Since 2017, more than 40 experts from Shanghai have come to Karamay to help local scientific enterprises with innovation and research. Many young professionals and entrepreneurs from Karamay also went to Shanghai for training and studies.

Sheng Yungao is one of the entrepreneurs benefiting from the experience. He attended a seminar in Shanghai in June, where he met many compatriots from Karamay. Sheng’s company, called Karamay Zhongqiao Productivity Promotion Group, is an “incubator” that provide resources and infrastructure to local start-up companies.

“We visited several innovation hubs and incubators in Shanghai and learned from their experiences,” said Sheng. “The personal contact we had was more rewarding than simply being told what to do in a tutorial.”

Sheng’s shared work space has attracted some 60 start-ups. In tandem with people he met in Shanghai, Sheng said he wants to attract more young local talent.

Shanghai is also lending its intellectual talent to Xinjiang, said Shanghai cadre Jiang Ping, who was dispatched by Shanghai government to work as deputy director of Karamay’s Science and Technology Commission.

“Karamay is known as a traditional industrial city, but we must find new growth points apart from oil, which will eventually run out,” said Jiang. “Many companies here are anxious to adopt innovation.”

Huixiang Laser Technology Group, one of the companies that signed agreements with Shanghai officials last week, is located some 130 kilometers from downtown Karamay.

The company started as a printing house in 2005. Five years later, the company expanded into laser cladding. Huixiang President Sun Chuanxin spent more than 5 million yuan (US$708,195) to bring the first and only laser cladder to Xinjiang.

Laser cladding is often used to repair battered metal components of large machinery. It seemed like a good business fit with oil rigs, which rise everywhere in the desert basin.

It was a good idea, but implementation proved harder.

“We didn’t know how to control the laser beam or the metal powder,” Sun said. “Few companies were willing to give us orders for fear we would damage the bearings.”

According to Sun, repairing a bearing with laser cladding costs only about 5,000 yuan, but that sum quickly multiplies if damage ensues.

Sun told Shanghai Daily that he spent three years visiting Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Sichuan and Hubei provinces, trying to learn more to make the cladder more accurate and efficient. By the end of 2017, Huixiang’s annual production was valued at 1 million yuan.

Last year, Shanghai Science and Technology Commission invited university representatives to visit Karamay. The laser center of Shanghai University of Engineering Science reached out to help Huixiang.

“It was remarkable for this company to foresee the potential of the technology years ago,” said Yang Shanglei, deputy head of the laser center.

University assistance helped Huixiang increase the accuracy of the laser beam. The university also sent experts to the company to teach workers how to operate the machinery, and it shared laboratory research data with the company.

This year, the first laser cladder developed jointly by Huixiang and the laser center started operation. By July, the output value of the company reached 5 million yuan.

With a backlog of orders now and not enough manpower or machinery to handle the demand, Sun said the company is planning to build a new plant and put more laser machines into operation.

Shanghai lends a hand to help remote desert oil city diversify its industry
Xu Lingchao / SHINE

A worker from Huixiang Laser Technology Group operates a laser cutting machine. 

Shanghai lends a hand to help remote desert oil city diversify its industry
Xu Lingchao / SHINE

A laser cladder is repairing a steel pipe. It takes about 5 hours to repair damages on the steel. 

Last week, Huixiang signed an agreement with Shanghai University to develop graphite materials to reduce the water pollution caused by laser machines.

Ding Xiaodong, headmaster of the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, which is setting up a technology-transfer center in Karamay, said supporting Xinjiang also benefits Shanghai.

“There are few oil resources in Shanghai, or even in the Yangtze River Delta,” Ding said. “Connecting with Xinjiang allows us to get in touch with the most important energy industry in the world.”

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