Mardan Mehmet never hesitates to show how happy he is.
“I earn 5,000 yuan ($777) a month, have a car, and can still support my two younger sisters in their studies,” says Mehmet, a Uygur man working at a huge project to produce substitute natural gas from coal in Ili, in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
The coal-to-gas project, which is being undertaken by China’s Shandong Energy Xinwen Mining Group Co Ltd, places priorities on creating job opportunities for local people and on protecting the environment, said Sun Zhonghui, the company’s vice-chairman.
Mehmet became a teacher after graduating from college with a monthly salary of 500 yuan and has also worked alongside his parents as a farmer. The coal-to-gas project changed his life, the Uygur man said.
In 2007, Mehmet joined more than 100 Uygur young men who were applying for work on the project. After being selected, he underwent a year of training in Urumqi and then had a three-month-long internship in one of the company’s plants in Shandong province. He started working in the Ili plant in December 2008 and was promoted to team leader at the Ili No 1 Coal Mine.
“I get along very well with our Han colleagues,” he said. “There’s no tension between us at all. We often invite each other over to drink tea with milk. My relatives say they sometimes envy me for my job.”
Mehmet is not the only young Uygur man who has found a decent job with a stable income at a time when the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture is tapping its rich energy and water resources. In one of the group’s subsidiaries, which produces construction materials in Ili, 70 percent of the employees belong to ethnic minorities.
A local company also provides the shipping services needed by the company’s office building. More than 1,000 local residents are working in mining projects undertaken by the Shandong Energy Xinwen Mining Group Co Ltd in Ili, and the number is expected to increase in the future.
About 12 billion yuan is to be invested in the plant, which will be one of the largest coal-to-gas projects in the world. Once built, it will be able to produce 2 billion cubic meters of synthetic natural gas a year in its first phase and, in the long term, should be able to produce 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year. In 2011, about 5.1 billion yuan is to be invested in the project. More than 3.9 billion of that had been spent by July, mainly on the engineering for the project.
Liu Baoyin, deputy general manager of the company and the person in charge of the Ili project, said more than 10 percent of the 12-billion-yuan investment will go toward measures meant to protect the environment. The main goal of that spending will be to prevent discharges of three types of waste – waste gas, waste water and industrial residue.
The project leaders have made use of advanced technology from around the world and have worked with the UK-based Davy Process Technology on methanation, or generating methane from biomass materials, and with Germany’s Linde Group on methanol synthesis. They have also had important pieces of equipment exported from countries that posses various types of advanced technology.
“Our standard is world-class,” Liu said. “We will neither harm the environment nor affect the lives of local residents.”