Across China: Rebirth of a Chinese steel mill
Dressed in a suit rather than dark-blue overalls, Yu Cheng has explained several times to his grandfather about his current job at Jigang Group Co. where the old man used to work.
“I still work for Jigang, but the company has nothing to do with steel and iron making now,” said Yu.
Yu used to be a maintenance worker of the torpedo cars for a 3,200-cubic meter blast furnace of Jigang Group Co., once one of China’s major steel groups.
The massive furnace located in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, once known as the symbol of Chinese steel and iron industry, has been abandoned for nearly two years.
As most of Jigang’s abandoned factories and equipment will be dismantled in the future, the furnace, however, will remain to serve as an industrial relic.
“I was in charge of cutting off power for the steel factories of the group. It just felt like I was sentencing Jigang’s steel and iron business to death,” recalled Jiang Hexin, a senior electrical engineer at Jigang.
Jiang is now in charge of research and development as well as sales of transformer boxes at a reorganized subsidiary. “I had never thought that someday I would have to learn new things and get used to new job,” said the 52-year-old.
With a workforce of 20,000 before the shutdown of its steel-making business, Jigang launched the transformation drive with 16 out of 24 subsidiaries being survived to explore new businesses.
“Getting rid of the highly-polluting outdated production capacity indicates a fresh start for us. We will never go back,” said Bo Tao, chairman of Jigang.
The company has been exploring environmentally friendly industries, including start-up incubation, logistics management and cultural and creative business.
In 2018, it generated a revenue of 14.7 billion yuan (2.2 billion U.S. dollars), half of the revenue it raked in before its main business was closed.
The steel industry in China had its golden age. In the 1990s, the business brought fat profits to the steel groups.
The 3,200-cubic meter blast furnace was put into operation in 2010, a slow time for the industry. During that period, steel mills nationwide reported thin profits or even losses mainly due to excess capacity.
Meanwhile, northern China encountered severe smoggy weather due to emissions from heavy industries, with the public urging for more measures to rein in industrial pollution.
Jigang is an epitome of China’s firm determination in cutting excess polluting industrial capacity to protect the environment and improve the air.
By the end of 2018, China had cut 150 million tonnes of excess steel capacity, fulfilling the task listed in the country’s 13th five-year plan (2016-2020) ahead of schedule.
Due to a slew of anti-pollution measures, Jinan, as well as other major cities in northern China, have seen remarkedly improved air quality in the past few years.
The new subsidiary Yu now works for is dealing with recycling mineral resources extracted from construction waste, such as rebars and concrete.
“My grandparents and parents had devoted their whole careers to the steel industry, making a richer China,” said Yu. “My company is in the recycling business, making a cleaner environment and I am glad to do my part.”