By Michael Fitzpatrick
FORTUNE -- As Japan braces for a Chinese export it never asked for -- toxic clouds of pollution -- it is stepping up its green technology transfers in hopes they will clean the air.
Mending fences with its powerful neighbor wouldn't hurt either. "Japan already helps China to reduce emissions of pollutants through technology transfer," says Junko Edahiro, chief executive of Japan for Sustainability, an environmental NGO in Tokyo. "But there is much more to be done."
Now, with hazardous smog threatening its coast, Japan is offering further tech know-how to an increasingly desperately polluted China. Recently, as part of a mission to improve bilateral relations and avert further aggression over disputed islands claimed by both countries, a new accord was signed that promises to increase sharing of pollution-control technology with China. Tokyo and Beijing have essentially agreed to facilitate technological cooperation in a bid to halt the appalling air pollution that is causing havoc not just in China but in neighboring Korea and southwestern Japan.
China has been slow to adopt measures to control pollution and enforce its clean air act. But increased social unrest in China over its environment has goaded the politburo into action. The recent revelation of so-called cancer villages within China and intolerable levels of city smog have only added to the pressure.
It seems Japan is a perfect partner for China in its bid to clean up. After all, Japan had the same track record of environmental disasters in the 1960s and 1970s, explains Yoshihito Iwama, the environmental bureau director of the Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren in Japan. Its plight was solved by creating new laws and technologies to deal with pollution. "We have experienced some of the same terrible pollution problems on our past," he says. "And we have overcome such problems, especially those related to air pollution so we are ready to cooperate with China on sharing our anti-air-pollution technology."
He also points out that Japanese factories already operating in China abide by strict environmental controls that could be a showcase for Chinese factory owners.
High on the agenda now is to prevent the disbursement of so-called PM2.5 air pollution -- hazardous airborne particles only 2.5 thousandths of a millimeter across -- that can penetrate deep into human tissue to cause serious health problems. Japan has the technology to help trace the origins of PM2.5 and to predict its disbursement, say Japanese officials.
While both governments iron out the details of the accord, private firms such as Sharp and Panasonic (PC) have been reaping an unexpected windfall selling electronics in China that help purify the air. Sales of Sharp's air purifiers -- which China certifies "remove 99% of PM2.5" -- tripled in January compared with the same month of 2012. "Awareness of health and environment among consumers in China has increased in the past few years, so our air purifiers are selling extremely well there," says a Sharp spokeswoman.
Despite an informal boycott of Japanese goods in China, Kedieran officials insists that trade relations are still excellent between the two countries. Japan has extensive business interests in China and will benefit hugely in the supply chain if China does get serious about detoxing its landscape, say observers.
Tokyo and Beijing city governments already cooperate through a technical exchange in waste and water management. Tokyo, the biggest city in the world, already has one of the most technologically advanced sewage and recycling systems anywhere. Such technology helped pull Tokyo out of the bottom of a United Nations list for clean cities to a place near the top.
Japan's second city, Osaka, meanwhile wants to offer up its floating, solar-powered water purifiers that can each clean 2,400 liters per day in its sullied canal system.
Although Japan's recent environmental record is not without blemish, the country's technocrats are bullish that it can interest China in other green technologies such as its recently developed smart cities that help promote sustainable planning and development. Even Kawasaki, the "dirty old town" product of Japan's spectacular, but unregulated industrial growth, now boasts an annual Eco Fair which promotes its homegrown environmental technologies to the world and is now host to Japan's largest solar power plant.
Changes in China may not come so easily. The Japanese green tech industry may have official China on its side, but state-owned corporations and local vested interests could prove less tractable than industrial Japan of the '80s. After a long fight, Japanese industry eventually buckled under Japan's clean air acts enacted in the '70s, despite the costs, thanks to persistent social pressure. Persuading a dirty but profitable China to take up Japan's expensive new antipollution technologies may prove another task altogether.
This ain't no cookie-cutter mobile home. LivingHomes makes high-end, affordable prefabs that also get high marks for green tech.
By Brian Dumaine, senior editor-at-large
FORTUNE -- Steve Glenn, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former Apple marketing exec, thinks he's found a new twist on the world's second-oldest industry. His Santa Monica construction company, LivingHomes, designs and builds high-quality, modern, superefficient glass-filled abodes that are prefabs -- which makes them extremely MOREAug 23, 2012 5:00 AM ET
There will be failures, but also great investment opportunities for investors in the intersection of energy and technology.
By Brian O'Keefe
FORTUNE – When it comes to green tech, it's easy to dwell on the bad news. A decade of venture capital investments have so far produced mixed returns. The carbon tax hasn't gotten off the ground. And let's just say that U.S. energy policy could be more coherent.
Yet, despite it all, MOREJul 21, 2011 10:16 AM ET
That windowpane in your office will soon become valuable for more than the view. Newly developed electrochromic "smart" glass can cloud up for privacy, block the sun's rays to cool you down, or absorb them to power the place. Scientists say the glass will soon enable your office windows to turn into multitouch screens for PowerPoint presentations or videoconferences.
Green glass: Electrochromic glass draws its properties from a thin transparent glaze. MOREJessi Hempel, writer - Jul 5, 2011 5:00 AM ET
After taking a long detour into green-tech investments, the storied venture firm is returning to its sweet spot: the Internet.
Just two years ago people (including Fortune) were fretting that venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins -- an early investor in Netscape, Amazon (AMZN), and Google (GOOG) -- had missed the wave on the latest round of hot Internet startups in favor of a slew of risky wagers on "green" energy. (See MOREAdam Lashinsky, Sr. Editor at Large - Nov 29, 2010 3:00 AM ET
EPA chief Lisa Jackson says tech companies tend to be young, hip and green. Now they need to think about recycling on the front end.
By Shelley DuBois, reporter
Garbage is money, says Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She claims that's especially true for tech products that are built with some of the more valuable elements.
"What happens to our our smartphones and our other products is they MOREJul 24, 2010 1:10 PM ET
Three critical questions Bloom Energy must answer to succeed.
By Paul Keegan, contributor
Now that Bloom Energy has come out of hiding on Fortune.com last Friday and on a recent episode of CBS's "60 Minutes," you'd think we'd all be able to start celebrating the invention of K.R. Sridhar's magic black fuel-cell box. The CEO claims it can provide abundant, cheap, clean electricity that will finally rid us of our dependence on MOREFeb 23, 2010 10:50 AM ET
By Brian Dumaine, assistant managing editor
Architecture firm SOM rises to the challenge of designing the most energy-efficient tower, a 71-story building in China.
The Holy Grail of modern architecture is to design a zero-energy building, or ZEB. ZEBs use solar, wind, and geothermal systems to produce at least as much energy as they tap from the grid. In some cases, a building's owner can sell the excess electricity generated by the structure MOREFeb 23, 2010 10:24 AM ET
The Bloom Energy CEO is finally unveiling his entry in the fuel-cell arena after years of playing it close to the vest.
By Paul Keegan, contributor
K.R. Sridhar looks nervous. The CEO of Bloom Energy, the much-hyped fuel cell start-up, sits in a conference room preparing to show off his magical "Bloom Box" for the first time in public. The 49-year-old scientist-turned entrepreneur has raised $400 million in venture capital for his MOREFeb 19, 2010 4:33 PM ET
A business incubator in Detroit wants to launch hundreds of tech companies.
Crammed into a small Detroit office filled with pipe fittings, hydraulic tubing, and a device that looks like a gas pump combined with a supercomputer, Dave Shaw sums up how his life has changed. Tipping back in a cheap office chair, the former auto executive points beneath the folding table that is his desk. "We had a ton of MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Feb 11, 2010 9:17 AM ET
|McDonald's gives Charles Ramsey free food for a year|
|Where your donation dollars go|
|Hedge fund guru says moms and trading don't mix|
|Doomsday investors betting on market crash|
|Investors consider life after Fed stimulus|