Wang Chuanfu, the 43-year-old founder and chairman of Chinese electric car and battery maker BYD Co, tops the annual Hurun Rich List of the nation's wealthiest following an investment in his company by Warren Buffett that caused a five-fold surge in the share price.
With assets of $5.1 billion, he jumped 102 places from last year's ranking.
"Paper Queen" Zhang Yin, from Nine Dragons Paper, is in the second slot. Her company imports recyclable paper and processes it into packaging and paper materials, primarily for export. She is worth $4.9 billion.
Industry observers said the two were at the vanguard of China's "green revolution".
Wang was born to a poor family in rural Anhui province where he was raised by his brothers and sisters after the death of his parents.
He finished his master's degree at Beijing Non-Ferrous Research Institute in 1990, where he was an active student known for his dancing.
After graduation, he became an officer at a government-affiliated research institute in Beijing. In 1995, he left his secure position to strike out on his own, founding BYD Co. Initially, the company made rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and other electronic products. His factory was located in Shenzhen, the booming economic zone north of Hong Kong. Wang used to joke that BYD stood for "Bring Your Dollars".
By 2000, Wang's startup company had become the world's largest supplier of cell phone batteries. BYD was listed on the Hong Kong stock market in 2002.
The company acquired Qinchuan Machinery Development Co Ltd of Shaanxi, a Chinese auto manufacturer in 2003. The takeover startled investors and BYD experienced two years of deficits. Despite the setback, Wang insisted that the electric-auto business would ensure the company's future growth.
He said the business has a promising future because BYD, which employs 3,000 research and development engineers, has the world's best battery technology and the end of the gasoline age is near.
BYD, or "Build Your Dreams", put its first plug-in electric car on the market in 2008.
The same year, its auto business accounted for 32 percent of BYD's annual turnover, compared with 23 percent in 2007.
In 2008, the auto business generated about 8.7 billion yuan in sales.
Buffett's company announced in 2008 it would buy 225 million new shares in BYD for HK$8 each. The shares surged 387 percent this year.
The company has a market value of HK$140.7 billion. The Hurun Report says Wang owns 28 percent.
"Wang Chuanfu has made it to number one in China on the back of the 30 percent growth of the Chinese car industry, the Warren Buffett touch and the recovery of the Chinese economy," said Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and compiler of the Hurun Rich List.
"BYD is leading the foray into the next generation of cars using clean technology," Hoogewerf said.
Wu Changhua, Greater China Director at The Climate Group, said: "China is in the process of being the world's leading supplier of low-carbon technologies and services."
She added that there were still plenty of green business opportunities in the country.
Experts predict cars powered by new forms of energy will account to 10 percent of vehicles in China by 2020.
Frost & Sullivan China estimates that total sales of hybrids will be 11,000 units in 2010, growing to 30,000 units in 2012 when public perception of the technology expands and costs decrease. The firm estimates it will sell 95,000 hybrid units, or 0.9 percent of passenger cars, in 2015.