US entrepreneur Tom Watson doesn't regret not investing in China over the past three decades. "Time was not on our side then," said Watson, whose company sells air filtration systems.
"But we can catch up now." Watson is in China with a US delegation seeking clean energy and environmental investment opportunities in China and India. US Assistant Secretary of Commerce David Bohigian is leading the delegation of 19 US companies.
Watson's Filter One designs and manufactures industrial air filtration systems for the likes of military bases in the United States, airlines, and aircraft and engine manufacturers such as Boeing and GE. It employs less than 50 people.
"Our experience in the industry over the years will help us find more opportunities in China," Watson said.
But Filter One is a latecomer to China's clean energy and environment sector. Helix Micro, an energy conservation company based in the Silicon Valley, saw the opportunity earlier.
"The market potential in China is so huge and our revenue is expected to soar by 100-fold next year from last year's $1 million," Wu Bing, its president, said.
Helix Micro's business includes energy storage and transmission, but its focus is batteries.
In China, it's targeting laptop and electric bicycle batteries. Wu expects the two sectors to bring the company huge opportunities.
Several domestic laptop producers have shown interest in the company's technology so that they can make their own batteries and reduce manufacturing costs, Wu said.
The technology can also extend the life of electric bicycles, which would make locally produced bikes more competitive on the market, he said.
"We're talking with leading PC maker Lenovo for the use of that technology," Wu said. "We're also negotiating with electric bicycle manufacturers."
Watson will travel with the US delegation from Beijing to Jinan in Shandong province and to Shanghai. From there they will fly to India - another big market for renewable energy.
"The 19 companies participating in this mission represent the cutting edge of US innovation, which can benefit China and India to meet their massive energy demand while improving environment quality," Bohigian said.
Statistics suggest China's clean technology market will increase to $186 billion by 2010 and $555 billion by 2020. China and the US signed a 10-year agreement to cooperate on energy and environmental protection at the strategic economic dialogue held in July.
The two governments agreed to increase energy efficiency and reduce pollution, calling for cooperation on a range of issues - from energy efficiency in power generation, transport and water treatment to reducing air pollution and preserving wetlands and forests.
Han Wenke, president of the energy research institute under the National Development and Reform Commission, said China and the US should cooperate to tackle rising energy costs.
He said it is crucial to make existing or new technologies affordable.
"New technologies can reduce energy consumption and they are especially vital for big energy consumers like China and the US ," Han said.
Covanta Energy Corp is also expanding its business in China, targeting the Bohai Rim, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta. A subsidiary of Covanta Holding Corp, it runs large-scale energy-from-waste and renewable energy projects.
"Although we haven't got wholly owned plants in China, we still wish to share our world-leading technologies and innovation abilities with our Chinese partners," Joe O. Neuhof III, director of business development at Covanta Energy, said.
Covanta Energy entered China in April 2007 when it bought a 40 percent stake in Chongqing Sanfeng Environmental Industry Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Chongqing Iron & Steel Ltd.