By Bao Chengrong (Kate)

steam car washing

photo from alibaba.com

Five years ago, Zheng Kehong, a creative businessman suddenly came up with a fresh idea: a way to dry-clean cars that would be environmentally friendly and would save energy.

“You only need three bowls of water to wash a car,” said Kehong, the designer of steam car washing machine.

He felt excited and couldn’t wait to tell his partner Zheng Shaopeng about it. They soon involved in the research and built a company in Shantou named Jieneng Electric Apparatus and Technology. Shaopeng, a skillful electro-mechanic, created the machine Kehong imagined. After four years’ efforts, the new generation of a steam car-washing machine finally hit the market in 2007.

Up to now, about 150 new machines have been manufactured and sold to many northern cities in China, where water is more scarce, including Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Shenyang. Kehong even planned to sell them abroad this year. However, none have been used in Shantou.

Kehong said, “the realization of environmental protection by Shantou citizens needs time.”

The machine costs about 11,200 kunas, four times the amount of regular car washing equipment. But its savings are long-term.

The new machine has the opportunity to help Shantou battle its water shortage. A 2008 article in Eastday news said Shantou is one of main areas in Guandong province lacking in water. Based on 2006 data, the average amount of water resources per capita in Shantou is 426 cubic metres (426,000 liters) per year, only 17 percent of the provincial rate.

Car washing is one of the most water-consuming industries. According to a 2008 Shantou Daily article, Shantou residents owned about 614,000 vehicles, including 159,000 cars by 2008. A normal car wash consumes about 150 liters per car, according to Dahua news agency. Using the 2008 statistics, if 614,000 vehicles are washed one time a year, 92.1 million liters of water is used. If all of those cars used the steam machine, only 1 percent of the wastewater would be used or 921,000 liters.

In a car washing station in Tuopu, a worker, who used a high-pressure water jet for car washing, spent almost 20 minutes to finish the whole process till the land around him was soaking with water.

Lin Zhongwei, the manager of this station said they needed about 500 liters water was needed to wash a car. If every car in Shantou was washed just one time a year in his station, 307 million liters of water would be wasted.

Furthermore, the normal car washing machine is unable to function in cold temperatures especially if it is snowing, because the chemicals in detergent would easily freeze. But the steam car washing machine has no such worry.

Another technology is on the market that recycles water for car washing circulating polluted water through the system. However, Kehong said the cost of the equipment is higher than the steam car washing machine.

Despite the advantages of the steam car washing machine, many people are reluctant to invest the large sum of money into the equipment. A normal car washing machine used in Zhuanliang car washing station costs about 2,800 yuan, four times cheaper than Kehong’s machine.

Yang Qiao, the 33-year-old manager of this station, showed a great interest in the new machine and asked many questions about it.

“But I am wondering about the electricity bill needed by this machine. If it takes more than 700 yuan per month, I will certainly not use it,” Yang said.

According to Yang, the average of water bill in his station is around 700 yuan per month. Yang also doubted whether steam could completely clean a car, especially if mud and dust on a car is thick. But Kehong responded the pressure is strong enough to clean it.

Zhongwei, the manager of Beverly Special Car Washing Station said he thought steam car washing could only be used inside but not outside.

“I haven’t heard about it (use steam to wash the whole car) before”, he said, “But if the cost is reasonable, I will consider it.”

Kehong said he has not widely advertised his product in Shantou. “I have tried to advertise it in Television newspaper, but only received two inquiry calls,” he said. He also mentioned that they regarded Internet as the main means for advertisement at present because of shortage in human resources.

Until now, high-pressure water jet for car washing has continued to play a key role in car washing industry in Shantou. The new machine still has a long way to go in exploring a potential market here.