Friday, March 19, 2010

High Tech Research Moves From U.S. To China

Goodbye Silicon Valley, hello Xi’an China. Applied Materials will do new cutting edge research on solar panels Xi’an.

Please consider China Drawing High-Tech Research From U.S. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/busin ... gewanted=1

XI’AN, China — For years, many of China’s best and brightest left for the United States, where high-tech industry was more cutting-edge. But Mark R. Pinto is moving in the opposite direction.

Mr. Pinto is the first chief technology officer of a major American tech company to move to China. The company, Applied Materials, is one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent firms. It supplied equipment used to perfect the first computer chips. Today, it is the world’s biggest supplier of the equipment used to make semiconductors, solar panels and flat-panel displays.

In addition to moving Mr. Pinto and his family to Beijing in January, Applied Materials, whose headquarters are in Santa Clara, Calif., has just built its newest and largest research labs here. Last week, it even held its annual shareholders’ meeting in Xi’an.

It is hardly alone. Companies — and their engineers — are being drawn here more and more as China develops a high-tech economy that increasingly competes directly with the United States.

A few American companies are even making deals with Chinese companies to license Chinese technology.

Xi’an — a city about 600 miles southwest of Beijing known for the discovery nearby of 2,200-year-old terra cotta warriors — has 47 universities and other institutions of higher learning, churning out engineers with master’s degrees who can be hired for $730 a month.

On the other side of Xi’an from Applied Materials sits Thermal Power Research Institute, China’s world-leading laboratory on cleaner coal. The company has just licensed its latest design to Future Fuels in the United States.

The American company plans to pay about $100 million to import from China a 130-foot-high maze of equipment that turns coal into a gas before burning it. This method reduces toxic pollution and makes it easier to capture and sequester gases like carbon dioxide under ground.

Future Fuels will ship the equipment to Pennsylvania and have Chinese engineers teach American workers how to assemble and operate it.

Small clean-energy companies are headed to China, too.

Locally, the Xi’an city government sold a 75-year land lease to Applied Materials at a deep discount and is reimbursing the company for roughly a quarter of the lab complex’s operating costs for five years, said Gang Zou, the site’s general manager.

The company has taken measures, including sealing its computers’ ports here, to prevent the easy use of flash drives to record data. Employees are not allowed to take computers from the building without special permission, and an elaborate system of computer passwords and electronic door keys limits access to certain technological secrets.

But none of that changes the sense that tectonic shifts are under way.

When Xie Lina, a 26-year-old Applied Materials engineer here, was asked recently whether China would play a big role in clean energy in the future, she was surprised by the question.

“Most of the graduate students in China are chasing this area,