Air of superiority

Tycoon sees opportunity in Scottish highlands

Air of superiority

Forget oil, Scots have new export

Deep in a glen, just north of Speyside is Corrievorrie. It’s home to a small whisky distillery, a pub and some fine salmon fishing. Until recently this rustic Scottish hideaway was a place few would have heard of.

Then the Chinese arrived…

China National Chemical and Gas Export (CNCGE) has settled on Corrievorrie as the location for its new factory.

CNCGE – which was founded in Shandong province in 1994 – is now China’s biggest seller of methane gas to households. But entrepreneurial boss Wang Xu Fan sees a new opportunity: bottling pure Scottish air and selling it to China’s elite.

Wang has already struck deals with luxury apartment complexes in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai to pipe Corrievorrie’s air through their central air-conditioning units. Rich residents are willing to pay a premium for this service, Wang claims, as they seek to insulate their families from the chronic air pollution besetting so many Chinese cities.

WiC has written in previous issues about alarming rises in asthma and other respiratory problems in China. So it is no surprise that those who can afford it want to breathe purer air at home.

Wang – already ranked 89th on Chinese rich lists with a fortune estimated at Rmb1.1 billion – first had the idea of bottling Scottish air when dining with friends. They all complained about how the air quality in Beijing was deteriorating as a result of booming car ownership (about 30 million vehicles have been added to roads in the capital in the past three years alone).

“One businessman told me he was thinking of sending his wife and children abroad to protect their health,” Wang told the Beijing Economic Gazette. “That’s when I thought about bringing First World air quality to our homes.”

Wang had been to Scotland the previous summer and knew that many Chinese associated the highlands with Britain’s royal family going to Balmoral.

“It’s a place where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles go for its purity, naturalness and clean air. All Chinese know that because it is something that appears in our school textbooks,” Wang notes.

He settled on Corrievorrie after commissioning a study to find the best balanced air in Scotland. He took samples from 10 locations around the country and even asked focus groups in Beijing to give their verdict.

“It’s like a whisky,” Wang told the Gazette. “You have to get the right blend. The Chinese seem to particularly like the 21% oxygen content of Corrievorrie. On the other hand they were much less enthusiastic about the air we sampled from less elite areas like the Gorbals.”

Wang plans to brand his product simply as Sugelan – the Chinese name for Scotland – and has bought 30 hectares of land on the outskirts of the village to begin bottling. His factory, now nearing completion after a $120 million investment, has even impressed local environmentalists, who say it blends into the landscape. Once operational in August, it will distill air into specially-designed cylinders. They will then be sent on container ships to China.

CNCGE reckons there could be massive demand for its newest product – given China’s air quality seems to get worse by the year. And that’s an exciting prospect for those in Corrievorrie. “There’s nae much employment round here,” says local resident Jessie Johnston. “The village contains about 290 folk and the Chinese say the plant will create jobs for 200 of us. The wages are twice what Mr Dodd pays me at the fish and chip shop.”

The air purifier market in China is worth $2.9 billion per year, and Wang expects his product to appeal to the wealthier segment of the country’s newly rich. “They want the best. Our sales pitch is basically: drink Chateau Lafite, breathe Scottish air,” Wang boasts.

The comparison is apt in financial terms. For a 3,000 square foot apartment, it will cost around Rmb1,000 per hour to fully ventilate with Sugelan.

If all goes well, Wang says a Hong Kong IPO could occur next year.

Editor’s note: this story is a prank story we ran on 1 April

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