China Consumer

Air of Opportunity

Air purifiers are big business

Air of Opportunity

Since the beginning of this year, Beijing – caving to public pressure – has started publishing hourly air pollution readings (including the highly controversial PM 2.5 reading, see WiC134). But now, with more accurate data, Beijing residents are more worried than ever about health problems caused by poor air quality.

But improving air quality is going to take a while. So in the meantime, residents in the capital are relying on air purifiers to filter the increasingly foul air. Sun Chenjing, a 28 year-old doctor who is planning to have a baby, recently spent more than Rmb10,000 ($1,580) on two purifiers for her home. “I don’t want my baby to fall prey to the city’s pollution,” she told the China Daily.

As it turns out she is not the only one. Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s leadership compound, apparently makes ample use of huge air filters, too. No wonder electronics retailer Gome Appliances says sales of air purifiers in Beijing have grown 80% in the second half of 2011 from the prior six months.

However, not all purifier makers are enjoying a boost. Surprisingly, domestic manufacturers have been outselling foreign ones, says South Weekend. That’s because Chinese shoppers have been complaining that the filters of foreign purifiers can’t handle the country’s unusually heavy pollution. He Bing, deputy dean at China University of Political Science and Law, told the China Daily that his foreign branded purifier’s filter was soot-laden just 10 days after he cleaned it – and produced ink-coloured, dirty water.

Why? “Foreign brands simply can’t imagine how serious China’s pollution is. A filter usually requires replacing once a year in other parts of the world. But it’s once every three to four months in China,” says Wen Hui, president of Yadu, one of China’s largest purifier makers.

Analysts say while the main function of purifiers in most foreign countries is to eliminate pollens and inhalable particles, in pollution-heavy China, air-purifying machines need to handle the heavy task of detoxification and disinfection. China’s home-produced purifiers are designed for heavy-duty cleaning (it’s not the first time we’ve indicated how local appliances are made to more demanding specs; see WiC53 for our explanation of why Haier designed washing machines capable of cleaning potatoes).

“Foreign countries use air cleaners for a more healthy and eco-friendly environment. China’s formaldehyde pollution is unique in the world,” explains Song Guangsheng, Director of the National Indoor Environment and Environmental Protection Product Supervision and Inspection Centre.

Meanwhile, domestic manufacturers say they are struggling to keep up with customer demand. Yadu says sales went up by more than 50% during the Lunar New Year compared with a year ago. Yuandan, another local producer, recorded an even bigger spike – sales increased 300% year-on-year in the second half of 2011. As South Weekend notes, Haier and Midea, two of the country’s biggest appliance makers, will also soon start making air filters.

China’s ‘indoor environment protection’ market is reckoned to be worth Rmb100 billion annually – and evidently is growing as fast as the nation’s pollution.

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