Li Qingpeng, Cooking Oil Expert
He has always been conscientious. His instructions are quick and to the point. He never forgets why he started his work and accomplishes every mission assigned to him.
Walking into Nanyuan Vegetable Cooking Oil Plant of the Beijing Grain Group (BGG) in Tiangongyuan, huge white tanks fill the scene. The tanks contain crude cooking oils for Beijingers. If natural disasters occur or cooking oil prices rise, the reserve oil in the tanks will be supplied to markets.
At the foot of a tank, Li Qingpeng wears glasses and a blue uniform while directing the tank being filled. Li looks like a scholar, and his instructions are quick and to the point. In recent years, Li has constantly carried out R&D on technologies for reserve vegetable cooking oils such as environmentallyfriendly and intelligent storage to respond to the government’s food safety regulations. Li has published seven essays in Chinese journals.
In 2008, Li developed a technology combining low oxygen with nitrogen gas, which greatly improved the storage of vegetable cooking oils. This technology won the first prize of innovation of BGG and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Grain.
Over the next few years, Li has participated in, and been responsible for, R& D projects, including quality changes in the course of storing cooking oils, upgrading of filling equipment for cooking oil tanks, statistical software and environmentally- friendly storage of cooking oils, combining digital and automatic security and communications technologies to track 130 sensors in tanks and storage areas to achieve an intelligent management system.
In 2015, Li was awarded as one of the best employees in both BGG and all of Beijing’s grain industry due to his work and outstanding achievements.
Experience from the Grass Roots
Li is assistant general manager of the Nanyuan Vegetable Cooking Oil Plant. As a member of the CPC Communist Party of China (CPC), he acts as a role model in his daily work. Li has led his team members to process all kinds of inbound and outbound oils weighing more than 500,000 tons since he joined the plant. Li also improved over 30 regulations including those for inbound and outbound oils, daily safety and checking the workflow for standardising storage management of cooking oils.
Li is not only a good manager but also a technological expert who’s carried out many key R&D projects. However, Li was confused when he first learned about his university major. In 2001, Li entered into Henan University of Technology. Li had selected information technology as his major, as it began to be a popular university programme at that time.
But upon receiving his college acceptance letter, Li learned that he was transferred to the food engineering and science programme at the university. Before stepping foot on campus, Li wondered what the major was and later joked that he was inappropriately chosen to study the programme.
According to senior students, one of the highlights of the university is the studying of grain and cooking oil storage. In terms of its academic level and practical technologies, the programme has become one of China’s top three. The more he studied, the more proud he felt.
But after graduating from university in 2005, he began to work as a logistic staff member in Nanyuan Vegetable Cooking Oil Plant. Li’s work included the production’s inbound outbound and daily inspections, which didn’t have much to do with his university programme.
Li said, “At that time, I was a bluecollar worker switching valves on and off, but I held a bachelor’s of engineering degree. My enthusiasm and ambition were hit hard by reality, although I was excited when I first saw these huge cooking oil tanks.”
Li was touched by his mentor Zhang Deqing’s dedication after talking with him. Li adjusted his frustration to face reality as he did after he entered university. Li decided to apply himself at a grass roots level. He didn’t know his position was intentionally arranged by Zhang and the management team.
“Later, my mentor said placing me in the grass roots was a test and training for me. College graduates will often be promoted into managerial positions but they must learn about how front- line
workers do their daily work to deal with their future management. I only worked in that role for a few months, but those experiences were very beneficial. Like an old Chinese sage said, ‘ When heaven is about to place a responsibility on a great man, it frustrates his spirit and will and exhausts his muscles and bones,’” Li continued.
With great ambition, Li began to learn about a variety of frontline work such as information about the pipelines connected with the tanks, measuring the depth of oil in the tanks, getting oil samples and cleaning the tanks. He could climb 20 huge tanks in a morning. Pipelines connected with tanks were laid in ditches. To become familiar with the layout of the pipelines and avoid improper operations that might cause an accident, Li went into the ditches to find out which direction the pipelines were heading. Li said these things couldn’t be taught in college classes and only those who have done that kind of work could have a deeper understanding of the industry.
Months passed after Li decided to settle into his grassroots position. He was transferred to an office to deal with issues such as communication between BGG and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Grain. Li cherished his work experience at the grass roots level, which laid the groundwork for his future management and R&D work.
In 2008, something major happened in Li’s industry, making him realise his responsibility. For part of that year, the price of soybean cooking oil in Beijing soared from more than 6,000 yuan to 17,000 yuan per ton. When the price of soybean oil rose to 80 yuan per bottle, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Grain instructed his plant to provide 2,000 tons of refined soybean cooking oils to ease the price within three days.
The soybean oil entered into super-markets and wholesale markets. “The 2,000 tons of oil were used as a cushion for a later 5,000 tons of oils, Li said, “But we needed a period to refine the crude 5,000 tons of oil before it entered the market. One week after the oil was supplied to the market, the oil price dropped by 50 percent. These reserves were instrumental in regulating market prices at a critical time.”
After experiencing this event, Li strengthened his philosophy of “loving whatever you are engaged in.” In 2008, Beijing Municipality hosted the Summer Olympic Games and BGG and the Municipal Bureau of Grain put forward an idea of eco-friendly storage. That year became a turning point of Li’s career. According to BGG’S management, a research team led by Li was founded. The team’s first R&D project was using nitrogen gas for storing cooking oils in sealed tanks.
Li said, “Environmentallyfriendly storage means no chemical components are added and only inert gases are suitable.” Li and his team members decided to use nitrogen gas because of its low cost of purification. But one of the major challenges was yet to come. Setting parameters for nitrogen pressure and concentration was the key to R&D. Too much pressure can cause a tank’s deformation and inadequate concentration won’t have an effect. Li’s team took more than a year to complete the selection of setting parameters after carrying out repeated comparative studies. In 2010, Li’s team achieved its first innovation— nitrogen- gas-filling technology that was widely used in his company.
Li thinks the R&D of 2008 was in line with a trend of his industry. He said he did some work not related to his profession for a while, but he reviewed his professional books for future purposes.
The Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission decided to authorise the R&D of cooking oils’ environmentally-friendly storage to Li’s team due to its storing of cooking oils with combining low- oxygen and nitrogen gas—a leading technology in China.
According to Li, innovation means integrating wisdom. From 2008 to 2015, Li’s team completed the R& D of a complete automation system. A storage area with a capacity of 58,000 tons in Li’s plant has achieved intelligent management of inbound and outbound processes, such as surveillance, the use of infrared devices and oil supply equipment that can be turned on and off automatically.
In the storage area, huge cooking oil tanks stand as if they were small buildings. Li showed a reporter from Beijing magazine to the foot of a tank. Li climbed up 20 tanks that morning. The reporter climbed the tank using a ladder fixed on its outer walls, but his breathing began to quicken when he was halfway to the top.
Li’s R&D has focused on cooking oils in the tanks, aiming to allow people to use safe products. In 2017, the use of molecular fluorescence to test adulteration is a new achievement of Li’s team. This technology can ensure the first stage of food safety by analysing whether crude cooking oils are inferior, and whether oils were contaminated with other ingredients.
“Over the years, we have noticed that some crude cooking oils’ indices rose sharply in a short period and its quality dropped rapidly. The reason is that grade one soybean oils are added in inferior crude oils to balance their quality but the effect is temporary. Technologies such as infrared, ultraviolet and spectral analysis for detecting oil quality weren’t ideal. We finally came up with molecular fluorescence, because the principle is to use the wavelength of each substance to identify cooking oil ingredients,” Li said, “The experiment was difficult. People often say an elf is confused by mixed oils, and it’s true.”
During the R&D of molecular fluorescence, Li and his team members met a range of difficulties such as huge amounts of data regarding different proportions, origins and types of crude cooking oils. To deal with these issues, they invited experts from the Beijing Centre for Physical and Chemical Analysis to introduce modeling that serves to collect experimental parameters to match characteristics of crude oils with grade one soybean oils, which was a breakthrough in R&D.
In recent years, Li has included R&D pertaining to quality changes in cooking oil storage and he continued to explore and innovate.
A Man with a Mission
Li’s team also worked on storage area automation management systems. At each corner of a tank’s fence, there is a set of anti-theft infrared emitters. Whenever someone touches these invisible barriers, an alarm is triggered in the control room, where states of all tanks, various parameters and settings, filling switches and other functions can be monitored and commanded through the automation system.
In 2015, in accordance with a plan of the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality, the area covered by Li’s plant was included in an affordable housing development plan supported by the government. The relocation of reserve oil tanks wasn’t only necessary for development, but also a mission arranged by the government for Li’s team.
From November 3 to December 15, 2015, Li led his team members to overcome oils’ fluidity reduction due to low temperature, vehicles that can only be used every other day because of an odd- even license plate system for relieving air pollution and sudden heavy snowfall to relocate more than 50,000 tons of oil, ensuring the development of affordable housing.
Li attributed the success of the relocation to his teamwork. He said he was in a stressful situation as it was a tough task with a tight schedule and he was understaffed. Li divided his team members into small groups to perform their work.
In the old storage area, Li led his team members to transport oils to the new storage area in Daxing, where his mentor Zhang was responsible for receiving and warehousing oils, testing oil tanks, pumps, pipelines and automation equipment. Li said, “My difficulty was to reduce losses. If I didn’t control the vehicles and management of outbound oil, a one percent loss of 50,000 tons meant 500 tons, which was covered by the plant.”
Li and Zhang held fast to their own positions for the relocation day and night. They dealt with the business of each department during the day, and kept close eyes on the site at night to respond to a variety of emergencies. One day, a weighbridge’s sensor didn’t work due to sleet. Li had no time to notify anyone. At more than 10 degrees below zero Celcius, he scraped ice and frozen soil off to fix the weighbridge.
To minimise losses, after each tank was emptied, a small pump was used to draw precipitated grease out of the tank with added nitrogen gas. The planned loss rate was six thousandths, as required by the management, but Li’s rate was three thousandths. Li proudly stated that, “In the history of BGG, we have kept a record of the lowest loss rate during large amounts of oil relocation. We were awarded by BGG at that time.”
Li said relocation ran smoothly as he cooperated with Zhang and other team members; before the relocation, he and Zhang had completed the design plan of an automation management system for the new storage area; moreover, Zhang entered the new area a year in advance for its construction.
From operating each valve and collecting basic statistical data to arranging inbound and outbound flows of oils and managing departments, Li has always been conscientious. He said he never forgets why he started his work, and that his mission can be accomplished.
Li Qingpeng tests a vegetable oil sample.
Li Qingpeng (left) instructs his colleague to conduct an experiment.