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The Intel Environment AwardDorothy Glancy
The nature of environmental technologies is to focus on particular aspects of the seemingly boundless challenges to the environment. One step at a time, one technology at a time seems to be the most effective way to respond to interrelated challenges to the environment in which humanity lives. No single environmental technology will provide a solution to the diverse environmental problems we face in the twenty-first century. But this year’s nominees for the 2007 Intel Environment Award represent promising, innovative solutions to a wide range of environmental problems.
The technologies nominated for the Intel Environment Award in 2007 provide a wide variety of innovative technical strategies that protect and preserve the environment. In selecting the 2007 Laureates, the judging panel considered many types of technologies: alternative fuels, air pollution reduction technologies, ground water remediation, and various ways to protect the ocean environment, to name but a few examples. The technologies nominated in 2007 were somewhat unusual in that a number of them sought to address multiple environmental problems at once, such as disposing of solid wastes by using the waste (often biomass) as an alternative fuel.
This year, as compared with past years, far fewer nominees focused on ocean environment technologies. Moreover, relatively few of the year’s nominated technologies involved genetic engineering, pesticides, and food-related technologies. Moreover, compared to past years, nominations reflected relatively few desalinization technologies and solar energy innovations. Perhaps most surprising, the nominations reflected only scant interest in efficient, intelligent, environmentally friendly transportation.
There are a variety of ways to sort this year’s environmental nominees, including classifying them according to the types of technologies. Nominations in 2007 included various technologies that deal with environmental information. They represent a range of environmental education programs, as well as measurement and monitoring of environmental conditions. A variety of energy-related technologies included renewable solar and wind power, and combinations of energy sources. Additionally, technologies in the form of bio-fuels and fuel efficiency improvements, as well as innovations that help control greenhouse gases were nominated. A number of nominated technologies were concerned with solid waste disposal. Several were designed to turn waste into fuel or to turn waste into furniture. Both water decontamination and water conservation technologies were also well represented among the nominated technologies. Other types of environmental innovations were designed to preserve and to restore coral reefs and to deal with environmental problems caused by fish-farming.
Another way of looking at this year’s environmental technologies is to consider the types of environmental problems addressed. For example, some deal with environmental calamities associated with desertification and deforestation. Some seek to control or to eliminate air pollution in the form of greenhouse gasses. Other nominated technologies are designed to prevent further destruction of coral reefs and to restore previously damaged reefs. Invasive noxious aquatic plants represented yet another specific type of environmental problem addressed by one of the nominated technologies. Others focused on solid waste disposal and even land mines. Several nominated technologies were directed at the problems of fuel cost and efficiency. Indeed, environmental problems associated with all four of the ancient elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, are broadly represented among the nominated environmental technologies.
One feature of significant importance to the judges in the selection of the Laureates for the Intel Environment Award was the realization that environmental technologies can have both positive and negative environmental consequences. To truly benefit humanity, environmental technologies, innovation should provide a net beneficial impact on the environment. Unfortunately, solving one type of environmental problem in a particular way can sometimes result in harmful effects on other aspects of the environment. For example, disposal of solid waste can impair air quality. Similarly, using biomass as alternative fuel can exacerbate atmospheric pollution. Criteria for evaluating the nominated technologies wisely include thoughtful consideration of potential negative consequences.
Five Laureates were chosen from among almost sixty individuals and organizations nominated for the 2007 Intel Environment Award. These five environmental innovations are described below.
Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI)
The Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI) Team is a group of collaborators from the
This largely female team of scientists and engineers was tasked to solve one of the most serious groundwater contamination problems humanity faces. Contamination by dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs), heavy chemical pollutants that settle in the bottom of groundwater reservoirs, forming plumes of toxic chemicals that foul the ground water making it unusable for drinking or irrigation for decades, even centuries. At the Kennedy Space Center, the groundwater contamination was unknowingly caused by using solvents to clean engines and other parts of spacecraft that were about o be launched into space. At the time they were used, the environmental harm caused by cleaning solvents composed of high concentrations of halogenated compounds was not known. Together with dissolved metals, these DNAPLs soaked into groundwater beneath the
At a time when their toxicity was unknown, DNAPLs were left untreated in the ground around the launch facilities, contaminating the area’s fresh water sources and persisting in the aquifers under the NASA launch sites. The resulting groundwater contamination and toxic plume persisted and spread for decades. The conventional approach to this type of contamination has been to use pump-and-treat systems that bring the groundwater above ground for treatment. It is basically a plume control method that continues as long as the groundwater contamination persists. This type of remediation of DNAPL source areas tended to be inefficient, slow, and costly. That is where EZVI broke through conventional treatment approaches with a new and far more efficient and cost-effective decontamination strategy.
Because DNAPLs are liquids denser than water, they do not dissolve or mix easily in water, but rather sink to the bottom causing environmental contamination at and around industrial and government facilities. According to the EPA, 60-70 percent of all sites on the Superfund National Priorities List are contaminated with DNAPLs. The Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI) technology provides on site treatment of DNAPL sources through a quick, effective, and cost-competitive treatment technique.
The remediation strategy invented by the EZVI team was to suspend nano-scale or micro-scale particles of zero-valent (non-magnetic) iron in biodegradable vegetable oil and water. This emulsion incorporates particles that contain zero-valent iron in an oil-liquid membrane. Since the exterior oil membrane has hydrophobic properties similar to that of DNAPL, the emulsion mixes with the DNAPL. The hydrophobic membrane encapsulating the ZVI protects the nano-scale iron from other groundwater constituents that would otherwise bind to the iron. As a result, dehalogenation rates of zero-valent metal emulsions are very high so that no halogen-containing atoms exit from the micelle (the molecular aggregate of surfactants dispersed in the colloidal liquid) during remediation. One of the few available methods to decontaminate the source of DNAPLs, EZVI produces less toxic and more easily degradable by-products. EZVI produces environmentally safe and long-term residual remediation that reduces the costs of remediation.
Potential applications of the EZVI technology are far reaching, from
EZVI is an innovative in-situ strategy that avoids problems and costs associated with conventional pump-and-treat systems and is far more effective because it treats the source of contamination, not just the contaminate plume. Injection of the emulsified zero valent iron into a groundwater source quickly and cheaply neutralizes toxic chemicals and industrial solvents such as tri-chlora-ethylene (TCE). EZVI also can be used to absorb a range of dangerous dissolved metals including chromium, arsenic, and lead. Experiments are already underway to extend the use of EZVI to neutralize munitions.
This work is described in more detail at:
Fundación Terram (roughly translated as Earth Foundation), based in
Financed by the World Bank Development Marketplace, the Fundación’s Integrated Salmon-Seaweed Cultivation project focuses on the wastes from farmed salmon that would otherwise pollute
Fundación Terram partnered with the Universidad de Los
Through aquaculture, humans who were once “hunters of the sea” are increasingly becoming “cultivators of the sea.” The resulting mono-culture of particular types of fish, such as salmon, generates a series of mostly adverse environmental consequences. The organic waste of fish farms is particularly harmful to pristine marine ecosystems like those found in southern
Fundación Terram’s Web site is: www.terram.cl.
Marc Andre Ledoux,
Marc Andre Ledoux is a Canadian entrepreneur who devotes much of his time working with Senegalese people on projects that range from cleaning up waterways to forming new businesses. Among his environmental projects is the application of technologies that remove invasive aquatic plants (typia, salvina molesta, water hyacinth) that tend to choke the lower
Marc Andre Ledoux’s technological innovation combines two technologies to produce an improved domestic fuel out of harmful aquatic plants. The first is a floating “grappling” for fast and easy removal of floating plants. The second, an extruding machine, compresses the dried and shredded plant material into pellets for cooking in low combustion ovens. In combination, these two complementary technologies produce important environmental, economic, and health benefits. The inexpensive floating “grappling” creates job opportunities in the form of local labor. The compaction of plants directly into cooking fuel avoids the adverse environmental by-products of carbonization, a major cause of air pollution and deforestation. Compacting noxious aquatic plants produces large quantities of clean, efficient fuel for domestic use, its energy efficiency superior to that of wood, and equivalent or superior to that of charcoal.
Marc Andre Ledoux describes his project as “holistic” because it simultaneously takes into account multiple dimensions––environment, economic rural development, population health, energy, small enterprise, and jobs opportunity Removing proliferating noxious water plants and transforming them into new value-added and useful products yields numerous beneficial effects. It combats a major environmental obstacle to the economic activities of local people, cattle breeders, and fishermen. It provides a new source of clean energy for home cooking in a country with regular shortages of domestic fuel, and encourages the use of slow-combustion ovens. It reduces the dependency on imported fossil fuels and helps to combat desertification by providing an alternative to wood-cutting and charcoal. It benefits health by increasing water flow no longer impeded by the aquatic plants and both provides better quality water and decreases the threat of diseases (such as malaria) associated with stagnant water and stimulates natural biodiversity otherwise impaired by the invasive non-native plants. It also opens entrepreneurial opportunities likely to be self-sustainable, by creating a new value-added industrial activity in a rural environment. Jobs are created both for aquatic plant removal and for briquette production. Moreover, distribution is arranged through the country’s small retail outlets, often run by women. In sum, local Senegalese people, trained to use these technologies, are provided employment as well as a better riparian environment, free of noxious aquatic weeds.
More information (In French) can be found at:
Joe David Jones,
Considered a major cause of global warming, CO2 is among the most worrisome byproducts of coal-fired power plants, an important source of electrical power in the
The innovative SkymineTM process directly addresses atmospheric pollution, and global warming associated with man-made CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, such as coal. In many developing nations, coal is the primary energy resource available in sufficient quantity to power modernization. The SkymineTM process transforms CO2 gases into carbonate compounds and also removes both heavy metals and acid gases, changing them into solid, stable, non-toxic sodium carbonate compounds that can be returned to the ground as inert filling material that is unlikely to re-release CO2 into the atmosphere. The process has been shown to be ecologically and thermodynamically sound. Results verified by independent laboratory analysis show CO2 capture rates of more than 80%, as well as effective removal of 100% of acid gases (SO2 & NO2) and almost complete removal of heavy metal pollutants, such as mercury and selenium present in coal. The chemistry used in SkymineTM is based on established absorption and electrochemistry processes that are applied in a unique combination to achieve a new result. The process can be built into new power plant construction and also can be used to retrofit existing facilities.
The concept behind the SkymineTM process is to mineralize gaseous CO2 after combustion and to change it into solid, stable, non-toxic sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate materials that are returned to the ground. The process can be designed for installation at any stationary, large-scale CO2 emission source, anywhere in the world.
The technology captures flue gas from coal power generation, processes it through several stages into mostly sodium bicarbonate. Along the way, heavy metals present in coal, such as mercury and selenium, as well as acid gases (SO2 and NO2) are removed and converted into a solid, manageable, concentrated form that keeps these potential air pollutants out of the atmosphere. The technology’s on-site electrolysis process generates hydrogen and chlorine, valuable chemicals that are sold commercially, and sodium hydroxide, which is consumed in the mineralization process. Since SkymineTM by-products have commercial value, the process generates a revenue stream that offsets the processing cost. Revenue from sales of these by-products may provide an economic incentive for power producers to implement the innovation as a net money-maker.
In addition to Joe David Jones, president and CEO of Skyonic Corporation, a number of people and entities are collaborating in the development of this new environmental technology that is currently in pilot operation at a Texas Utilities power generation facility in
You can find out more about SkymineTM at: www.skyonic.com.
Solar Sailor’s hybrid marine power technology addresses a major source of air pollution that, until recently, has not generated much concern among environmentalists. Transport of people and cargo by water uses fossil fuels that are both scarce and harmful to the environment. Historically, wind has served as a powerful source for marine transportation. And in recent years, solar power has become widely available. But combining wind and solar has not been a feature of marine transportation design. The challenge is to power modern marine vessels utilizing the abundant solar and wind energy available on the water. Solar Sailor designs innovative ships that do just that. Its designs enable vessels to use wind and solar power to the maximum extent possible and also to resort to battery and diesel power when necessary. Solar, sail, battery, and hybrid marine power are ingeniously combined in a wide range of applications, from small unmanned vessels to large tankers, as well as ferries, cruisers and yachts. Vessels using Solar Sailor technology offer power redundancy, fuel savings, potentially unlimited distance range, passenger comfort, and environmental benefits including zero emissions at the wharf. Small unmanned vessels utilizing this technology are even being considered by the
Solar Sailor’s “solar sail and hybrid power” technology enhances safety, saves fuel, improves passenger comfort from noise and fumes, and helps meet environmental regulations regarding emissions, particulates, noxious gases, and greenhouse gases. It is currently benefiting those in and around
Solar Sailor’s technology offers multiple sources of power (wind, solar, battery, and diesel fuel) for drive trains with a built-in redundancy. The technology provides significant environmental and safety benefits using a remarkably simple technology that harnesses both solar and wind power. The solar sails fold down when not needed or for seaworthiness. Because Solar Sailor vessel designs require deck space for the “solar sails,” the technology is currently used for tanker and passenger ships. Wind power drives the vessel directly like a sail and solar energy feeds into a hybrid power system that includes both battery and diesel power. Solar energy is stored in batteries and used as needed. Vessels equipped with this technology benefit from exceptional fuel efficiency (up to 60% savings for example on a harbor tour boat), potentially unlimited range, and have much lower environmental impacts than conventional vessels.
There is more information on Solar Sailor at: www.solarsailor.com.
Technology may not solve global warming in a single application. But properly designed and operated environmental technologies can contribute to such a solution, and at the same time provide significant benefits to local environments. To the extent that such environmental innovations are replicated world-wide, they promise significant environmental benefits to all humanity. Indeed, the 2007 Intel Environment Award Laureates all contribute in different ways to understanding and confronting not only global warming but also many other environmental challenges that must be met if humanity is to thrive.
Dorothy Glancy, Chair, Professor of Law,
STS Nexus 8.1