The arguments for a clean environment and energy independence have been around for years. Still, US president George W Bush, in his State of the Union address in January, called on the US to diversify its energy supply.
“The way forward is through technology,” he said.
The environmental technology sector is one of the fastest growing today. Its global market is estimated to be worth some €550bn, with an annual growth rate of between 5% and 20%.
In the US, the sector is largely promoted by public-private partnerships. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) provides the nation’s primary research and development laboratories where technology transfer is critical.
NREL laboratories in Golden, Colorado, work on solar cell technology, including photovoltaics.
“Boeing-Spectrolab licensed NREL technology for making advanced solar cells,” explains George Douglas, NREL spokesman.
NREL is developing technology for producing fuel ethanol from cellulosic biomass – the fibrous bulk of plant material.
“Interested companies include DuPont, Chevron, and Archer Daniels Midland,” he adds.
NREL is collaborating with industry to test wind turbine longevity and efficiency so that wind energy can operate at lower speeds and close to populated areas. Cities such as Chicago, St Louis, Wichita and Kansas City are actively pursing wind energy programmes as are interested suppliers such as Clipper Windpower and GE Energy.
NREL is currently in the process of selecting a location for the first wind turbine blade test facility in the US. Toledo, Ohio, is one location in the running.
Key advantages to Toledo are its location on Lake Erie, which makes it possible to offer waterborne transport; the lake’s shallow water, which is necessary for developing a wind farm site; and varying seasons needed to test wind blades.
“Toledo also has a workforce skilled in metal bending, metal testing and powertrain materials,” adds Steve Weathers, president/CEO of the Regional Growth Partnership of Toledo. “The $11m investment would generate hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits, prosperity, jobs, and tax revenues.”
North Dakota has more than $1bn in renewable energy projects planned or under construction. These include five new ethanol plants, three biodiesel plants and seven wind farms. Its Energy and Environmental Research Centre at the University of North Dakota offers 10 unique programmes committed to alternative fuel research, coal emission technology, biomass utilisation and other progressive energy measures.
LM Glasfiber, the world’s largest global supplier of blades for wind turbines, is helping to power North Dakota’s booming wind energy market. Known as the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’, North Dakota has the potential to be the national leader in wind energy production with more available ‘good wind’ than any other state.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is promoting environmentally friendly buildings through its Green Building Alliance (GBA). Its mission is to encourage environmentally friendly design and construction.
“We’ve built capacity and driven market demand by working with building owners, facility managers and decision makers,” comments Rebecca Flora, GBA executive director.
“To date, some 80 projects in the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area utilise ‘green systems’ or include green features.
“As a result of our programme, building-owner clients are making conscience decisions to build green buildings,” says Ms Flora.
In Canada, the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC), located in Regina, Saskatchewan, is involved in enhancing the oil industry, a major sector of Canada’s economy.
“The work we do is petroleum-related,” says Brian Kristoff, PTRC acting executive director. “Our work looks at environment-friendly technology.”
Major projects include the Weyburn-Midale CO
project, an eight-year $80m international undertaking that will have major implications for reducing CO
emissions throughout the world while simultaneously increasing oil production. Its $40m Joint Implementation of Vapour Extraction Project offers technologies that could increase recovery rates from 30% to 50%, or five billion to 10 billion barrels of oil in western Canada that otherwise would not be recovered.
Europe has been at the forefront of promoting environmental technology, largely because of government policies and European Commission climate-related initiatives.
Germany accounts for about one-sixth of the world trade volume in environmental technology. Helping to promote the sector are companies and research institutions that co-operate in a host of regional and specialised networks. One, the Competence Centre for the Environment Augsburg-Swabia, operates as the central interface for knowledge transfer, information, exchange of ideas and experience and co-operation among environmental companies and institutions in Bavaria.
The UK has thousands of diverse firms and institutions involved in environmental technologies. The Environment Centre at Lancaster University is fostering partnerships between the university’s five environment-related research centres, business, and industry. Its newly constructed facility invites businesses to co-locate alongside the university.
The Liverpool City Region consists of 1500 environmental technology-related companies with a turnover of more than £2.7m (€4m). Projects involving the Mersey Waterfront, River Mersey and Mersey Estuary offer opportunities in wind and tidal power. Work is also under way to create a £9m wind farm of 25 wind turbines in the Mersey Estuary.
In south-west England, the Brixham Environmental Laboratory, part of the AstraZeneca organisation, works with industry in the investigation and resolution of environmental issues and regulatory testing. The region also offers some of the best wave energy resources in Europe that could produce 10% of the UK onshore wind energy production targets for 2010.
Biomass energy also shows promise. Last year, Regen South West, the region’s renewable energy agency, received an investment in excess of £500,000 to help develop the region’s bioheat sector. Contributing to the investment are the South West of England Regional Development Agency and the Forestry Commission.
According to a report from the national Biomass Task Force, biomass technology could reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by almost three million tons a year — the equivalent of taking 3.25 million cars off the road.
Turning east, Denmark is a leader in environment technology, having been one of the first countries in the world to implement a national environmental protection act. Now, its almost 25 years of experience is being exported to other countries. Denmark leads the way in wind energy. Danish power stations and wind turbines are technologically the most efficient in the world. With 20,000 people employed in the sector, a combined turnover of €3bn for the manufacturers, and companies occupying 40% of the world market, Denmark plays a central role in the development of the wind energy industry.
Denmark has also strong research programmes at the Danish Technical University and the Risoe Test Station for wind turbines, as well as in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
Japan is a world leader in environmental technologies thanks in part to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation, established by the government in 1980 to develop new oil-alternative energy technologies. Activities there centre on solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen, and fuel cell energy developments as well as energy conservation, fossil fuel utilisation technology, and other energy-related activities.
Malaysia has been implementing environmental policies since it introduced the Environmental Quality Act of 1974 and introduced 20 sets of regulations. Companies find opportunities here. First Solar, for one, plans to construct a $150m four-line solar module manufacturing plant in Kedah with a minimum annual capacity of 100 megawatts. Production is slated to begin in mid-2008.
China suffers from acute well-known environmental problems. Consequently, China is fertile ground for environment-related investment. That is why General Electric signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in May 2006, promising to expand co-operation in developing advanced environmental technologies that will support continued, sustainable growth in China over many decades. The memorandum allows GE to invest up to $50m in eco-related R&D funds at its China Technology Centre in Shanghai over the next five years.