Zero Emissions

Martin I. Cohn (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 17:01:27 -0500

Dave Kirkpatrick,
Lawrence Molloy asked me to email you a copy of the op/ed piece that
appeared in ENR. Please let me know if you need additional info.
Martin Cohn


Targeting Zero Emissions for the 21st Century
by Lawrence T. Molloy, The Crestwood Group

Environmental engineering firms thought that their future was
pollution prevention (P2) and waste minimization. Some firms that entered
the market left when the free advice they gave failed to bring in sales of
P2 technology. What happened? industry applied the concept of P2 itself
and made the process modifications internally. These changes brought
significant reductions in waste and gains in efficiency, but no business
for environmental engineering firms. As these firms faded away, "Give me
waste or give me death" were their last words. They failed to see that the
future for environmental engineering firms will be in Zero Emissions (ZE)
technologies and the required
engineering solutions.
Related to zero defects and zero inventories, ZE is the premise
that bringing emissions to zero means 100% efficiency in turning materials
to products. ZE is the brainchild of European industrialist Gunter Pauli,
who saw that achieving ZE requires developing critical technologies and
reinventing the regulatory climate that now impedes innovation in
environmental risk reduction. Pauli's Zero Emissions Research Initiative
(ZERI) was accepted by the United Nations University in 1994 and funding is
coming from several UN organizations and Japan's Ministry of International
Trade and Industry. Projects are under way on every continent except
Traditionally, pollution control technology processed a "waste" so
that it was benign enough for discharge. This was achieved through
dilution, destruction, separation, or concentration. Within the ZE
paradigm, many of these processes will still be applied to wastes, but with
the goal of resource extraction, refining, or commodity production, similar
to the way the mining, petroleum, and chemical industries process raw
materials. Engineering firms will need to adapt the practices of resource
refining to develop conversion technologies that create "designer wastes"
to meet the input specifications of other industries. In the 21st century,
monies formerly spent on P2 or waste minimization will be reallocated to
DuPont is already practicing ZE. Company vice president for
safety, health, and environment Paul V. Tebo notes, "Every time we
eliminate a pound of waste, it most likely will end up in a product." For
example, titanium dioxide wastes are now converted to high-purity table
salt, fertilizer, and food-grade carbon dioxide.
Waste minimization and P2 can increase efficiency, but efficiency
does not necessarily mean zero emissions. Manufacturing processes generate
wastes, regardless of their efficiencies. For example, brewing beer
extracts only 8 to 10% of the nutrients from grains, and 100% extraction is
not possible. ZE seeks to link industries in clusters so that the wastes of
one industry are the material inputs for others. The opportunity for
engineering firms is the development, design, construction, and operation
of technologies that can convert those wastes into a viable input for other
industries. Producing designer wastes require systems that can separate,
purify, and process
more ....................
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One conversion technology, developed by Ebara Corporation in Japan,
is the "EB-A" flue gas treatment being developed for coal-fired electric
plants in Asia. Using ammonia and electron beam irradiation, NOx and SOx
are converted into ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate for use in
fertilizers. Unlike conventional emission treatments, this system has a
financial payback of 10 to 15 years.
But before conversion systems can be built, material flow paths
have to be identified, and appropriate industrial clusters formed to match
wastes, such as the power plant's ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, to
the input needs of other industries, such as fertilizer manufacturers.
Compatible information and databases on wastes and inputs need to be
developed. While P2 is limited to individual industrial sectors,
cross-sector transfer of converted wastes is where the technical and
economical opportunities lie. And this is where competitive engineering
firms need to focus.
Markets for designer wastes require regulatory enlightenment. While
the U.S. regulatory climate, specifically RCRA, impedes the transfer of
wastes between industries, ZE is already endorsed by the Japanese
Environmental Protection Agency, and is well on its way to becoming a
standard for both regulatory agencies and industries worldwide. Nascent
regulatory bodies in the Third World realize that it is easier to adapt ZE
than develop regulations that are difficult and costly to enforce.
Indonesia's new environmental standards include an incentive to surpass
mere compliance (a "green" rating) -- the Gold Standard, as yet unawarded,
will go to industries that achieve ZE.
Yes, government needs to relinquish end-of-the-pipe regulatory
requirements and encourage technology innovation by opening cross-sector
markets for designer wastes. But the real progress will be led by industry
who will be driven by profit from the sale of previously undesirable
wastes. Industry will seek out the firms that can provide these critical
engineered solutions. Environmental engineering firms that will
successfully transition into the 21st century will be those that build on
the concept of pollution control to design conversion technologies that
link sectors and form industrial clusters. The firms that do not begin to
design solutions that treat wastes as a commodity material will go the way
of 20th century waste - to the landfill.

- Zero Emissions -

Lawrence T. Molloy is an environmental engineer with The Crestwood Group in
Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at (206) 622-1120.