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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited
Earth Technologies Forum, 2002
Keywords: Conferences, Environment, Technology, Pollution
The Earth Technologies Forum is held at regular intervals in the USA, sponsored by a number of American official, trade and non-governmental organisations. This year, the conference was held in the Hyatt Regency at Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, from 25 to 27 March. It was a particularly important event this time, because of the forthcoming world summit, which will be held in Johannesburg. Governmental and other persons attend this Forum, essentially to learn about the latest situation regarding ozone-depletion and climate change. As our industry uses chemicals, which may be responsible for both these problems, it is essential that we keep an eye on developments in these fields.
The event is divided into three parts:
a high-level technical conference;
an exhibition demonstrating new technologies;
a dinner at which the US Environmental
Protection Agency hands out its individual and corporate awards to outstanding contributors in both fields.
There were some 900 attendees from over 30 countries, up from the attendance of the last event by over 100. Many of the persons there were officials representing their countries.
The general theme puts more emphasis on climate change than on ozone depletion, but both of these are important to – and have repercussions on – our industry.
The Forum started with a general plenary session, which was chaired by Judith Baker of United Technologies. She introduced the four Guest Speakers, starting with the Hon. Hamanaka Hironori, the Japanese Vice-Minister of Global Environmental Affairs, who reviewed what Japan was doing in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. New legislation is being enacted and the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified in the current session. Mr Hironori emphasised that Japan had already done much to reduce emissions and expected more from the USA (Plate 1).
Plate 1 The Honourable Hamanaka Hironori giving his evaluation of the Japanese environment situation
The next guest speaker was Peter Horrocks of the European Commission. Like Japan, the EU will ratify the Kyoto Protocol, following a decision on 4 March, by June 2002. He expressed a hope that there would be sufficient ratifications for the Protocol to enter into force by the time of the Johannesburg summit, later this year. He also emphasised that the US must strengthen its domestic action. The EU position is to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxide emissions by an overall 15 per cent from the 1990 baseline, by 2010. This commitment is nearly twice the requirements of the Protocol. The cost will be C=3.7 billion, which represents only 0.06 per cent of the European GDP, demonstrating how ridiculously low the impact of cleaning the global atmosphere is on the economy (Plate 2).
Plate 2 General view of the plenary session audience listening to a speaker
David Sandalow, of the World Wildlife Fund, was the next speaker. His presentation was more eco-political and he drew a slightly hair-splitting analogy between fighting terrorism and global warming. Both are long term challenges requiring sinking of public funds. He stated that the US must be weaned off fossil fuels, placing the emphasis on wind and, in the short term, a more widespread use of hybrid cars. He heavily criticised President Bush's administration, using the terms "underwhelming", "weak" and "minimalist". The policy fails to deliver what it promises and, instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is "business as usual", promising even greater emissions.
The last speaker in this plenary session was Byron McCormick, an Executive Director of General Motors. This company is investing heavily into fuel cell vehicles, using hydrogen as the fuel. Obviously, the exhaust is pure water vapour. Currently, efficiencies of 1.5 kW/l are being obtained. The design considerations will allow a completely different concept of cars to be developed, as there is no longer any need to have an engine and transmission up front, the fuel cell itself forming a flat chassis. However, the whole idea of the introduction of such vehicles depends on the implementation of a suitable fuel distribution infrastructure, which will be very costly. [Editor's note: currently, hydrogen is not a "clean" fuel, because it is generated either by electrolysis, using "dirty" electricity or by cracking methane, with subsequent carbon emissions. This will change when the electrolysis is achieved using electricity from renewable sources.]
The keynote speaker for the event was Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the US EPA (Plate 3). As a political appointee, she obviously echoed the official American policy, which she did very ably. She emphasised the need for voluntary actions, rather than heavy-handed regulations, but repeated the Bush commitment of an "intensity" reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of 18 per cent, linked to GDP. Of course, this is almost meaningless and could result in a significant increase of emissions by 2012. Governor Whitman adopted an almost dichotomous position, in that she also stated that the reduction of emissions in 2001 was 35 million tonnes, equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road. [Editor's note: of course, this was also in a year of negative growth, so that the significance of this is not clear.]
Plate 3 Governor Christine Todd Whitman speaking to the delegates during the keynote address
The technical breakout sessions were also well attended. In one of them, the future of HCFCs was discussed. (HCFC-141b and HCFC-225 are both directly used in our industry for cleaning, defluxing and other uses and are ozone- depleting). Different speakers presented the positions of the USA, Canada and the EU and it became very clear that in all three economies these substances are not here to stay, if they have not already disappeared from the market. Their use for foam-blowing thermal insulation panels was also discussed.
One of the most interesting sessions, at least for me, concerned the approval of replacement solvents by the US EPA under their significant new alternatives policy (SNAP) programme. Margaret Sheppard expounded at length on the thorny issue of n-propyl bromide, which has been under review for many years. This controversial solvent, often used for defluxing printed and hybrid circuit assemblies, was discussed in terms of its ozone-depleting potential, its reproductive toxicity and its neurotoxicity. The speaker said that it is hoped that a limited conditional approval would be published in the Federal Register, in a consultation phase, later this year and, if all goes well, this will pass forward as a SNAP directive by early 2003. She would not state what conditions would be proposed, but there was a hint that they would be quite restrictive.
Another new solvent type is a blend based on hydrofluoropolyethers (HFPEs). Dr Mario Visca of Ausimont SpA in Italy presented two papers on the subject. The first described their toxicology, which proved very favourable and the second their physical characteristics, including their environmental effects. Again, these proved benign except for a poor biodegradability and a VOC level. A series of non-flammable azeotropes can be formed with flammable solvents, rendering the latter safe to use without expensive fire protection equipment. [Editor's note: these "designer" solvents would be too expensive to use except for very specific applications.]
John Owens of 3M presented another series of fluorinated chemicals, fluoroketones. The most promising candidate is claimed to have virtually zero ODP and a GWP similar to carbon dioxide, which would be quite a breakthrough. Its toxicity is low. Although it looks promising, it is perhaps too early to jump to conclusions or to find the applications in our industry that would present benefits.
I saw little of direct interest to our industry in the Exhibition. However, there was one significant breakthrough that was shown: a new type of ball bearing (Plates 4 and 5). This was jointly developed by Trane and SKF and consists of a new type of ceramic ball, made from silicon nitride. The advantage of this is that it is stronger, more impact resistant and more corrosion resistant than conventional steel balls, without a risk of fretting. Above all, if employed in large chillers, used for air-conditioning large buildings, the refrigerant itself acts as a lubricant. This improves the energetic efficiency of the chiller, reduces maintenance costs and allows the refrigerant circuit to be sealed, reducing the leakage of gases. These ball bearings are also used in other high-tech applications, such as in the gearboxes of Ferrari formula 1 cars (with conventional lubrication, of course). The fact that they are very much lighter offers an additional advantage for high speed applications, as the centrifugal forces will be lower. As an Editor's sideline, I would say that cleaning the polished balls, before assembly into the races, is probably much easier than with steel balls, because of their more highly polished surface.
Plate 4 The new SKF ceramic ball (left) compared with a conventional steel ball
Plate 5 Sealed oil-free chiller using the new ball bearings, as installed in the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, the venue of the Forum
The US EPA honours companies, organisations and individuals who have displayed leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions or taken action to improve the health of the ozone layer, with a prestigious award. The Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards, since their inception in 1990, have been presented to 452 persons in 37 countries. This year, 16 individuals, two associations and 10 companies, representing nine countries, were so honoured.
The Climate Protection Awards were started in 1998, since which time 77 have been given, plus the 20 presentations this year. These were divided into six individual, four association and 20 corporate awards, representing only four countries.
The Ceremony was held at a special dinner to honour the recipients. The only company in our industry to receive an Award was Hitachi Limited who developed a catalytic method of decomposing PFCs, used for manufacturing semiconductors, LCD panels, vapour-phase soldering etc. PFCs are amongst the most powerful "global warming" greenhouse gases that exist, so this is a significant advance, as the process is claimed to be 99 per cent efficient. This is a good example of how our industry can help the environment by sound and responsible management.
Brian Ellis Cyprus