More effort going into being 'green'

Tom Shelley gives a brief update on the UK's continued efforts to protect the environment and to find alternative sources of energy

When kicking off Eureka's Green campaign in January 2001, we had no illusions that any of the goals of reducing waste, using natural and biodegradable material feedstocks, or developing renewable sources of energy was ever going to be easy. Nonetheless, everything that has happened since suggests that these goals still need to be achieved somehow. The DTI's latest Energy White Paper projects that if matters continue as they are, by 2020, 80% of the gas to supply Britain's power stations will have to be imported, through long and vulnerable pipelines from countries which are in many cases, distinctly unstable. Articles were published about breakthroughs in wave power energy in July 2001 and April 2003 (Offshore Wave Energy Ltd) and wind power generation in November 2002. Developments in both technologies are still very much ongoing and while the Danes seemed to have scooped up much of the wind turbine business, opportunities to establish engineering business based on wave power are still very much open to the UK. In looking for material feedstocks based on renewable biological resources, the hemp processing technology developed by Biofibres and revealed in January 2002 seems to have found its way into high class wallpaper and wall tiles made by The Hemp Paper Company based in Aberdeenshire. Nick Williamson, who developed the moulded felt fibre products described in the same article now works for MG Marga Design, which among other projects, is pioneering the integration of photovoltaic cells into buildings. A quick search on the web shows that research into ways of using natural fibres in engineering products is considerable as is development of biodegradable plastics derived from natural sources. The latest to reach our attention is a joint project between Professor Peter Belton at the University of East Anglia and Professor John Taylor at the University of Pretoria to develop polymer materials derived from material normally left over from processing sorghum. According to Dr Gyebi Duodu, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, encountered at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, protein may be extracted from soghum bran husks using ethanol, or other naturally derived solvents. The protein may then be cast as film and used for packaging. Dr Duodu said that conventional plastic bags were banned in South Africa several months ago but soghum derived bags would be acceptable and that the economics look "promising". Envirowise, the subject of the original article that kicked off Eureka's green campaign boasts, "Every year Envirowise helps UK businesses save a up to £1000 per employee". Companies with fewer than 250 employees are entitled to free, confidential, one day, on-site waste reviews where advisors can advise on opportunities to become more efficient with available resources. Pointers * Companies can achieve savings of around £1,000 per employee by improved waste management and the service to help them achieve this is still free * The need to find clean, alternative, sources of energy is likely to become even greater in the near future * Novel materials derived from natural sources are beginning to find their way into consumer products. Research into using such materials in engineering components continues DTI Energy White Paper Offshore Wave Energy Ltd The Hemp Paper Company MG Marga Design Professor Peter Belton Envirowise