Schermafbeelding 2014-09-30 om 15.17.11

5. Glass as Building Material – Archived

Reduce strip mining and landfills, sequester CO2, get paid for raw materials

The Market

The world uses an estimated 3,200 billion containers of all types to package food and drinks each year – and growing. Nearly everything ends up as waste. Glass is a minor component. Each year some 100 billion glass bottles and jars are produced in highly automated facilities that can crunch out up to one million bottles per day with an average value under half a dollar. In addition to packaging glass, flat glass is used at home and in cars representing 44 million tons. The flat glass market is valued at over $50 billion per year. Glass is a $100 billion market.

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Glass has been produced for 9,000 years and the first bottle appeared 3,500 years ago. Though, recycling bins have only been introduced in the 1970s. Whereas countries like Sweden achieve +90 percent recycling, the US average is under forty, granted that California leads with nearly 80 percent. The UK has a great preference for glass containers using an estimated 8 billion units or 3.6 million tons of which less than one million tons is recycled. The rest finds it way to landfills.

Glass is made out sand rich in silica and could be reused indefinitely. The process of making glass is energy intensive. One ton of virgin glass requires four GigaJoule of energy. Converting used bottles into new containers reduces the carbon emissions with an estimated 17 percent, while avoiding mining. However, recycling is expensive. Members of the European Union and numerous American states impose a deposit which improves the economics. Charging as little as 5 cents per container in America to 25 cents for a liter bottle in Europe creates a secondary market. Unfortunately, the high cost of collection, transportation, and the requirement to separate according to color, has not been offset by taxes and fees. Even major campaigns by consumers and governments does not seem to improve the glass companies’ appetite for more recycled glass. Thus an estimated 65 billion bottles and jars are wasted each year.

The Innovation

Converting bottles back into bottles may seem logical. However asking trees to reprocess leaves back into leaves in the spring does not make sense from a physical, chemical and biological point of view. Just like leaves are converted to soil by microorganisms, fungi and earthworms, the innovation imagined by Andrew Ungerleider and Gay Dillingham in the USA is to convert un-recyclable blends of white, green and brown glass into a glass foam with a wide range of potential applications, except making bottles. It seems that the bottle itself was the bottleneck to the re-use of this natural resource.

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The crushing of used glass into powder, heated up while injecting CO2 creates a foam, lightweight but abrasive, strong and cheap. Since landfills are keen to reduce their load, the recovery of glass on site and the local conversion into glass foam gives way to a new business model: “entrepreneurs get paid to receive raw materials”. The innovation is not limited to cascading of materials whereby the waste of one is an input for the other, the innovation extends to the business model whereby the key ingredients come with cash. In addition, if the factory is located close to (or even on) a landfill, the production facility could benefit from methane gas generated by decomposing organic waste, turning this greenhouse gas into a cheap energy source, cutting costs while further reducing its adverse impact on climate change.

The First Cash Flow

Ungerleider and Dillingham went on to create in 1994 Earthstone. Motivated by their desire to reduce strip mining they turned a known technique into a new business and quickly found a simple market entry in the niche market of physical abrasives. Blocks of recycled glass, with air bubbles and frustules similar to the strong diatom silica, clean a BBQ grill, remove paint, or smoothen fiber boards.

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Since the handling is limited to cutting blocks of glass foam into easy to handle abrasives, and the competition is expensive with a well documented adverse environmental impact, supply stores like Home Depot started carrying the recycled glass-based product. Once the first sales were confirmed, then production increased and improved moving on the experience curve, shifting from a batch to a continuous system, increasingly using local materials at lower cost, turning more competitive.

The Opportunity 

The field of applications is vast. While the US company Pittsburgh Corning, using a similar technique decided to focus on the market of building materials, with their first glass recycling factory in Belgium and a second in the Czech Republic, Ungerleider and Dillingham went on to discover a broad portfolio of applications. Today Earthstone has eleven applications for recycled glass on the market. The latest opportunity is to provide hydroponic agriculture a growth medium, made from glass foam, that can be permanently recycled eliminating a waste stream that strained this agro-industry.

c05_glass_GlasshouseUnit_c_Koljern300 5. Glass as Building Material - Archived Ideas Archived

The Swedish building entrepreneur Åke Mård, located in Sundsvall, Sweden took blocks of glass foam and converted these into pre-fabricated foundations, walls and even roofs for homes. He discovered that glass – filled with tiny air bubbles – serves as a structural building material, not just as an insulation. This innovative construction technique has been approved by the European Union. No water permeates these blocks, no vermin eats its way through the walls, no fungi grow in the basement and the insulation factor outpaces known alternatives in price and performance. Mård realized that recycled glass performs four functions while serving as a physical structure.

The critical mass required to operate a commercially viable oven is estimated at 5 million bottles annually. By 2009, Earthstone processed 5.3 million bottles annually and is profitable. Considering the consumption of 200 glass bottles per family per year, then approximately 25,000 families are needed to make this business viable. The barrier to entry is relatively low. The main cost is energy, which could be supplied by a company with excess heat clustering activities like natural systems do. The creation of these factories generate jobs, while improving the quality of building materials at competitive prices, unleashing entrepreneurship everywhere, reducing the need for transport and mined material.

Photos: SXC, Koljern, Earthstone International

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1. The Power of the Vortex (Archived)

The Vortex: The Power of Gravity

the vortex saves energy, eliminates chemicals and generates 250,000 jobs within a decade 

The Market

The world market for water treatment and the production of potable water represents one of the safest investments ever. The commodity of water is indispensable for society and industry. The availability of clean water is increasingly under pressure as population increases and consumption per capita rises incessantly. Water used to be free of charge. The last few decades has turned water into a profitable business with a secure cash flow and rising costs to the consumer.

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The world market for water and waste water treatment surpassed the $200 billion mark in 2009. China leads this market with an estimated annual growth of 17 percent. Treating water sewage is valued at $40 billion with over 13,000 companies worldwide, driven by long term service contracts. The model of water treatment so far has involved sedimentation and oxidation, which means settling solids out and pumping air in, and a subsequent chemical treatment. The annual volume of chemicals used to treat water in the

US exceeds 10 million tons. As world demand for water increases, so does demand for chemicals.

The consumption of bottled water increased by an average of 12 percent per year each year over the past decade with an estimated 22 billion dollar in sales. One of the fastest growing niches in this quest to expand drinking water supply is the conversion of salt and grey water into drinking water through reverse osmosis. The capital expenditure for this technology exceeds 2.2 billion dollars annually but is expected to grow another 50% over the next four years. Aguas de Barcelona (Spain), part of the GDF Suez Group (France), is planning the biggest installation of this type, investing over 1 billion dollars, thus liberating Barcelona from a chronic water shortage.

The Innovation

It is within the context of the world market for water that we have to assess the arrival of an extraordinary simple innovation: the vortex. The vortex has the capacity to dramatically increase efficiency in water treatment, cutting costs while generating local jobs. This natural phenomenon could one day replace chemicals and membranes, and upset the existing cash flows of traditional suppliers that have looked safe. The technology platform of the vortex is inspired by the observation that dirty water cleanses itself as a river moves downstream. The continuous swirling movement forces air in and out of the water, discouraging and stimulating micro-organisms.

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Two Swedish inventors, the development engineer Curt Hallberg and his colleague Morten Oveson, translated their observations into a mathematical model and then created a simple device that emulates the movement of water in a vortex with predictable results. They continued their venture to create Watreco AB based in Malmö. Watreco AB was elected the Swedish GreenTech company of the year in 2009. This
company is more than green – it changes the business model of water. The power of the vortex rests in the predictability of the laws of physics, where air particles are dragged to the center, from where air is sucked out. The energy source for this process may be simply gravity, which is guaranteed to power the device 24 hours per day! Gone are chemicals, gone are membranes, and energy consumption is minute.

The First Cash Flow

The inventors realized the broad spectrum of applications for their vortex device and searched for the first obvious market entry close to home, which was soon identified as ice making. The hand-made vortex generator achieved beneficial results: energy savings and crystal clear ice. Water includes air, dissolved in micron-size bubbles. The vortex removes this air, and since air acts as an insulator, the resulting air-free water freezes faster. Air-free ice is crystal clear and cracks much less readily. When applied to ice hockey rinks, advertising signs beneath the ice remain visible all season, thus increasing publicity revenues. Since there is no air in the ice, aeroxic bacteria that typically grow in ice like E.coli and Salmonella cannot survive. Most of the prominent Scandinavian ice rinks have since adopted the technology, resulting in a financial payback within months, not years.

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The second niche market that has generated cash flow for Watreco AB is the golf course. A golf course may need up to one million gallons of water a day. To save water, surfactants are added to the water so that it penetrates faster into the greens. If the water has been pre-treated by the vortex machine, no chemicals are needed, reducing water requirement by 20 to 30 percent. This is a case where the vortex actually makes chemicals redundant. A third niche market is the removal of algae from stable water

bodies including swimming pools, which are typically treated with chemicals like chlorine.

The Opportunity 

While hockey rinks and golf courses are niche markets, the experience gained in these sectors prepared Curt Hallberg and his team for growth markets including industrial water treatment and desalination. The trial units of the vortex machine in the Canary Islands demonstrated that its treatment of salt water again permits the elimination of air, which subsequently eliminates the problem of biofilms. Biofilms grow on membranes, reducing the membraneʼs efficiency. This forces the closure of the desalination plantʼs reverse osmosis installation every fortnight to chemically remove biofilms. This increases maintenance costs (via an additional chemical requirement) and reduces the plantʼs efficiency (since shutdown periods require back up) as well as requiring further capital for replacement membranes (since the life of a membrane is reduced). If there is no air in the water, then the aeroxic bacteria are excluded. If a vortex but no chemical is used, then the life expectancy of the membrane increases. In fact the energy cost of one cubic meter of drinking water drops from 2.4 to 1.0 kiloWatt per hour.

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These are only a few of the applications of the vortex that have been realized, but it is expected that more will be revealed soon. However what we know today confirms that the vortex machine results in reduced running costs, energy saved, chemicals eliminated and existing investments generating higher return. The challenge for mainstream industries is that the successful integration of the vortex into existing facilities requires a new core competence: fluid dynamics. It will now be up to General Electric and Nitto Denko to take us out of the box. In the mean time, entrepreneurs around the world can create a new competitive model that generates jobs locally anywhere in the world.

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