Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

The Intel Environmment Award

Kenneth A. Manaster


Introduction

Environment Award
The Intel Environment Award drew 75 applications, the largest number ever in this category and the largest in any of the categories this year.   The applications covered a broad spectrum or, more precisely, a number of interesting spectrums. 

Geographically, a wide array of sectors of the globe was represented.    Applications came from 33 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.   The largest batch (24) was from the United States, with seven submitted from India.   Kenya, Nigeria, and the Philippines each presented three, and two each came from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa.  Single submissions arrived from Argentina, Burkina Faso, China, Denmark, Egypt, Eritrea, Finland, Georgia, Hong Kong, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Moldova, Nepal, Peru, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Vanuatu, and Venezuela.  The obvious message conveyed by the diverse national origins of the applications is that environmental concerns are unquestionably global, and are keenly felt in both the highly industrialized and the newly developing nations.

Looking at the spectrum of environmental issues addressed in the applications, it also is evident that work is proceeding around the world to solve all sorts of environmental problems.  A few environmental issues were especially heavily represented through multiple applications.  For example, many addressed environmental aspects of energy production and the need for sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel dependency.  These applications include a design for solar water heaters, a towing kite wind propulsion system for cargo ships, a biomass fuels program, and a wind turbine design. 

Another frequently appearing issue was water quality, including urgent needs for safe and adequate drinking water supplies.  At least 15 applications addressed water issues, and three of the five Laureates selected in this category presented water-related projects.   The considerable spectrum of water projects included an advanced water disinfection process, a waterless urinal, implementation of water jetting to quickly produce drinking water wells, and rain water collection systems.   

A third frequently addressed issue, not surprisingly, was the disposal of wastes, as exemplified in a project for responsible disposal and recycling of used lubricating oils and an effort for bio-remediation of salmon-farming wastes.   Surprisingly, few applications directly addressed air pollution issues, although many of those promoting alternative fuels are pursuing (at least to a degree- so to speak) the mitigation of global warming.

In addition to these recurring subjects, applications with less categorical- albeit not always narrow-emphases were examined. These included technology for the evaluation of levees and earthen dams, a device for the recovery of fine gold by small scale miners without the use of mercury, community production and placement of palm leaf mats to combat soil erosion in urban areas, and a classification system, intended ultimately to contribute to mitigation strategies, for near earth objects such as comets and asteroids.  These and many other applications may defy simple categorization as to their environmental focus, just as other applications embody solutions to overlapping or multi-level environmental problems.   One such project, for example, promotes reliance on wind energy for improving the supply and quality of water for domestic and agricultural use.  

On a spectrum ranging from innovative, sophisticated modern technology to innovative uses of older technologies, the applications also were impressive and intriguing.   At one end of the spectrum are projects such as the integration of flexible photovoltaics, digital electronics, and solid state lighting into textile-based lighting, and the application of genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology to advance disease resistance in potatoes.   Heading toward the other end of the spectrum, we find efforts such as those of a municipality to change the fishing method used by local blue crab fisherman, in order to reduce usage of nonselective fishing gear such as gill nets and increase usage of crab pots.   Similarly, several applications promoted the production of fuel briquettes from materials such as sugar cane leaves, other biomass wastes, and charcoal dust, respectively.  In another project, reduction of disease-carrying rodent populations is being pursued through a multi-faceted approach to the raising and reintroduction of barn owls and the improvement of their habitat.  

Another aspect of the range of the applicants is the magnitude of their organizations and financial resources.   At one extreme are large, well-established corporations, major universities, and government entities such as the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.   At the other, there are numerous small, nonprofit organizations and intrepid, dedicated individuals who strive to make big things happen with small capital.


The Judging Process

In evaluating these 75 applications, and being cognizant of the many contrasts among them, the six member judging panel for the Intel Environment Award faced a daunting task.    The Tech Museum of Innovation’s judging rubric clarified the task.   The rubric identifies critical criteria for evaluation of applications.  Of particular salience in these criteria are the seriousness of the problem addressed, the clarity and thoroughness of the technology description, the extent of the breakthrough signified by the new technology or the new use of an existing technology, the availability of measurable evidence of success and contribution, identification of negative side-effects of the achievement, and the potential for replication.

Of additional significance for each application is where it falls on a continuum of innovation.  At one end of the continuum is simply the new idea, and at the other is a technology that has been so fully proven and put into use that it has become the standard of practice.   The environment panel certainly faced applications all across this spectrum.  We tried to identify the final five that seemed not only to rank high on the judging rubric but also to be well beyond the initial concept stage, even if some doubt might remain about whether the technology will eventually mature in actual usage so that it becomes the standard of practice.

With these many considerations in mind, the panel members immersed themselves in the full assemblage of applications and then winnowed them down to successively smaller groupings.   As the applications remaining under consideration became fewer, our research became deeper. This research- through methods including literature review, Internet searches, and e-mail, telephone, and in-person conversations with experts in many fields- offered fascinating insights into the multitude of local, national, and international communities of researchers and entrepreneurs working daily to seek technological solutions to humanity’s environmental problems. 


The Laureates

Debesai Ghebrehiwet Andegergish, Ministry of Mines, Energy Research and Training Center, Asmara, Eritrea

For centuries, the people of Eritrea have relied on a traditional form of stove, the mogogo, for baking injera, a pancake-like bread, and other foods.  Use of the traditional mogogo, however, has accelerated deforestation pressures, as demand for wood as a cooking fuel has reached unsustainable levels.   The traditional stove also has been recognized as quite inefficient in its combustion, not only consuming excess fuel but also creating discomfort and adverse health effects from the smoke produced inside homes when the mogogo is used.  

Debesai Ghebrehiwet Andegergish, of the Eritrean government’s Energy Research and Training Center, has taken important steps to redesign the mogogo for greater cooking efficiency, decreased reliance on wood for fuel, and healthier living conditions in homes with the new stove.   He also has developed molds for relatively easy construction of the redesigned stove’s firebox and chimney and some other parts, thus facilitating its production in the local villages where it is to be used.

Mr. Andegergish’s recent work builds on collaborative research efforts of Eritreans and others, including Dr. Robert Van Buskirk of the University of California at Berkeley, pursuing improved stove efficiency.   Mr. Andegergish’s new design is a tripartite stove, with a clay plate and firebox for cooking injera, another set for other foods, and a third cooking plate for sauces.   The improved efficiency of his design results from having the bottom of the fireboxes as clay grates through which air can pass from below and continue on through the fuel, and also from having better insulated fireboxes and a chimney that creates a draw to keep air flowing through the fire.    

Because of the increased combustion efficiency of this design, fuel requirements for use of the stove are substantially reduced, thus reducing, although not eliminating, deforestation pressures.   These stoves can be operated with branches and twigs, instead of logs, and also with animal dung.  The stoves thus also diminish greenhouse gas emissions, and detailed calculations of these reductions have already allowed limited initial sale of these Eritrean reductions in the voluntary carbon credits market.  

Between 2002 and mid-2006, Mr. Andegergish’s redesigned stove was installed in about 35,000 Eritrean households, and the Eritrean government reportedly is targeting installation of about 300,000 by 2010.   Although improved cooking stove designs are found in other parts of the world, including China and India, the Eritrean improved stoves program responds to the distinctive cooking needs and traditions of that culture.   Because similar cooking patterns are found in other nearby countries, however, such as Ethiopia, Sudan, and parts of Kenya, there are potentially millions of people who could use the improved mogogo and enjoy its many benefits.

Additional information can be found at www.punchdown.org/rvb/mogogo.

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, Rural African Water Development Project, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria

As in many parts of the world, Nigeria faces serious environmental and public health concerns associated with industrial pollution, high population density, and inadequate sanitation systems.   Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji has developed a water filter which allows an individual household with a limited and polluted water supply to obtain substantial additional protection from the pollutants in its water source.   This filter, known as the Mor-sand filter, is an adaptation of the slow sand water filter earlier developed by others.   Mr. Ezeji has added to the slow sand filtration process the coagulant properties of Moringa seed powder.

Moringa powder comes from the Moringa oleifera tree, a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree now found in many tropical and subtropical areas.  In Africa and India it has been heralded as the Òmiracle treeÓ or ÒmotherÕs best friendÓ for its nutritional and other health benefits.   Approximately 15 years ago, researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom identified the effective properties of the Moringa coagulant protein.   Crushed Moringa seeds, combined with a small amount of clean water, create a paste.  This materialÕs effectiveness in removing suspended solids from turbid water has been compared to the effectiveness of alum, and with the added advantages of lower cost and local production. 

In the Mor-sand filter, Mr. Ezeji has now included pastes of powdered Moringa seeds in one of the filtering sand layers in order to optimize coagulation to help produce clean drinking water.    In addition to the Moringa seed paste layer and another sand layer, the Mor-sand filter includes a third layer of pumice, further enhancing filtration effectiveness.  The filter has the capacity to reduce the incidence of illnesses associated with polluted drinking water in any region that can support growth of the Moringa olifeira tree.  

Rural Africa Water Development Project, the organization founded by Mr. Ezeji, aims to expand production and use of the Mor-sand filter in the seven states of the Niger Delta in order to maximize these environmental and public health benefits.  

Further information can be found by searching the World BankWeb site www.worldbank.org for mor-sand filter.

FogQuest, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada

FogQuest is a nonprofit organization which promotes the use of fog and dew as sustainable water resources for people in arid regions of developing countries.   The organization was formed in 2000 by the scientists and students involved in pilot fog collection projects in Chile beginning in the late 1980s, with Dr. Robert Schemenauer of Canada as the principal director of the group.  FogQuest has undertaken or assisted in fog collection projects in numerous countries, including Guatemala, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Yemen, Israel, Nepal, Namibia, and Oman.   Drawing upon, yet modernizing, ancient wisdom that fog can be a source of drinking water, these projects’ objective is the production of potable water from fog droplets. 

In the absence of significant rainfall, many regions still have surprising amounts of water available from fog.   High elevation fog is produced by wind-driven clouds moving over hills.  The water droplets in these clouds can be collected in large numbers and used to provide water to villages or for agriculture.   Suitable fog conditions are found in both extremely arid parts of the world and in seasonally arid regions.   In regions with adequate rainfall during some months, as in the Caribbean and Central America, fog collection can provide additional clean water during dry winter months.  

The communities assisted by FogQuest typically range from 10 to 500 inhabitants and are located in mountainous areas.  FogQuest estimates that there are about 70 developing countries which could benefit from the potable water obtained through this technology and that within each of them there are many suitable locations.

The fog collectors are made of an inexpensive, durable plastic mesh, with fibers woven to maximize passive fog drop interception and also allow for rapid drainage of the collected water.   The mesh is erected in vertical panels four meters high by 10 or 12 meters long.   Because the mesh can be supported by local material such as wood, the cost of the collector is low and little maintenance is required.   The light and compact nature of the mesh makes it easy to ship and carry, thus facilitating the placement of collectors in poor and isolated communities.  

Depending on the location, each panel produces 150 to 750 liters of potable water per day during the fog season.   FogQuest’s projects to date have employed from two to 100 fog collectors.  Through these collector systems, clean water is provided to remote communities, which lack rivers, lakes, and springs, and which lack the financial wherewithal to purchase water elsewhere. 

For more information, see www.fogquest.org.

MBA Polymers, Inc., Richmond, California, U.S. 

Every year vast quantities of plastics are discarded as waste around the world.   Recycling of plastics has been extremely challenging because of the complexity of the materials and because close similarities in the composition of different plastics make separation of them for re-use difficult.   As a result, much of this material is dumped in landfills, incinerated, or otherwise discarded, and, of course, the world’s appetite for new products creates continuing demand for the manufacture of new, virgin plastic.   In turn, this manufacturing continues to drain natural resources such as petroleum for both raw material and energy production, while also generating air and water pollution and greenhouse gases. 

MBA Polymers has responded to this quandary by developing an advanced, energy-efficient recycling process to separate, clean, and convert large quantities of plastics into valuable materials for reuse, especially in durable goods such as appliances, electronics, and automobiles.   MBA Polymers takes mixed plastics-rich waste streams generated by various types of recyclers around the world.   These primary recyclers typically focus on durable goods and usually recover relatively easy to recycle materials such as ferrous and nonferrous metals, plastic bottles, paper, and even wood.   Byproducts of these recycling streams are often plastics-rich streams containing many different types and grades of plastics and numerous types of non-plastic contaminants.  

The process developed by MBA Polymers is a completely automated system using over 30 individual unit operations.   The technology exploits a variety of differences in the magnetic, electric, electrostatic, density, shape, size, and optical properties of the waste stream components.   After first separating the plastics from the non-plastics, the former are then separated from each other by type and even by grade.   The process then upgrades the plastics in a filtration and compounding step so that they are readied for reuse in the same types of demanding product applications from which they came.  

In addition to its pilot line and research center in California, MBA Polymers now operates two plants, one in Guangzhou, China and the other in Kematen, Austria.   The company plans to build at least one additional plant each year for the next 10 years in order to continue to “mine” useful plastics from the mountains of waste plastics that otherwise would be discarded.             

For further information, see  www.mbapolymers.com.

Seawater Greenhouse, London, United Kingdom

Seawater Greenhouses provide much-needed fresh water for food production in arid coastal regions of the world.   Each greenhouse uses ordinary seawater which is distilled into fresh water for irrigation of crops in the greenhouse.  The seawater also assists cooling, to further enable successful crop cultivation.   Because this process is driven by solar energy, each greenhouse represents a sustainable, environmentally positive opportunity for food production in areas otherwise inhospitable to such activity.   

The front wall of each greenhouse is a seawater evaporator, consisting of a honeycomb lattice facing the prevailing wind.   Air flow is assisted and controlled by fans.   Seawater trickles down the evaporator, cooling and humidifying the air as it passes into the planting area.   About 30 percent of the sunlight is intercepted by an array of tubes in the greenhouse roof area which remove heat and provide some shade, while allowing sufficient visible light to enter for photosynthesis.   Combined with the evaporator, this creates cool and humid crop growing c conditions with sufficient light intensity.  

The cool air passes through the planting area and, at the back of the greenhouse, combines with hot, dry air from the roof area.   The mixture passes over a second evaporator over which hotter seawater, collected from the tubes in the roof, creates hot, saturated air.   This steamy air then flows through the key element of the system, a modular, all-plastic condenser, which consists of a series of thin wall polyethylene tubes.   The condenser is cooled by the seawater that has been cooled by the front evaporator.   The temperature difference causes fresh water to condense out of the air flow.   The volume of this fresh water is a function of the air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, and air flow rate, plus the surface area of the condenser. 

Seawater Greenhouse has constructed its greenhouses in Tenerife, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, areas which offer the necessary coastal context and sunny conditions, and which also present the need for fresh water and innovative growing techniques to which Seawater Greenhouses respond.  

  Further information can be found at www.seawatergreenhouse.com.

Conclusion

The applications for the Intel Environment Award represent a vast array of human concerns for environmental quality in this century.   That they do so is not surprising, in view of expanding knowledge of humanity's impact on our planet.   That the technological solutions represented in these applications should be as creative and innovative as they are also is not surprising, in view of the environment's, and humanity's, need for help.

 

The Panel

Kenneth A. Manaster, Chair, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University

Anthony Bettencourt, Former CEO, Verity

Margaret “Meg” Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Law, Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program, Senior Lecturer, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University

Mike Denzel, General Partner, McKenna Ventures

Dorothy Glancy, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University

Ed Maurer, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Santa Clara University


About the Author

Kenneth Manaster

Kenneth A. Manaster

Kenneth A. Manaster received his bachelor’s degree in 1963 and his law degree in 1966 from Harvard University. In 1972, he joined the Santa Clara law faculty. He teaches Environmental Protection Law, Torts, and Administrative Law. He also has taught environmental law courses at the Stanford Law School, the University of Texas and the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. He has held the position of visiting scholar at Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School. From 1973 to 1990, he was a member of the Hearing Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, serving as its chair from 1978 to 1989. He also chaired the Public Advisory Committee to the U.S..Environmental Protection Agency’s study of toxic pollutants in the Santa Clara Valley. He is Counsel to the Environment, Land Use, and Natural Resources group of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in San   Francisco. In addition to law review articles on environmental law and other subjects, he co-authored State Environmental Law, a two-volume treatise, and co-edits California Environmental Law and Land Use Practice. His third book, Environmental Protection and Justice, was published in 1995, with a second edition in 2000, and the third due in 2007. His most recent book is Illinois Justice: The Scandal of 1969 and the Rise of John Paul Stevens.

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