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Green technologies of the 1990s.

IN MANY INDUSTRIES, corporations in the 1990s will be under increasing pressure to look like environmentally conscious citizens through such activities as recycling and reducting emissions from manufacturing plants. The public has become increasingly interested in a cleaner environment; legislation has turned environmental consciousness into a mandate. Today there are innovative environmental technologies that can help companies meet the objectives of an array of complex and costly environmental regulations. "The development of environmental technologies continues to accelerate," says Lawrence Berger, senior engineer of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based National Environmental Technology Applications Corp. "The increasing availability gives corporations in many industries the opportunity to reduce environmental risk and liabilities through technologies such as polution prevention, waste minimization and waste treatment."

The following four technologies are representative of ways that companies can meet the environmental challenge and may help risk managers execute the company's environmental programs.

Solar/Electric Vehicles

MANY COMPANIES OPERATE FLEETS OF cars, trucks and other vehicles that require gasoline or diesel fuel. Legislation has already impacted the use of fossil fuels and will continue in the years ahead. In October, President Bush instituted a $260 million government program to develop improved batteries for electric vehicles, and the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act imposes emission control requirements on all vehicles sold in the United States by prescribing standards for exhaust emissions.

Several states, including California, now have legislation providing for low and no emission vehicles, according to Robert Adams, vice president of the Solar Car Corp. in melbourne, Florida. "By 1998, 2 percent of all vehicles sold in California must have zero emissions; by 2003, the percent goes up to 10, which eliminates everything but electric vehicles." At least 15 other states are considering similar legislation.

As a result, operators of vehicle fleets, which include corporations and municipalities, are now under pressure to quickly switch to cars powered by alternative sources, says Mr. Adams. "We have seen tremendous interest in electric-powered cars among companies that operate large fleets of vehicles," he explains, adding that Arizona Public Service and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California have placed orders with his company for solar/electric vehicles.

Yet Solar Car Corp. is one of a dozen small companies involved in developing this new technology; all major auto companies in the United States, Europe and Japan are planning to produce electric vehicles over the next two years. For instance, Paul Brown, head of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas, indicated that Federal Express is seriously considering electric vehicles to reduce air pollution and the nation's dependency on imported petroleum.

An electric car initially costs more than a gasoline-powered car; a retrofitted electric or electric/solar car costs about twice as much. For example, and electric-powered Ford Festiva sells for about $17,500; the electric-powered Festiva with solar panels costs approximately $22,500.

However, electric-powered cars may prove to be worth their weight in gold. First, they are inexpensive to operate. Electric cars can save owners approximately $1,000 each year because oil gas expenses are eliminated as are all maintenance costs. "There are no maintenance charges," Mr. Adams explains, "because there is only one moving part--a drive shaft--and all the rest is electronic." The cost of charging a car's battery overnight is only 25 to 50 cents per night, says Mr. Adams. "Electric vehicles cost about 2 cents per mile to operate," he explains. "A typical gas-powered vehicle costs about 7 to 8 cents per mile." Another benefit is the non-polluting factor of solar/electric vehicles in terms of emissions and noise, which helps companies to meet state and federal environmental laws.

Solar Car Corp. was formed in 1989 to develop, produce and market electric, solar and "hybrid" vehicles that are suited for commuting and making deliveries that do not require long distances. A hybrid refers to a car with a small auxiliary engine powered by gasoline or a cleaner fuel, such as propane or natural gas, used to extend the vehicles's range and to assist in recharging the car's battery.

Solar Car retrofits existing cars, such as Chevrolet trucks and Ford Festivas, with electrical systems that use components, such as onboard battery charges or solar panels. Without solar panels, Mr. Adams explains, the range of an electric car with a heavy-duty lead/acid battery is 40-60 miles on one charge. However, he adds," On a reasonably sunny day, those panels will generate enough electricity to extend the range by 12 miles."

Another electric car soon to be on the market is General Motors' Impact, a two-seat subcompact vehicle whose electric engine is 90 percent to 95 percent efficient. Gasoline engines are 15 percent efficient in converting gasoline into propulsion. Im-pact's highest speed is 110 miles per hour, but an electronic governor holds it to 75 mph. It takes eight seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph and can travel 120 miles at 55 mph on one charge. Yet, all technologies for making and perfecting solar cars are improving in an attempt to make these vehicles more efficient and able to compete with existing gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles.

Expert Systems

IN TODAY'S COMPETITIVE ECONOMY, an increasing number of companies are balancing the need to manufacture products on-time and within budget, and at the same time, avoid fines and bad publicity that could result if environmental regulations are violated. These considerations have driven companies with automated processes, for instance, those in the paper, oil and petrochemical industries, to use real-time expert technology.

An expert system provides operations with intelligence support for decision-making and allows for better control over each stage of a manufacturing process. "It is a computer program that separates the method that is going to be used to solve the problem from the description of the problem," says Howard Rosenof, marketing manager for Gensym Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Rosenof points out that the expert system does not require knowledge of specialzed artificial intelligence languages, which tends to reduce the number of people who can use the technology.

While most computer programs have the definition to a problem and its solution entwined, expert systems do not, which allows the user to describe behavior or afford solutions to problems separately. Because the internal functions of software are better organized, it is easier to navigate through an expert system, which in turn reduces costs for software development and maintenance.

When a problem is presented, expert systems will solve it more easily than standard computer programs. "By achieving better control of a manufacturing process, such as the production of paints and plastics, a process can operate with less energy and less waste," Mr. Rosenof explains. "If scrap can be reduced in manufacturing processes, then it makes the process more environmentally benign. We are working on the application of technology that could reduce the amount of solvent needed to paint autos, which could result in fewer pollutants released into the atmosphere."

The system can help companies achieve higher product quality because materials used in their manufacturing processes are more closely monitored. A Gensym system is connected to a company's existing process control system or a programmable logic controller, which performs lower levels of control. The expert is set above the controller, applying higher level functions to make sophisticated stragy decisions. Mr. Rosenof compares the expect system to the boss of a company, and the controller functions as an employee who receives orders from the boss and acts accordingly.

The expert system technology can be used in diagnostics, for instance, in the continuous monitoring of tanks containing chemicals or other liquids. In a conventional situation, Mr. Rosenof notes, instruments may be used to indicate the liquid level. But if the tank leaks, it might take a long time before a sensor inside the tank "tells" the instrument of a low level.

With expert systems, there is "a higher level of sensitivity to problems, some of which dould have a significant environmental impact. That could include the discharge of a hazardous liquid into a river," Mr. Rosenof notes, adding that Gensym systems are linked to alarm systems that alert personnel of a problem before it gets out of hand. The cost for the initial installation of the system is approximately $40,000.

Treating Air Pollution

THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT IMPROVING air quality, both outdoor and indoor, has become a growing national concern. In recent years, many states have adopted legislation for a "smoke-free" environment, and the conventional practices for treating emissions from smokestacks have included such techniques as thermal incineration, catalytic incineration and carbon filtration. Yet now there are technologies on the market that can help companies meet air standards (both indoor and outdoor) set by the Environmental Protection Agency, state environmental control agencies and others. After years of testing, Global Pollution Control Inc. in McKinney, Texas, earned a patent in 1990 for a process that will be reduce pollution for both indoor and outdoor air. The system is currently installed in various food processing plants, such as raw fish packaging facilities, where smell is a persistent problem. Essentially, the technology dilutes ozone to ensure that the compound is not emitted in harmful amounts. "The system uses ozone to clean up indoor air [which can include cigarette smoke] and outdoor air," says Clifford Gibbs, president of Global Pollution Control. "Ozone kills bacteria and viruses and eliminates smells. Installed on smokestacks where it eliminates hydrocarbons, and in office buildings where fresh air is drawn in, the system removes the hydrocarbons and chlorofluoro-carbons, which are major sources of air pollution."

Some scientists have blamed these chemicals for the destruction of the atmosphere's protective ozona layer. As for the quality of indoor air, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration designates that inhaling air with .1 parts per million of ozone for more than eight hours is harmful. Global Pollution Control installs its systems in a lower section of a smokestack so that ozone will ozidize the pollutants or combine with itself to make oxygen over time. "That is also why it is put in the duct system in buildings so the cleaned air that goes in the office contains almost no ozone," Mr. Gibbs explains. The technology costs about 25 percent less than conventional methods for the initial purchase and operation; prices for indoor units range from $995 to $1595. Smokestack units cost at least $20,000.

Reprocessing Chemicals

RECYCLING IS IMPORTANT IN THE conservation of raw materials and reduction of waste discharged from plants and sent directly to the nation's ever-growing landfills. Motivating companies to use reprocessing systems often is a matter of getting them to realize their benefits, namely lower material costs and compliance with environmental regulations. Recently, within the last three or four years, California has required companies that use potentially hazardous chemicals to better monitor their use and eventually eliminate their discharge into the San Francisco Bay and other locations. Other states are adopting similar standards.

The new regulatory considerations involved in discharging chemicals and hazardous materials were significant factors in the development of technology by Alameda Instruments Inc. Founded in 1987, the Pleasanton, California-based company has developed a system which transforms waste chemicals into ultra-pure compounds. The new system purifies used sulfuric acid and upgrades the purity of acid bought in large virgin batches for use in onsite chemical delivery systems.

While this technology is currently being used by the semiconductor industry to reprocess sulfuric acid by purifying its waste (companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Motorola have installed the system), other industries have expressed interest. However, according to Don Staub, marketing director, a recessionary economy has slowed sales of the new technology. "Once we are established as a viable supplier in the semi-conductor area, we'll enter other markets that are large acid or chemical users, including the metal finishing, pharmaceutical and acid battery industries," he says.

The use of cleaner chemicals increases product yields, and therefore, reduces manufacturing costs. The system also reduces the need for chemical companies to buy virgin sulfuric acid. As a result, a processor, which costs $850,000, could produce savings of $80,000 per month and yield a return on investment in less than a year.

The reprocessing system also reduces the amount of waste to only about 4 percent or 5 percent of the total acid processed by the system. "The waste is purged from the system, neutralized with an alkali and then sent to a disposal site," Mr. Staub says. "This is much more ecologically effective than the traditional method of having the waste acid trucked to disposal facilities or neutralized and then discharged into the company's waste stream."

A major benefit of the Alameda process is that less energy is needed to boil the acid. In vacuum distillation, which is used in the sulfuric reprocessing system, the boiling point of sulfuric acid is 400 degrees Fahrenheit. However, at atmospheric pressure, the boiling point of sulfuric acid is about 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alameda has designed the machine with safety in mind. "The operation of the system is closely monitored by computer," Mr. Staub says. "We keep data on about 140 aspects of the system as it is operating, such as temperature, pressures, levels and amount of chemical moved, and they are updated every second." In addition, acid distillation ceases instantly upon any vacuum failure. Product quality is ensured with on-line monitoring systems, comparing acid purity against specifications and automatically returning acid through the reprocessing cycle.

Dan Hall is a New York-based freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hall, Dan
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Keeping the CEO out of jail: the risks of an environmental audit.
Next Article:Clearing the air on the Clean Air Act.

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