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    Green Tech: innovations that won’t cost the earth

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    bullantsAs Mother Earth groans under the weight of human progress, smart and efficient environmental technologies are gaining currency. Global warming, dwindling power supplies, toxic waste and alarming plant and animal extinction rates all point to the need for change. While many of us still pay lip service to our need to get greener, these six Australian innovators are poised to show the world that a new kind of tree hugging can pay. And their technologies won’t cost the earth. Catherine Kerstjens reports.

    CHANNELLING POSITIVE ENERGY

    It may go against everything your parents taught you, but a Sydney inventor is getting extraordinary results from mixing water with electricity.

    Michael Perry’s invention, the Aquanator, offers a deceptively simple solution to the problem of providing sustainable and environmentally safe energy.

    “It’s a very, very simple concept really. We’ve all played with kites in our life. Basically, the Aquanator operates like sails under the water to generate electricity,” says Perry.

    The Aquanator converts the immense and largely untapped power of ocean and river currents into power — without causing pollution or harm to the environment — two outcomes that are too often linked to the creation of electricity and other power sources.

    Dependence on environmental conditions means most other technologies have unpredictable and uneven output. “Ocean and river current energy is predictable and abundant,” says Perry, “creating an ideal natural source of energy that is non-polluting and renewable.”

    In keeping with the superhero qualities of its name, the Aquanator has the power of invisibility. “Because the technology is all operating underwater, it is never seen or heard,” says Perry.

    On the back of significant validation from the Australian Technology Showcase, Perry and his team at Atlantis Energy Limited have now successfully trialled the Aquanator prototype – on the Clarence River in Northern NSW – in a simulated 1.5 to 2.7 knot current. They are now seeking further funding for the commercialisation of the Aquanator.

    As Perry points out, “The world is desperate for environmentally sustainable, dependable and affordable sources of large scale electricity generation. The Aquanator’s potential appeal in an environmentally conscious market seems boundless.”

    Now that’s an innovation that’s sure to generate some buzz.

    MORE THAN JUST HOT AIR

    A Melbourne inventor has come up with that stroke of ‘engenuity’ the motor industry has been waiting for.

    Angelo Di Pietro’s Engineair, a pollution free engine that runs on compressed air, is currently being used to power smaller vehicles such as utility buggies, boats and burden carriers.

    The technology has been a constant dream for Di Pietro, whose engineering background alerted him to his idea’s potential. “I started work on this project many years ago in my head,” says Di Pietro. “I have seen the need for such an engine many times. as my engineering business was doing okay, I was able to spend more time on the idea and with each new prototype the design has been refined.”

    While it may not be the first engine to operate on compressed air, the Engineair has significant characteristics in its favour when compared to other air motors on the market. It is more efficient, consuming 70 percent less compressed air, and is relatively lightweight, being 1/7th of the weight of the piston air motor.

    “The Engineair’s fuel principles are earth saving, and time efficient as well. It takes less time to refuel than battery technology and is very low maintenance due to its small number of parts and non corrosive fuel substance,” says Di Pietro.

    An Engineair maintenance vehicle was recently purchased for use in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens.

    And it doesn’t stop there. There are reports of initial success in powering a car with the Engineair technology. Di Pietro is raring to meet that challenge. “There is no other motor as good as ours. Years of research and analysing other motors around the world gave me the confidence and obligation to say so.”

    Di Pietro has a world without the current, polluting piston engines in his sights and he won’t be satisfied until Engineair passes that chequered flag.

    PAINTING THE TOWN GREEN

    Not content to simply paint by numbers, Mark Rowen has created an incentive to recycle that is proving to be an environmental Mona Lisa.

    “I don’t think the automotive refinish industry has previously thought much about recycling paint residue. It only costs them $50 a tonne to dump. So, recycling hasn’t offered them any real cost benefits — until now,” says Rowen.

    While the solvent used to clean spray guns is distilled and reused, the residue remains a significant waste problem.

    Relying on twenty years of experience in the paint industry, and applying his chemistry background, Rowen has created a technology that can turn paint by-products into high quality primers and paints, that could see his company, Planet Paints, help reduce landfill by nearly 10 tonnes a week. as Rowen enthuses, “the residue is now a money making item and too good for landfill.”

    Rowen realised that his biggest challenge would be winning over a tough market. “Laboratory testing is an essential part of our quality process, but out in the field is the real test. The paint was either going to stand the test of time out in the field or I could forget it.”

    And so it has. The paint performs well outdoors, and paints on at a thicker consistency — so that fewer coats are required to get the job done. Planet Paints predicts that in Sydney and Melbourne alone, 15,000–20,000 litres of paint could be generated each week from the waste.

    While Rowen humbly suggests that his is a small change in a big industry, even he can admit, “It will be extremely satisfying to know that I have made a difference.” Recycling rarely produces an original, but Rowen’s Planet Paint looks set to become a lasting masterpiece.

    UN-TYRING PURSUIT

    John Dobozy never tires of tyres.

    The Queensland inventor has developed a method of recycling that can reuse 100 percent of a tyre.

    “Nobody ever tried it this way because tyre recyclers basically wanted to get rubber out of the tyre,” says Dobozy. “They didn’t look at what else makes up a tyre; what materials you can extract from it that are more valuable than rubber.”

    But Dobozy did look beyond the obvious and, as a result, his company, Molectra Technologies, is leaving other tyre recyclers on the scrap heap.

    Using microwave, mechanical and chemical processes, Dobozy has been able to earn a projected $3 back on every tyre recycled — dwarfing the previous 40 cent return.

    “The five base materials that we extract from tyres are steel, plastic fibres, crumb rubber, carbon and oil,” says Dobozy. “All of these base materials can be value-added for marketability, profitability and environmental benefit”.

    The materials being reclaimed by Molectra Technologies can be used to generate jet fuel, diesel, carbon black, activated carbon and limonene, results that rightly earned Dobozy a Eureka Prize for Engineering Innovation in 2003.

    The environmentally conscious attitude that drove Dobozy’s invention has not stopped there. His plant runs emission free and is powered by — you guessed it — tyres! Every ten kilograms of waste tyres recycled by Molectra Technologies generates up to 3.9 litres of hydrocarbon and a portion of this oil is used to power the plant.

    As interest in his technology builds, Dobozy is aware of the international opportunities for Molectra Technologies. “The USA would need at least one Molectra recycling plant in each state just to stabilise the amount of tyres currently being sent to stockpiles and landfill,” says Dobozy.

    While backyards the globe over could soon be experiencing a tyre swing shortage, it’s a change that we should all be pushing for.

    WATER STERILISATION…JUST A SUCK AND GURGLE AWAY

    Mike Lewis could well be crowned the next ‘Wizard of Oz’.

    The Queensland inventor has developed a technology that uses the same principles as the tornado that swept Dorothy away, creating a water sterilising process that provides an environmentally responsible solution to cleaning up toxic damage.

    “The Mixaerator operates on dual vortices — in essence, whirlpools that operate in much the same way as the air currents in a tornado or the gurgle you hear when the plug is pulled from a bath,” says Lewis.

    After initial problems convincing manufacturers to produce the Mixaerator, Lewis has eliminated the need for chemicals in the water decontamination process and, as a result, his breakthrough is attracting great interest and serious accolades.

    The Queensland State Government’s Innovation Start-Up Scheme recently awarded Lewis $85,000 to further develop the Mixaerator’s potential. His product has also been installed at the Gold Coast Water Supply.

    “The job was going to be outsourced to an American company who proposed to solve the Gold Coast’s water quality problem by using chemicals,” says Lewis. He managed to win the support of nine sceptical engineers based on the environmental benefits and the time and cost efficiency of the Mixaerator.

    One of the technology’s greatest success stories has been its use clearing a blue green algae contamination from over 100 million litres of recycled sewage water. As a result, a National Association of Testing Authorities certified test confirmed that the Mixaerator is up to 50 times more efficient than its competitors in decontaminating polluted waters. “A staggering result which surprised even me,” Lewis confesses.

    The technology seems able to reinvent itself everyday. Beyond its use in water sterilisation, the Mixaerator has been proven to have highly effective manufacturing applications, such as the production of toothpaste.

    “We’ve discovered more than sixty odd categories where the technology can be applied. For example, Colgate is using the Mixaerator to combine toothpaste ingredients more efficiently than their previous production methods,” says Lewis.

    Lewis is also in talks with United Nations engineers to consider introducing the Mixaerator to third world countries, where its ability to prevent water-borne disease could be of extraordinary benefit. And happily this reality seems just a stroll away courtesy of Lewis’ own yellow brick road.

    SOMETHING FOR MOTHERS AND MOTHER NATURE

    Changing nappies may not possess the same political clout as burning bras, but it’s an action that’s fuelling a revolution all of its own… of the environmental kind.

    After the birth of her baby, Charishma W. Seneviratne was struck by a guilt that is common among many parents. Disposable nappies may be convenient, but they’re also environmentally damaging. Experts claim that Australia uses over 800 million nappies per year, with each disposable nappy taking at least 500 years to biodegrade.

    Seneviratne’s guilt was compounded by concern over the number of chemicals used to make these nappies and the harmful effect that artificial substances, such as industrial bleaches, used in the production of nappies can have on the environment.

    Motivated by her love of nature and propelled by industry experience as a fashion designer, Seneviratne felt a “moral and ethical obligation to provide a solution to the problem”. Using her baby’s future as inspiration she has invented the Nature Nappy, a 100% biodegradable, disposable nappy.

    “The nappy fabric is made up from 100% natural fibre and natural substances,” says Seneviratne.

    And forget 500 years. “This is the first ever disposable nappy which completely biodegrades within a maximum period of six months,” says Seneviratne.

    Praise for the product has rightfully followed. The Nature Nappy was awarded a Gold Star at the World Quality Commitment International Awards in Paris in 2002. Other successful applications of the product include adult panty liners, bed protectors and incontinence garments.

    Market research has proven the Nature Nappy’s potential to be welcomed by consumers. “A survey conducted Australia wide, involving 450 mothers, showed that the product captured 98% of the market,” says Seneviratne. Now that’s a nappy rash the environment is actually itching for.

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