In this article, the Economist, half jokingly, partly attributes the rise of the British empire and its supremacy over the French navy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to the use of copper plates on ship hulls to get rid of barnacles, clams and mussels. The effectiveness of using copper to reduce ship fouling can not only be noticed in that the world speaks English and not French. It also clear when trying to replace it. To this day copper paint and other extremely toxic substances such as tri-butyl tin are the most effective ways to get rid of the unwanted plants and animals on our ships. The toxicity of copper and other substances used for this purpose has rendered them banned in many countries and scientists and researchers are trying to come up with good, non-toxic replacements. Much is at stake here. The costs of fouling are huge, a heavily affected ship consumes up to 40 percent more fuel, something that also increases climate emissions. The article cites avermectins (antiparasite agents), fluoropolymers, capsaicin (the active ingredient of hot peppers) and THC (the active ingredient of cannabis) as possible options.
When the Sea of Inventions database is launched in October, we will present around 1000 patent applications trying to solve the fouling problem. This will provide useful information on the methods that have already been tried, some of them successfully, others less so. Hopefully, this will make the job somewhat easier for those who are trying to develop the anti-fouling paint that is both effective and non-toxic. And as the Economist says, whoever does, is likely to make a fortune.
The July adoption by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of HELCOM’s proposal to ban all sewage discharge from passenger ships will significantly reduce the ship-borne nutrient load on the Baltic Sea. An estimated 63- and 88-percent reduction could be achieved in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland respectively once the regulations are enforced. New port reception facilities are to be replaced before 2015 whereas new and old ships must be upgraded before 2016 and 2018 respectively.
The technology and methods to treat and receive this waste have been around for a long time, although the research for the Sea of Inventions project shows that there has been a rapid growth in the technology development from the early 90s and on. Retrofitting all old ships before 2018 ought to be brilliant business for producers of this technology. Our statistics show that there aren’t very many European companies among the top applicants. With a home market like the one coming up in the Baltic Sea region, they might want to spend a little more time in their workshops.
Swedish local environmental authorities report that waste water emissions from small scale facilities in summer houses are becoming an increasing problem. With people using their second homes more like permanent residence and not merely for a few weeks a year, treatment installations cannot cope with the increased load, which leads to untreated sewage leaking out in the surrounding nature or directly into the sea, contributing to eutrophication. According to the Swedish EPA, as many as 400.000 summer houses have inadequate treatment plants and 60-70% of those that have been inspected are in need of some sort of measure or replacement. According to Swedish law, summer house owners are required to upgrade facilities that do not provide sufficient treatment levels and pick up the cost themselves. This requirement can often turn out to be very expensive for house owners.
For the Sea of Inventions database we have found 785 inventions that to relate to small scale treatment facilities. With 400.000 plants to be replaced and house owners complaining over high prices, driven entrepreneurs might spot an opportunity here. For anyone who would like to learn all there is to know about ways to build a small scale waste water treatment plant, get in touch with anyone who knows how to, find out technologies that are, or aren’t, patented, find out which countries are the most active, or which companies, will definitely be helped by Sea of Inventions.
Until the Sea of Inventions database is online later this month we want to share some statistics from the small scale waste water treatment section.
We are currently adding the last bits to the document search function on our new website and by the end of June we will have added all 20.000 inventions to the database. The inventions can be searched for with text or browsed by categories. We have divided all inventions into three environmental problem areas: eutrophication, hazardous substances and biodiversity, and we have also put them in five different technical fields: agriculture, fishing, household, industry & infrastructure and shipping. The larger of the 32 areas have been divided into to sub technologies to make them easier to examine. You can already visit the website and submit you email address so that we can let you know when everything is up and running, just click on the image below.
The American Pew Environmental Group has published its annual report on clean energy investments, which shows that halted investments during the recession are now increasing rapidly. In 2010 global clean energy investments rose by 30% compared to 2009 to an all time high of $243 billion, making them 630% larger than seven years ago. Regionally Europe is ahead of Asia and the Americas, but with Asia growing faster than the others it is likely it will be the leader in a not too distant future. The Americas, being ahead of Asia as recently as in 2008, are now far behind in third place. Some countries in South America though – Argentina and Mexico – have the highest growth rates in investments of all countries, 568% and 273% respectively.
Country by country, China ($54.4b) is followed by Germany ($41.2b) and the United States ($34.0b) in the top three by invested capital. The top three by investment by $ GDP is Germany (1.4%), Italy (0.79%) and China (0.55%). In the last year investments in the United States have grown faster than in China (51% and 39% respectively) but in the last five years the United States is way behind China in growth rate (30% and 88% respectively).
Comparing the different technologies, wind and solar are the dominant two. Wind investments increased by 34% in 2010 and accounted for 48% of all clean energy investments. Solar grew by 53%, now accounting for 40% of all investments. Biofuels, efficiency measures and other renewables scrape up the rest. By capacity though, small-hydro (80 GW) and biomass and waste-to-energy (65 GW) are both bigger than solar (43 GW), but all remain far smaller than wind power with a total of 193 GW installed as of 2010. The investments in wind power in China alone are a whopping $45b (as a comparison that is $8b more than ALL investments in Finland in 2009) and it had 43.1 GW installed capacity, while the EU had 84 GW and the United States 40 GW. In a moderate development scenario these figures are likely to be around 404 GW, 447 GW and 407 GW respectively in 2030 (although these figures are not directly comparable as the estimate is from a EWEA report with slightly different geographical definitions) and a global total of 1,800 GW.
Interesting figures are also those of spent and remaining clean energy stimulus funds. On average countries have spent 49% of their funds, ranging from 7% (Brazil) to 100% (France). Between European countries, the varying ambitions become very clear here – Germany has allocated a total of $15.2b in funds, while France and UK, although having somewhat smaller populations, have allocated only $2.1b and $3.4b respectively. The UK stands out when the growth figures are compared, certainly due to the current austerity measures. From 2009 to 2010 investments shrank by 70% compared to an increase by 100% in Germany and 124% in Italy (France 26%). The sharp drop in the UK is worrying as policy goals there have been very ambitions in view of the comparatively low levels of renewable energy today.
It would be very interesting to see whether figures for the non-energy clean technology sector show the same pattern. Statistics for that sector are hard to come by as there is no clear definition of what should be counted as clean or environmental technology and that statistics agencies have only recently started collecting these data. Any insights on this are more than welcome.
So far our engineers have found almost 17000 inventions relating to 33 environmental areas. The innovative activity in these areas varies greatly, with some containing well over a thousand inventions while others have no more than a handful. These patent documents are now being made searchable and put into the Sea of Inventions database, but as the database won’t be ready for another couple of months we’re posting some of the inventions here. We start off with inventions from three randomly selected areas.
The invention US6027053A shows a system for spreading fertilizers that can quickly change the spreading rate according to variations in the geographical land area and soil condition.
The patent application US2007059273 shows a biodegradable antifouling composition.
The invention WO2010103624 A1 shows a water purification system for purifying polluted water containing nitrogen components present in closed water regions including lakes, ponds and dams.