Increasing consumption, climate change and a lifestyle based on constant demand for luxury goods. Much seems to suggest that we are on our way to destroy the only habitable planet that we know exists. This assumption is also shared by participants of the Global Climate Strike, which has encompassed over 150 countries in recent days. The initiative found supporters in 60 Polish cities. In Warsaw, the campaign took place under the slogan: „We won’t let our future be taken from us.” The fear is reasonable, the criticism legitimate, but there are no specific proposals on how to reverse this process. Can Poland offer technologies that can stop our planet’s degradation?
Heaps of garbage littering the land, waste in the ocean and deadly toxins in the air. Add to it the lack of access to water and the scourge of global warming. There is no shortage of problems. Solving them requires unconventional thinking, innovation and cooperation between research centres and the business community. All this can be found in Poland. Here are the planet’s defenders from Poland.
No waste on land
A wave of landfill fires has swept through Poland last year. 2019 is no better – around 30 such incidents were recorded in spring alone. Chemicals, plastics, pressed car bodies, tires and municipal waste were burning. What is worse, it turned out that Poland has become an international dumpsite. The Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection informs that in 2018, 434.4 thousand tons of garbage came to Poland. An infamous record has been set. That’s 36% more than last year and as much as 252% more than in 2015. We are receiving garbage from Germany, Italy, Great Britain, but also from Australia and Nigeria. Some of the waste comes to us illegally. The increased activity of services in this area allows curbing this practice. In the years 2018-2019, over 5000 tons of municipal waste (that were delivered to us unlawfully) were removed from Poland. The inhabitants of Warsaw, which was recently drowning in garbage, could see for themselves how poorly we are dealing with waste management. Unfortunately, the amount of generated waste is constantly growing.
The quantity of plastics alone, the most common type of waste, is increasing rapidly. The worldwide production of plastics increased from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 322 million tonnes in 2015. That is why the European Union decided that disposable plastic items will be banned from 2021.
What do we replace the troublesome cutlery, plates and cups with? They may disappear completely thanks to Jerzy Wysocki. An entrepreneur from Zambrów created edible tableware! Dishes and cutlery manufactured by Bioterm do not have any of the disadvantages of their plastic counterparts. They decompose in 30 days, instead of 500 years, and are a completely natural product, as they are formed using bran and a small amount of water. They also contain no harmful chemicals.
One ton of pressed bran allows making nearly 10,000 dishes, and the company is able to manufacture 15 million plates and bowls annually. Its products are available in several European countries, but also the USA, Lebanon or South Korea. Packaging that cannot be replaced so easily is a bigger issue. For instance, containers for sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, desserts or ice cream. This type of waste is to be banned within the EU by 2025.
SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) comes to the rescue, a completely organic fabric made of kombucha mushroom, which can be used to replace traditional packaging. The material created by Róża Janusz (Rutkowska) extends the shelf life of food and is edible itself. The packaging can be eaten or composted. The material is made as a result of fermenting sugars from agricultural waste, and the only prerequisite for obtaining it is the temperature maintained at 25 degrees Celsius during the production process. Polish and foreign media alike were interested in the material created by MakeGrowLab.
No pollution in water
Water is yet another hot topic lately. Partially due to the catastrophic state of the retention system, but also due to the failure of the Czajka treatment plant and the need to discharge sewage to the Vistula. It turns out that such situations are not uncommon. In May, the decision of the Gdańsk authorities to discharge sewage to Motława aroused much controversy. A second breakdown was in Suwałki, which led to the pollution of Czarna Hańcza, one of Poland’s cleanest rivers. Otmuchów had problems as well – from November to January, the entire commune’s sewage flowed to Nysa Kłodzka, from where it ended up in the lake that is a tourist attraction.
However, water pollution is not the fault of the failures alone. Wirtualna Polska reveals that 92% of the country’s water quality monitoring stations have exceeded environmental standards, and some sewage treatment plants consciously make illegal dumps. This phenomenon is comparable to landfill fires. Not only rivers and lakes need help. There can be around 2,000 ships and vessels from various historical periods resting in the Baltic Sea, with fuel onboard, as well as conventional, chemical and even nuclear weapons.
Polish scientists and entrepreneurs are standing to fight against various water pollutants. BACTrem uses beneficial bacteria to protect the environment. The company deals with neutralizing petroleum contamination and deactivating heavy metals (bioremediation) as well as decomposing hazardous substances and waste (biodegradation). Thanks to the company established at the University of Warsaw, it will be possible to combat the negative effects of using plant protection chemicals and restore the natural biological balance of the soil. The Gold Medal at the Paris Invention Fair was awarded to BioKer – a company founded at the University of Lodz by Paweł Jarosiewicz M.Sc. and Prof. Maciej Zalewski. The granulate barrier made by „BioKer” can effectively clean a given water reservoir without blocking the flow for fish and other organisms. The innovative dam stops the pollution that flows with the river current, while clean water penetrates further.
No poison in the air
Another type of environmental pollution that bothers us and is already leaving its mark is smog. According to the latest report of the World Health Organization, 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in the EU are in Poland. Smog in Poland kills up to 40,000 people a year, and the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology estimates that premature deaths and increased medical care costs generate losses of up to PLN 30 billion a year. A solution that may help in the fight against air pollution is the „blue coal”. The raw material is made in cooperation with the Institute for Chemical Processing of Coal in Zabrze (IChPW) and the Polchar capital companies, with the support of the NCR&D and the NFEPWM. Polchar has manufactured 2000 tons of blue coal, which emits up to thirty times less pollution than traditional fuels burned using conventional stoves. The consumption of this raw material reduces dust emissions by 15 times and benzo(a)pyrene emissions by up to 35 times. „Blue coal” is based on hard coal mined in Poland and is also an extremely promising tool to fight smog. 14 municipalities are already applying for NFEPWM funding for its purchase.
Smogathon deserves particular attention. It is an initiative started by Krakow residents, who are struggling with smog and wish to combat air pollution using innovation and technology. The Krakow anti-smog event quickly gained global recognition. Its organizers remind that 91% of the Earth’s inhabitants breathe air that does not meet the accepted standards of the World Health Organization. It is no wonder then that last year’s semi-finals took place not only in Poland but also in Great Britain, India, Brazil, USA and China.
Marian Strzelczyk from Kwidzyn – designer of a smoke-free stove – could well hope for recognition of Smogathon experts. Eko-Wery offers a burner that can be mounted in a traditional stove. Its use reduces emissions by up to 80%. Thanks to the plate made of a special aggregate, harmful substances are disposed of and no smoke is emitted from the chimney.
Environmentally friendly fuels
Poles have developed two other fuels that may help protect the environment. A jury of experts from 16 EU countries awarded the Gold Medal in the 4th edition of the EEP Awards to Zbigniew Tokarz’s invention, who has become the first Pole to ever receive this award. His company, Technologie Ekologiczne, has been awarded the most innovative technology in environmental protection.
The company’s achievement, called T Technology, allows turning plastic waste into components used for the production of high-quality fuel. Importantly, the technology allows processing contaminated, unprepared and unsorted waste into fuel. Moreover, not only the simplest and most popular waste are suitable, but also TV parts, bumpers or tires.
A hydrocarbon mix is also the fuel of the future. Using a water jet at a pressure of 2 thousand atmospheres, the coal is ground to microparticles, as only those small enough can get through the sieve of the tank they are stored in. The technology is not new. The Chinese, who can grind coal down to 45-50 microns, have been working on it for a long time. A breakthrough was recently made by Professor Marian Mazurkiewicz from the American University of Missouri-Rolla, who developed a technology for grinding coal up to the level of 10-15 microns. His achievement attracted NASA’s interest. The Sopot-based law firm Consultor, licensed for the Polish professor’s technology, has started cooperation with the Military Institute of Technical Engineering in Wroclaw. This resulted in participation in the program organized by the National Center for Research and Development and the fight for a grant. According to estimates, one litre of fuel that could give Polish coal a second life and serve the environment in the process would cost PLN 0,25.
Environmentally friendly commuting
Yet another hope for environmental advocates are electric motor vehicles. Although ambitious plans for the development of electromobility arouse scepticism in Poland, we have considerable achievements in this area. Developing this type of transport will not be possible without a charging network. The European leader in this area is Ekoenergetyka, providing charging infrastructure for electric buses in 28 major European cities. In 2018 alone, the company has installed 185 electric vehicle charging points in as many as 23 cities in 9 countries.
Batteries are an extremely important element in the development of eco-commuting. Impact Clean Power Technology provides battery systems for the public, industrial, commercial and AGV robot sectors. Both Ursus and Solaris have used products from this company. Electric motors, in turn, are made by one of the oldest Polish companies, created by Hipolit Cegielski. The Polish Development Fund has recently invested PLN 40 million in a new strategy for the development of electric drives of the Cegielski Plant.
Another relevant Polish accomplishment, this time in the construction sector, is perovskite, a group of minerals that allows creating photovoltaic cells that can be applied to any surface without losing performance. Innovative photovoltaic panels stand out with that they are flexible, so they can be used on car bodies, windows, clothes, electronics, hulls of ships or aircraft. Skanska, a construction giant, became interested in the achievements of Saule Technologies. Thanks to semi-transparent perovskite solar cells, the international corporation will build self-sufficient office buildings. The first buildings using the Polish invention are already being constructed in Poland. According to Olga Malinkiewicz, co-founder and CTO at Saule Technologies, the perovskite’s expansion abroad is just a matter of time.
If Skanska wanted to further increase the energy self-sufficiency of its buildings, it should reach for windows of the future made by ML System. This is the world’s first solution in which, apart from performing its primary functions, the glass also becomes an active element generating free energy from the sun. Thanks to the coating made of quantum dots, Quantum Glass acts as a filter that transmits light radiation in the visible wavelength and converts unfavourable UV and infrared into electricity. The modest window becomes a generator of green energy.
Every minute for Earth
Generating energy is one thing, but saving it in line with the ecological spirit, i.e. skilful management, is another. A popular pro-ecological action is the „Earth Hour”. It is an initiative created by the World Wide Fund for Nature, taking place every last Saturday of March, starting in 2007. The most popular tourist attractions in many countries fade into darkness for 60 minutes. Sceptics of this initiative highlight that such action is harmful to energy networks and the CO2 reduction achieved this way is compared to the year-round operation of 6 cars. Solutions developed in our country should appeal to both supporters and critics of this solution. Polish entrepreneurs Less and Virtual Power Plant have developed a system that saves energy every minute. The former has created a technology that integrates urban lighting with a city monitoring system, which results in improved security in the city and helps reduce electricity bills. The innovative system adapts the intensity of the light to weather conditions and also to the volume of traffic. CO2 emissions are reduced by increasing efficiency.
The second company has developed the Enabler DSR technology that allows managing energy-intensive heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) processes in such a way as to adapt them to the variable thermal characteristics of buildings. Buildings often function in the same way, despite many variables, e.g. weather conditions or loads (number of people staying inside). Using the above solutions translates into achieving electricity and heat savings of up to 25%.
As can be seen, there are plenty of planet-friendly innovations. Whether they would become revolutionary inventions or end up like graphene, a kinetic energy absorber, or the company Optimus, largely depends on political decision-makers. Bioterm cutlery and crockery on PKP trains and LOT planes? The DSR Enabler system in the headquarters of state institutions and public buildings? Quantum Glass and perovskite elements included in the Mieszkanie+ project? A Polish car running on garbage? There is a lot to fight for.
Polish version is available here.
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The publication co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as part of the public project "Public Diplomacy 2019" („Dyplomacja Publiczna 2019”). This publication reflects the views of the author and is not an official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.