Environmental Technology, News

Monitoring the world

Detecting and interpreting change is key to safeguarding the environment. Affirming the importance of this principle, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) underlines the need for an integrated approach to the environment.

Decision-making in a range of spheres – from industrial activity to construction work and energy use – must take into account environmental, economic and social factors. Companies and public agencies all over the world are developing the necessary tools for the development of this integrated approach. These include new monitoring technologies, satellite environmental surveillance, software to facilitate environmental management and analytical tools, such as environmental impact assessments, which synthesize the results of monitoring and surveillance, and serve as policy-making tools.

Keeping Watch

Environmental surveillance – collecting and analyzing samples of air, water, soil, foodstuffs, biotas and other substances – helps identify areas with high pollution, so that companies can implement cleaning technology. It can also be used to forecast weather patterns, and help minimize the effects of natural hazards, such as floods.

Norwegian companies provide environmental surveillance services that draw on state-of-the-art technology. Blom ASA carries out topographic and hydrographic mapping utilizing information obtained from GPS measurements, aerial photography, photogrammetry and orthophoto production. The company has been selected to participate in the World Bank-funded “Emergency Flood Recovery Project” in Poland. Blom’s task will be to improve warning systems, enhance preparedness and minimize flood damage.

A sophisticated form of environmental monitoring is provided by sensors attached to stable platforms in order to monitor soil, rivers, the sea and the atmosphere.

OCEANOR has developed real-time monitoring and information systems for land, river and sea. Its SEAWATCH system provides coastal and ocean monitoring, and integrates the use of sensors, buoys and sensor carriers, and the latest communication technology. It has enjoyed great success abroad and has been used in major projects in Thailand, Indonesia, Spain, Vietnam, India and Greece. OCEANOR is currently involved in a project run by the Peruvian governmental agency IMARPE to improve forecasting capacity and the assessment of the El Niño phenomenon for the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters in Peru.

Remote sensing, which is a growing field in environmental surveillance, is based on satellite surveillance of the Earth. Photographs and digital images provided by satellites can reveal changes in the atmosphere, on land, in the oceans and on the ice caps. The most ambitious project in this field so far is ENVISAT, the European Space Agency’s environmental satellite, which was put into orbit in the summer of 2001. It will collect information on the world from an altitude of 800 km. The satellite will supply data on ozone levels, greenhouse gas emissions and changes in ocean currents and levels, and will be able to detect sea pollution, including oil spills.

Assessing the Impact

Integrating conclusions from environmental monitoring and surveillance as well as other disciplines, Environmental Impact Assessments (EPAs) provide the basis for informed decision-making for industry and public authorities. EPAs are used to determine the impact of a project on local communities and the environment, and serve as a tool in the planning of industrial and construction projects. They are crucial to ensuring project compliance with building regulations and environmental policies, safeguarding the environment from potential damage, as well as often preventing companies and public governments from making costly mistakes. Companies such as Norwegian Environmental Technology (NET) and Scandiaconsult AS are representative of companies that provide clients around the world with consultancy services for project assessment and draw up proposals that satisfy government guidelines and environmental standards.

Damage Control

Collecting and analyzing information are steps one and two; the next is clean-up. Cleaning technologies to reduce industrial air and water emissions and to remediate damaged sites are evolving continuously. Norway has invested substantial resources in cleaning technology development, with research institutes and industry working side by side. The Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) has earned a solid reputation in the international air-pollution arena. NILU has developed a complete air quality management system, which has been applied in several urban areas in Asia, including Jakarta, Manila, Bombay and Kathmandu. NILU’s experts also provide on-site training and consultancy, as in China, where an air quality management and planning system has been installed in Guangzhou, a city of six million inhabitants. NILU is also equipping its Chinese partners with the training and know-how needed to see them through the next decade.

Purifying Air

Curbing industrial emissions is the key to reducing overall air pollution, and a number of companies have worked to find solutions to this problem. Elkem Materials has developed highly effective filtration systems, making powder processing possible. The company’s filtration technology is currently being implemented at two smelting plants in China, where Elkem is renovating filters in furnaces, converting filtration units to membrane technology, and delivering completely new filters with powder processing technology.

ALSTOM Power AS is another company that offers innovative filtration solutions for industry. The company is a leading supplier of air pollution control systems for utilities, independent power producers and industrial coal-fired plants. The company’s gas filtration systems are supplied worldwide, particularly to the Middle East. The company also maintains a strong presence in the rest of Asia, with major deliveries of systems for filtering SO2 emissions.

Soil Remediation

Contaminated soil often contains a mixture of non-biodegradable toxic compounds due to former and current industrial activities, placing a strain on the biological community and on human health. Soil-related cleaning technologies centre around biological and chemical treatment. Bioremediation is based on degrading organic materials to carbon dioxide, water and ions, using microbes that exist naturally in soil. Chemical treatment methods seek to break down and neutralize toxic compounds in soil.

OCEANOR is very active in this field, and its SOILWATCH system is used for monitoring purposes and pollution control, as well as for ground water protection and management and early warning of ground water pollution. Norwegian Environmental Technology (NET), another actor here, is currently providing customers in the Caspian region, Russia and Southern Asia with complete remediation programmes including site characterization, risk assessment, pilot studies and cost performance, as well as industrial-scale remediation.

The Norwegian Centre for Soil and Environmental Research (Jordforsk) is internationally renowned for its expertise in the areas of natural purification systems technology, organic waste management, combating soil pollution, and enhancing soil quality and resources. Jordforsk’s main international activities lie in the latter field, where it is responsible for coordinating two major EU programmes. The MANTRA-East programme focuses on process-based integrated management of constructed and riverine wetlands for optimal control of wastewater at catchment scale. The goal of the PRIMROSE programme is to develop integrated studies for the management of transbounding waters of the European fringe. Jordforsk also takes part in a variety of development cooperation projects in Africa and Asia, where it has designed better models for examining drainage and diffuse sources of pollution through terrain.

Clean Water

Monitoring and improving water quality is of paramount importance. Urban and industrial activities resulting in chemical and pesticide emissions pose a risk to the entire food chain. Among the solutions developed is the chemical treatment of wastewater. The Norwegian Institute of Water Research (NIVA) has pioneered this technique and has applied chemical wastewater treatment in its project for the Environmental Protection Bureau of Jiaxing, China. Solutions provided by Norwegian companies are made to suit individual customer specifications and have been installed all over the world. Cambi, for example, has sold its thermal hydrolysis process to clients in countries as diverse as Scotland and Japan. In Japan, about 35 % of sewage sludge is processed into biogas, a renewable energy source. Cambi’s recent contract with Kobe Steel Ltd. will lead to increased production of biogas in Japan, making new digestion projects more profitable.

Research centres working in the water supply sector have been seeking solutions for the treatment of drinking water. Conventional methods of treatment have been revolutionized by NIVA, offering an alternative to the problems of coagulation technique. The traditional coagulation technique relies on the use of aluminium salts, suspected of being a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease. The institute’s process involves a new, natural biopolymer, kitosan, which is derived from prawn and crab shells. When dissolved in a clear acid solution, kitosan has positive surface tension, and when added to water with an excessively high humus content, this positively-charged polymer binds particles or substances, such as humus or bacteria, with negative surface tension. Flakes then form, and can easily be removed during filtration. This technology attacks two environmental problems: the disposal of waste prawn shells and the production of safe drinking water.

Increased industrialization has created a number of new environmental challenges. However, close monitoring of air, water and land makes it possible to anticipate, minimize and prevent damage to the environment. The Norwegian environmental technology sector delivers innovative solutions ranging from damage control to damage prevention. Norwegian actors deliver solutions that cover the entire range of environmental monitoring. They also offer innovative approaches to repairing the damage that has been done.