TOMORROW’S ANSWERS TODAY THE AKZONOBEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 3
Our sustainability journey continues For the fifth year in a row, AkzoNobel has been recognized as one of the industry leaders on the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes (DJSI). It’s a record we’re proud of, as it reflects our wholehearted commitment to continuously improving our sustainability performance. Doing business in a sustainable way is critical to our economic future and the success of our customers. So we will continue to improve and put even more energy into remaining at the forefront of transforming our industry sector into a provider of sustainable solutions. Over the last few years, we’ve systematically reinforced our commitment to sustainability, emphasized in late 2008 when 50 percent of the long-term incentive scheme for all executives was directly linked to our ranking on the influential DJSI index. Other recent developments have included the introduction of a unique company-wide cradle-to-gate carbon emission reduction program and the integration of sustainability reporting into AkzoNobel’s 2008 Report.
AkzoNobel’s commitment to sustainability has included sending employees to Antarctica to learn more about how to protect the planet for future generations.
The A team
WELCOME SUSANNAH SAYLER I am a photographer and co-founder of The Canary Project, an organization fully dedicated to producing artwork and visual media that builds public understanding of human-induced climate change and energizes commitment to solutions. I am honored that A Magazine chose to include my photographs in this issue [printed with bio-ink], which has a strong emphasis on the environment and sustainability and contains stories about real changes that are underway in areas that affect AkzoNobel’s business. I recently read an amazing fact. Since the founding of the Roman Empire, there have been only 100 generations. That means if you lined up all your ancestors going back to that point in history, you could see them all in a line. The thing I find amazing is the tremendous change that happens in every generation. Between my parents’ lifetime and mine, we sent men and women into space, saw the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and elected an AfricanAmerican US president as a culminating moment in the Civil Rights movement. When people tell me they feel worried about our ability as a society to face the challenge of climate change, it seems fitting to remember the extraordinary events of the past 50 years alone. Climate change touches every corner of the Earth and all of our lives – the built environment, how we develop it, the natural environment and how we steward it, health, human rights, food, the economy, leadership, security and so on. All sectors of society must participate in the broad transformations demanded by these challenges and, as any business person knows, moments of change are also moments of opportunity. At The Canary Project, we believe that the crisis of climate change is a crisis of vision and our work as artists concerns both current impacts of climate change and visualizing the future. AkzoNobel, through the kinds of sustainable technologies highlighted in this issue, has the privilege of being in a position to not only visualize, but to physically build, a better future. We hope this is a matter of pride, as well as responsibility.
Chief Editor David Lichtneker AkzoNobel Design and Art Direction Pepe Vargas AkzoNobel Design Consultancy Angus Hyland Pentagram Corporate Director Communications John McLaren AkzoNobel Head of Corporate Branding Berry Oonk AkzoNobel Traffic Manager Sarah Roozendaal AkzoNobel Publisher Akzo Nobel N.V. The Netherlands Editorial address A Magazine AkzoNobel Corporate Communications PO Box 75730 1070 AS Amsterdam The Netherlands E-mail A@akzonobel.com Printing Tesink, Zutphen The Netherlands
Co-founder The Canary Project
Additional imagery CERN, David Lichtneker, Getty Images, John Ross, Lee Funnell, RWL. You can subscribe to A Magazine and download digital versions by visiting akzonobel.com/A
Back cover: Designer Cynthia Hathaway has created a series of porcelain figurines which are both beautiful and devastating in how they reflect changes in nature and our perceptions of it. The Sinking Polar Bear signifies a loss of home and habitat – and hints at possible extinction – if the Arctic ice continues to melt. For more information: http://www.hathawaydesigns.org or email@example.com
Opinions in this magazine do not necessarily represent those of AkzoNobel, and AkzoNobel accepts no responsibility for these opinions. While the information in this publication is intended to be accurate, no representation of accuracy or completeness is made.
6 The drive to be green What does it mean to be green? One of AkzoNobel’s color experts challenges our perceptions. 8 Emergency on planet Earth We look at whether new ideas to halt climate change have the potential to save the world. 20 Being resourceful How new washing machine technology is raising the bar for sustainable water use. 24 Recipe for success Making glue from potatoes might sound far-fetched, but AkzoNobel’s ongoing innovation efforts have made it a reality. 26 The end of the world as we know it? “Rock ‘n’ roll scientist” Brian Cox talks excitedly about the restart of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. 32 The metaphysics of sustainable architecture An interview with Stefan Behling from leading architectural practice Foster + Partners. 40 Handle with care A report on how our Dulux Trade business has been helping people with dementia. 44 On the origin of barnacles An in-depth look at how AkzoNobel is expanding on some of the celebrated research carried out by Charles Darwin. 50 Walls come tumbling down As Germany marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we speak to two employees from either side of the old divide. 60 Cleaning up There’s a revolution taking place in the detergent industry, and our Dissolvine® GL technology is at the forefront.
6 This Nash Metropolitan, produced from 1954 to 1962, was ahead of its time in demonstrating the virtues of the economy car. Its tiny body was powered by a 1,500 cubic centimeter, four cylinder engine and featured many English-produced parts. American Motors Corporation advertised it as a “go to the market” car.
The to be
WORDS Per Nimer
Years ago, your partner would come home and say: “I’ve bought a green car.” Today, a legitimate reply would be: “What color is it?” AkzoNobel color expert Per Nimer challenges our perceptions and suggests that blue is the new green.
e often hear that the two colors that are the most difficult to combine are green and blue. But this is also the color combination that our eyes are most accustomed to, due to the familiar greens of nature and the blue of the sky. The human eye can distinguish between a staggering ten million colors, yet we are most sensitive to green. The reason is that thousands of years ago, when man lived in the forests, we needed to understand all the important information that could be provided by grass and trees about animal tracks and the wind. The natural green environment is also the most nuance-rich place in existence. How many different shades of green can you find in a tree anyway? The result, of course, is that we have trouble picking the correct green. Imagine going into a store and having to visually determine the difference between 48 green sweaters. In the late 1970s, British scientists found the first large hole in the ozone layer and in the years that followed there was a huge surge in green (meaning the color) cars. About the same time, we all started to use unleaded fuel – those of us who could afford to buy a new car that is. Petrol, considered by many to be one of the biggest causes of pollution, then adopted an image color. The nozzles for unleaded fuel at gas stations were all painted green. They are the same color today, while diesel has a black nozzle, even though these days it is considered to be the environmentally more beneficial option if you have to drive a car. The trend we are experiencing right now, which is focused on being eco-friendly, becoming more sustainable, embracing green design and doing more to recycle, is huge. It is probably the biggest trend since the Bauhaus group thought up functionalism in the late 1920s. And it’s here to stay, not only for us, but also for our children. I’m sure they will claim that they had to sort out our mess. It’s also a trend which is not about choice.
With most other trends, you can look at them and decide if it’s for you or not. The green trend will affect you whether you want it to or not, but perhaps that’s the only chance that nature – and humanity – has for the future. It also encompasses everything in life, how we live, what we wear, what kind of car we drive and how we go on vacation. The green trend has an additional relevance in terms of the colors we pick and use. Does it mean that we are buying more green paint; that more products are actually being made available with a green color option? No, not really. First of all, we have to determine the difference between green and green. Something that actually is green and something that means green. Since we are not using more green colors, it is more about the colors that carry a meaning of green. Take a big car, for example. If it was to be painted in such a way that it portrayed the meaning of green, it would most likely be white or blue in color. We know how much they pollute after all, so we have to give cars a clean interpretation through the use of color. White is clean and blue represents a sunny sky, which is also perceived as clean, so that will clear our conscience for a while when driving. If you are looking for a green color for your interior space, it will probably be a sensible color. Nothing too bright, but a color which is more subdued and natural. Or it could just be a clear sky blue. If you want to choose a pattern to go along with the wall color, it’s most likely to be a personal pattern, something that is obviously handmade. Flowers, branches, or a natural pattern which weaves its way across the wall. The way we treat the world today is as if we wanted to go to Paris, but found ourselves driving towards Berlin at 120 kilometers per hour. Yes, we might have slowed down to 20 kph, but we are still going in the wrong direction. So it’s not Earth that needs saving, it’s man. Earth will take care of itself and has all the time in the world.
This photograph was shot in the Umatilla National Forest in Washington State, USA. The fire burned more than 100,000 acres. In August 2006, the journal Science published two articles that clearly linked increased fires in the American West with global warming and suggested that this could be a worldwide problem. The articles pointed out that higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier snowmelt are extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity of wildfires. Also, more fires mean more carbon in the atmosphere, resulting in warmer temperatures, meaning more fires.
Emergency on planet Earth WORDS David Lichtneker
Climate change is threatening to cause irreversible damage to the place we all call home. Is it too late, or do we still have time to avert a humanitarian catastrophe of biblical proportions?
Left: This image shows the severity of river erosion in Bangladesh, a problem which will continue to increase as sea levels rise and storm intensity increases. Erosion on this scale has a devastating impact on infrastructure and farmland.
Below: Any piece of ground which has remained frozen for at least two years is, by definition, permafrost. Fairbanks, Alaska – where this image was taken – is just below the Arctic Circle. In recent years, due to higher average yearround temperatures, the area’s permafrost has been melting. As it gives way, trees that have been growing on top of it start to lean over at extreme angles (known locally as drunken trees) and infrastructure such as roads and buildings begin to buckle.
ccording to a recent report issued by former UN that they have done least to create. I have no doubt of the Secretary General Kofi Annan’s think tank, the Global difficulties which must be overcome to reach agreement in Humanitarian Forum, climate change is causing Copenhagen. But I am equally in no doubt about the conse30,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300 million quences if we fail. The clock is ticking. Every year we delay, people. By 2030, increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, the greater the damage, the more extensive the human misery storms and forest fires could be responsible for claiming as – and the higher the cost, pain and disruption of inevitable many as 500,000 lives annually. action later. So this conference must provide a powerful voice Devastation on this scale should send a chill down the for the millions of victims of climate change.” spine. But the fact that so many people remain ignorant Current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also of the warning signs and oblivious to the true reality only taken steps to draw attention to the need for world leaders goes to prove the point that climate change is arguably to take united action at December’s climate change talks. the world’s greatest humanitarian challenge. Proof – as if it He recently visited the Arctic Circle in Norway to see for were needed – of the scale of the threat is all too evident in himself the melting polar ice cap, which is disappearing even the rapidly eroding Carteret Islands to the east of Papua faster than predicted. “If this trend is not stopped, we may New Guinea, where the population has become the world’s have a virtually ice-free Arctic within 30 years,” he warns. first entire peoples to be officially evacuated as a result of These doomsday scenarios seem to worsen on a daily baclimate change. sis as media reports continue to highlight the latest shocking The recent Global Humanitarian Forum study states that developments. For example, did you know that temperatures if emissions aren’t brought under control within 25 years, in in the Arctic are at their warmest for 2,000 years? Or that huraddition to the figures mentioned above, 310 million more ricanes in the Atlantic are now more frequent than at any time people will suffer adverse health consequences related to in the last 1,000 years? Or that the world’s coral reefs face a temperature increases, while 20 million more will fall into catastrophic future? Such panic-inducing headlines and dire poverty. All of which heaps more pressure on the world warnings are commonplace, but their impact on a seemingly leaders who are due to attend the UN Climate Change blasé society at large is questionable. Some people, however, Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Annan, are seriously concerned and have taken the situation to heart, however, is in no doubt about what needs to be done. such as Dr Larch Maxey from Swansea University in Wales. “There must be deep, binding and fair targets to cut emis- Back in June, he famously refused an all-expenses-paid trip sions of greenhouse gases,” he says. “The agreement world to Washington to attend a conference on tackling carbon leaders strike in Copenhagen must be based on climate emissions. He described the invitation to the Smithsonian justice. It must have at its heart the principle that pollution has Festival as “the irony of our times,” explaining that the return a price and the polluter must pay. It must recognize that the flight across the Atlantic would use several years’ worth of his world’s poorest are carrying the heaviest burden for a problem carbon share.
But what about the flipside? We’re being bombarded Using heat from below ground to create electricity with doom and gloom, but what we rarely hear about are The enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) approach involves the solutions, positive suggestions for how the world can drilling bore holes through the Earth’s crust and pumping water respond to what is undoubtedly a global emergency. Earlier at high pressure to expose large surface areas of so-called hot this year, there were clear signs that serious efforts are being rock. This helps to create high temperature steam which can be made. For example, a report published by the Institution of used to generate electricity, as well as producing hot water. Mechanical Engineers in the UK stated that a forest of 100,000 Veneman’s verdict: Geothermal energy installations are “artificial trees” could be deployed within ten to 20 years to continuously improving. The advantage over wind and solar is that help soak up the world’s carbon emissions. Many climate geothermal systems can operate 24/7, so they keep going when it scientists calculate that the world has only a few decades to gets dark and when there’s no wind. Its contribution could also be reduce emissions before there is so much carbon dioxide in significant given that estimates suggest geothermal alone could the atmosphere that a dangerous rise in global temperature contribute as much as 35 percent to European energy use. is inevitable. The engineers’ proposal – which they suggest should be used on a short-term basis to buy the world time – Solar power from deserts could power Europe would work on the principle of capturing carbon dioxide from The world could slash emissions and improve energy security the air through a filter. The CO2 would then be removed from by putting large concentrating solar power plants (CSP) in the the filter and stored. Sahara and other desert regions. An area of just 139 kilometers A few months before the artificial trees idea surfaced, by 139 kilometers could match current EU power consumption. we had The Manchester Report, a showcase of the most Veneman’s verdict: It’s evident that the use of fossil fuels is promising climate ideas to save the planet, as chosen by a unsustainable and successful businesses will ensure that they distinguished panel of experts. Part of this year’s Manchester become less dependent on them. In turn, they will contribute International Festival in the UK, the report involved inviting to a low carbon economy, based on renewable energy sources scientists, engineers, campaigners and the general public to such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. Renewables submit their own ideas for combating climate change, from might be more expensive in today’s world, but with ongoing which a shortlist of 20 was put together. The 20 finalists scarcity and concerns about climate change, the price of fossil were then invited to present their proposals to the judging fuels will only increase. Meanwhile, the sun, wind, water and panel during the festival itself, with those selected as the ten the Earth itself will continue to release their energy for free, best forming the basis of the published Manchester Report. so we should focus our development efforts and resources Now available online, the report has also been printed and on turning them into viable alternatives, something which distributed to business leaders, think tanks and policymakers has been acknowledged by many multinational companies. in advance of December’s Copenhagen summit. For example, a consortium of 12 large multinationals recently The panel was chaired by Lord Tom Bingham (the UK’s launched their vision of providing 15 percent of Europe’s power most senior judge until 2008), and featured Dan Reichter consumption from solar thermal power plants in the Sahara by (director of climate change and energy at Google.org and 2050 (Desertec). Solar thermal power is a proven technology co-chairman of the board of the American Council on and the Desertec consortium predicts competitive power prices Renewable Energy); Bryony Worthington (campaigner of 0.05 € ct/KWh through further technology development and and founder of Sandbag.org.uk); Chris Goodall (editor of economies of scale. carboncommentary.com and author of The Green Guide for Business); and Professor Joachim Schellnhuber (founding Domestic fuel cells – mini home power stations director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research). Large-scale electricity generation is wasteful. An alterative Together, they selected the ten ideas they thought were most approach is to generate electricity within buildings using a fuel worthy of pursuing. But how seriously should we take propos- cell – essentially a large battery with a replenishable fuel source. als for turning deserts into solar farms or using underwater One example is solid-oxide technology, which can run on natural windmills? We asked AkzoNobel’s Director of Sustainability, gas or bioethanol. Veneman’s verdict: The potential advantages of mini home André Veneman, to cast his critical business eye over the top ten ideas chosen by the panel and give us his own considered power stations are huge. In power generation, 50 percent of the energy is often lost as heat and steam, while a significant amount opinion, in no particular order. can also be wasted during transmission. At AkzoNobel, we are proud of the efforts we have made to reap the benefits from our own Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants. If the whole of Europe moved to CHP power generation, there would be
The Canary Project Effectively raising global awareness about climate change and its devastating impact on people and the planet is a tough ask. But few would argue against the need to mobilize society to build a more sustainable future. Established in 2006, The Canary Project is a collective dedicated to producing visual media and artworks that deepen public understanding of climate change. Based in Brooklyn, New York, it is one of the few organizations in the US exclusively dedicated to producing art about our changing climate. “We believe that art has an important role to play in this process,” explains co-founder and photographer Susannah Sayler [pictured
below at Paradise Bay in Antarctica], who has traveled the world to document stark evidence of how global warming is already impacting the world around us. “Art has the capacity to penetrate received notions, generate media attention and create lasting visceral impact – all of which can be a more effective catalyst to action than mere rational apprehension.” Working with Edward Morris, Sayler initially set up The Canary Project to photograph those landscapes around the world most acutely affected by global warming. But they have since expanded their horizons. “We support a wide variety of other artists working on issues related to climate
change,” she continues. “As we diversify our programming to reach a broader audience, we also remain committed to deepening the outreach component of our inaugural body of work.” Sayler’s photographic work involves visiting many fragile environments and ecosystems, as well as regions impacted by natural disasters. She was also a member of the Antarctic expedition led by Robert Swan and his 2041 organization in 2008, which included 12 participants from AkzoNobel. A small selection from her extensive portfolio of images has been used to illustrate this feature.
An oysterman’s truck impaled by a tree was taken in 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina passed over a narrow area of land known as Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. A storm surge in excess of 25 feet is thought to have lifted the truck and deposited it in the tree when the waters receded. In a recent assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it’s likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with higher peak wind speeds and heavier precipitation associated with ongoing increases in tropical sea surface temperatures.
an immediate energy efficiency improvement of more than 20 percent. Of course decentralized energy generation – mini home power stations – would further increase energy efficiency by avoiding any transmission losses. Cheap biomass cooking stoves can slash emissions
Around half the world’s population relies on biomass fuels (wood, dung) for everyday tasks such as cooking and drying crops. By using simple but super-efficient “rocket” stoves, the amount of wood required would be reduced, emissions of soot and greenhouse gases would be slashed and each stove would save the equivalent of one to three tons of carbon dioxide a year. Veneman’s verdict: About half of the world’s population depends on forest products for their everyday energy use. This population has a carbon footprint of approximately one to two tons per year, compared with a footprint of ten to 12 tons for the average European citizen, and 20 for the average US citizen. Let’s concentrate our focus where it’s needed the most and first start by bringing about a major reduction in carbon emissions in the developed countries. Marine turbines using energy from currents and tides
One of the most promising marine energy technologies is the tidal turbine. Acting like underwater windmills, these devices have blades that rotate as the tides flow through them. Compared with wind and solar energy, tidal generation has the advantage of predictability, being driven by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. Veneman’s verdict: There is a lot of tidal energy in our oceans. We are very much in the early stages of harnessing this energy, with research ongoing in an effort to improve the efficiency of marine turbines and reduce their maintenance costs. This clearly represents an excellent business opportunity for our Marine and Protective Coatings business and sounds like a promising source of renewable and reliable energy. There is still a long way to go before large-scale deployment, however, and hard work is needed to ensure that marine turbines could contribute to the carbon emission reduction required. How wild herds can restore grasslands
If farmers switch over to grazing practices that mimic the movements of wild herds, the proportion of carbon stored in dry soils could increase by 1 percent to 2 percent. This would be sufficient to remove 100 tons of C02 from the atmosphere for each hectare of land. Veneman’s verdict: This idea suggests that if we change the way we graze cattle, grass will have a better chance of growing faster and capturing carbon in the process. Should we put our trust in changing age-old grazing habits? There is a better option. Rainforests absorb much higher amounts of carbon than grasslands. Farmers are continuing to destroy
Right: The Pitztal in Austria is one of several European glaciers that have been partially wrapped with a fleece-like fabric in an effort to slow melting. This kind of effort is primarily confined to ski areas that have an economic incentive to preserve their snow. This image shows rocks where there used to be snow. The machine in the foreground is a snow maker. Below: This is Gansu Province in China. Fifty years ago there used to be a lake here. Now all we can see are camel tracks. In such a short space of time, what once was the Qin Tu Hu Lake has dried up completely.
rainforests (in Borneo and the Amazon for example) and are Investment in family planning may slow population rise turning them into croplands for agricultural use, such as The global population is expected to rise to around nine billion biofuel and soy production for animal feed. If we take the real by 2050. This will make it even more difficult to reduce global cost of carbon capture and climate change into account, emissions to a sustainable level. Ensuring universal access to the economic value of a hectare of rainforest is higher than family planning and investing in female education is a pivotal the value of the agricultural products grown on each hectare climate change solution. of destroyed rainforest. So let’s apply sound economics and Veneman’s verdict: In order to control climate change, select ways to support forest owners to change to sustain- the carbon footprint of a global citizen should be reduced to two able forestry practices. tons per year. One aspect often overlooked in climate change discussions is that if the three to four billion people who live on Carbon capture power plants co-fired with wood less than $2 per day get out of the poverty trap and improve their Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the practice of capturing living conditions, the associated increase in carbon emissions the CO2 emitted by a power station or other industrial would ruin all carbon footprint reduction efforts. Everyone should site and piping it to an underground storage site. One of the have access to birth control, but if the Western world starts to most exciting elements of CCS is the prospect of carbon focus on birth control in developing countries to reduce climate negative power plants. These would work by co-firing (burning change, then we will go back to colonial times. We would be beta mixture of) wood and coal. ter off reducing our own emissions by putting into practice what Veneman’s verdict: There can be no doubt that we are we preach – get the job done by investing in new technologies, faced with unsustainable carbon emissions and unsustain- in new products and processes while changing our consumpable climate change. We simply can’t make the transition to tion patterns and meanwhile facilitate developing countries to renewable energy sources fast enough. However, mitigating introduce renewable energy sources. climate change will require a range of technologies that together contribute to a 90 percent carbon reduction by Turning crop waste into charcoal can boost productivity 2050 in the developed world. But every week, several new Biochar is a type of charcoal made largely of carbon which, coal-fired power plants are being constructed all over the world. if mixed into soil, will safely lock up its carbon content. If mixed They are built to last for the next 30 to 40 years. Capturing with poor quality tropical soils, it can significantly boost crop their carbon is an essential element of climate change productivity, reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions and prevention and governments and industry must practice what improve soil structures. they preach by financing and installing CCS with a great sense Veneman’s verdict: Charcoal from biomass could conof urgency. tribute to reducing carbon emissions. However, I have little confidence in mankind’s ability to apply this bio-charcoal on a large scale, while at the same time protecting the rainforest and avoiding competition with food production on agricultural land.
thorium could lead to cheaper and safe nuclear energy
A growing number of scientists and energy experts believe that the world should switch from uranium to thorium as its primary nuclear fuel. Compared with uranium, thorium is far more abundant, as well as being much more energy-dense – a person’s lifetime energy needs could be held in one hand. There are also a number of different ways to use thorium to produce electricity. Veneman’s verdict: Although it’s not a popular subject in the green political arena, we might need to rely on uraniumbased nuclear energy as one of the methods to help reduce global carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050, because it is the only low carbon and low cost energy technology currently available. Therefore, many energy experts advocate the use of this technology during the coming decades until renewable energy sources have become sufficiently available. Thorium certainly has the advantage that it is far more abundant than uranium and its waste, although still radioactive for many decades, is less dangerous. But it is still in its early development stage. Moreover, in developing clean energy technologies, I prefer to prioritize truly renewable technologies.
Top: Rising temperatures have altered natural processes in a wide range of ecosystems. Coral reefs, such as this one in Belize, are among the most susceptible because they rely on a symbiotic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae. Even slight rises in temperature cause corals to expel the zooxanthellae, leaving the corals white or looking bleached. In 1998, high sea temperatures and the effects of El Niño proved a deadly combination, causing severe coral bleaching and mortality worldwide. Up to 40 percent of known coral reefs have been destroyed or degraded in the last few decades.
Look beyond: guardian.co.uk/environment/manchester-report canary-project.org
Below: This statue, which is approximately ten feet tall, depicts a boy stretching out his hand to indicate how high the Waal River in the Netherlands would have to rise in order to flood the nearby village of Zaltbommel. The monument expresses Dutch anxiety about, and historic susceptibility to, storm surges and tides. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that sea levels will rise between nine and 88 centimeters during the next 100 years due to global warming. A quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level. Right: Forest fire, Umatilla National Forest, Washington State.
Being resourceful WORDS Rebecca Parsley
Water. People and industry couldnâ€™t survive without it. Which is why so many inventive minds are coming up with ways of stopping it going to waste.
ake a cup from your kitchen and fill it with water. Then sort out a load of dirty laundry. Is it really possible that such a tiny amount of liquid could get all those clothes clean? Well yes, it seems, thanks to a new washing machine being developed in the UK. The revolutionary technology, which aims to reduce laundry-related water consumption by up to 90 percent, was born in the textile and design department at the University of Leeds in Yorkshire and is already making waves. The Xeros Cleaning System works by replacing most of the water used in traditional washing machines with thousands of tiny, reusable, nylon polymer beads. These attract and absorb dirt under humid conditions, which means just a small amount of liquid and specially-formulated detergent is needed to dampen clothes and remove stains. Water vapor activates the beads and they fall through a mesh in the drum of the machine at the end of the cycle, allowing them to be collected and reused. “The idea is that we’ll develop a closed-loop system to limit environmental concerns around using nylon as our polymer,” explains Bill Westwater of Xeros, the company set up to develop the project. “We’re currently working with various companies as the beads need to be as absorbent as possible and ultimately very reusable. The machine needs around 20 kilograms of beads to work properly, which seems a lot, but they are retained in the machine to be used time and time again, not like water that gets flushed away. The system works with recycled as well as virgin nylon, so the idea is that when beads need replacing they are returned to the manufacturer for reuse. We want the whole process to be as eco-friendly as possible, not just the system itself.” Saving water isn’t the only benefit, however. Taking into account the need for less electricity, and a reduction in the amount of detergent used, Westwater says that if all households in the UK alone converted to Xeros, the carbon footprint equivalent would be like removing two million cars from the country’s roads. The idea behind the technology came from the University of Leeds’ work in the textile industry. If we know how to make dye stick to polymers, went the thinking, and if we understand that stains are like dyes, then maybe we can reverse the process to remove stains. So far, the answer seems to be that yes, we can – and the news has been welcomed by the laundry industry. “We need to complete our prototype machine and optimize the cleaning action through more testing and developing a bespoke detergent,” continues Westwater. “We’re not planning on being in the marketplace until late 2010. Before that, we’ll be putting trial machines in with end-users – we want to take the system
• The Xeros Cleaning System aims to save up to 90 percent of the amount of water used by conventional washing machines and is expected to use 35 percent less energy • The environmental impact in the UK alone would be equivalent to taking two million cars off the road • The system uses 20 kilograms of polymer beads, which can be reused hundreds of times • In the UK, laundry currently accounts for 13 percent of domestic water consumption.
Garment loading Similar to a conventional washer. Beads and garments tumble freely together via drum-in-drum system.
Bead separation and removal Around 99.95 percent of the beads are removed. A final shake over the work station.
Drum-in-drum bead separation The outer drum stops rotating and the beads are separated from the garments.
through proper, robust trials rather than rely on lab results. But our first market is the commercial laundry market, not domestic. It’s so cost-conscious, and with utility prices rising, it’s the area where we can have most impact. Feedback so far has been great. If we can prove the system, they’ll buy it.” Launching the system commercially is also the best way of preparing the domestic market, he adds. “If you went straight out with this weird bead machine, you’d be drowned in questions, doubt and concern. But if you develop the commercial laundry market first and then say to people look, you can have this professional system in your home, they like it. It’s saying that if commercial people trust it, then it must work.” Xeros is now speaking to various corporate partners to develop the project. The company will license the technology, not manufacture the machine itself. “What we’re doing is proving and patenting the system, then we’ll license the technology to partners,” Westwater goes on. “It will be for them to ultimately decide how it’s distributed or serviced in the marketplace. We want to work with a known corporate brand, it’s about giving end-users confidence, offering the Xeros Cleaning System via big-name brands they already trust.” The critical element, of course, is proving that the system cleans at least as well as conventional methods – if not better. But results so far are encouraging, and the industry is willing to look closely at the innovation. “The laundry market is really in need of something breakthrough,” concludes Westwater. “Everyone has done their washing in the same way for years – it’s water, agitation and detergent, whether you’re banging clothes against rocks in the river or using the latest machine. When there are changes, like a machine which uses 45 liters of water instead of 50, it’s trotted out as a major development, but in reality it isn’t. So when something new comes along, they examine it carefully. They know there’s a bit of a glass ceiling with conventional technology so anything that can break it is welcomed.” Xeros — the facts
Vacuum wand A vacuum wand accessory can also be used to remove remaining beads if required.
How we’re reducing our water consumption It’s been said that water is the oil of the 21st century. It’s a critical lubricant in the global economy, while supplies of clean, easily accessible water are under pressure due to a growing world population and our increasing need and reliance on it. Investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years. But unlike oil, there’s no substitute for it. So how is AkzoNobel tackling the issue? Well, water management is top of our sustainability agenda, and we’ve got clear goals in place for our businesses. By the end of 2009, all production sites will have carried out a self-assessment of current fresh water use, the aim being for each of them to be sustainable by 2015. “First of all, we’re forming an overview of the water inventory at our sites,” explains Gunter Riedel, the company’s Corporate HSE Process Development Manager. “This looks at the water used and will identify flaws in the water balance. The self-assessment
will offer an interactive insight into the issues concerning sustainable water management at each site and highlight areas for action.” The self-assessment has been grouped into six risk areas, with between ten and 15 questions in each: Water sources: Where does our water come from – could there be any restriction as a result of environmental factors, as well as governmental restrictions? Supply reliability: Could supply be threatened by seasonal changes or limitations in the pre-use processing? Waste water discharge: Are there local factors near our production sites or legislation changes that could affect or limit how this is carried out? Efficiency: How do our sites handle fresh water? Could this be better organized to prevent losses?
Compliance: Could our facility operations impact on the local or regional fresh water supplies? Social competitive factors: Is there anything that might influence external attitudes towards a production site and its water use? A ranking system has been devised, with each area awarded a Low, Medium or High risk score. For a site to be considered as having sustainable fresh water use, it needs to be Low in every one. “A site might be excellent – Low – in five areas, but Medium in the sixth, which means it’s not sustainable in our eyes with respect to fresh water use,” says Riedel. “So management would have to look into that section and take steps to become Low. They have until 2015 to do this. “All sites are carrying out their selfassessments, and we’ll have to prioritize when it comes to changes – we’d focus more on a site that’s High in all six areas than one that’s Low in three and Medium in three, for example.”
Sustainable water use in action So what is AkzoNobel already doing to make the company’s use of fresh water more sustainable? Bernard Tuin, from our Process Technology Department, explains. “Because the company’s systematic self-assessment is relatively new, we can’t say exactly how it will be implemented just yet. We’ve had a lot of responses from the self-assessment and it’s going OK – a lot of the businesses are already taking steps, but there’s some way to go. However, we do already have examples of action being taken around the company.” These include: Functional Chemicals in Ningbo, China, have their own waste water treatment and water production plants. “We take care of producing our own process water and treat the waste water before it’s finally discharged to the municipal treatment plants,” says Tuin. “We do a lot of water management at the site to make it one, integrated facility. We’re also looking at the
possibilities of reusing water from several of the flows around this site – it’s a work in progress.” At Rotterdam in the Netherlands, fresh water consumption has been reduced and the waste water treatment plant is now operated using water with a higher salt concentration. This project was started several years ago and is so far proving successful. Industrial Chemicals in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, used to use ground water (pumped from a well) for salt production processes, but has now moved to utilizing surface water. “Ground water is generally of a higher quality, such as that used for drinking water,” explains Tuin. “This action isn’t a reduction in fresh water consumption, but it’s saving the higher quality water. Our permits for extracting ground water have now been transferred
to drinking water companies and we buy process water from them.” He adds: “Part of the self-assessment is looking at each site’s water balance – what flows in and what flows out. It highlights areas where we could use water of a lower quality equally well for our purposes.” A number of our salt production sites have extensive recycle and reuse systems for reusing condensation streams. Given the amount of salt produced, this amounts to huge flows of water being reused. At Polymer Chemicals in Deventer, the Netherlands, water is now de-ionized so it can be recycled. The plant used to use a oncethrough system for cooling water – it came in, cooled, and was discharged into a nearby river. Now, a recirculation system operates – a cooling tower processes the used water, so it can go through the system again. This has meant huge savings in ground water use.
success WORDS Rebecca Parsley
We bake them, we mash them, we chip them, we fry them â€“ and now, it seems, we can even make furniture with them!
ver since the humble potato was introduced to Europe The difficulty, he adds, is in making it commercially worthback in the 16th century, it’s been a staple part of our while for customers to switch from synthetic to bio-adhesives. diets. Rich in vitamin C, high in fiber and tasting great, Feedback on the project has been overwhelmingly positive, its versatility is celebrated in kitchens around the world. from the company’s own production units to customers keen But using it to make glue for use in furniture production? to utilize eco-friendly technology. But the bottom line is that It might sound like an odd concept to most of us, but chemists any change has to be economically viable. from Casco Adhesives, part of AkzoNobel’s Industrial Finishes “It boils down to money, and how efficient it is to introbusiness, have proved it can be done. Casco is a major supplier duce these products to production lines,” continues Herder. of wood adhesives to laminated beam producers and the furni- “No matter how successful the trials, it means our customture and flooring industries. As part of AkzoNobel’s commitment ers have to invest in the unknown to a degree. Will the new to building a greener environmental profile, they have launched products work as efficiently as those they have worked with for a project to develop so-called bio-adhesives for their customers 20 years? If you think of how much wear and tear a chair – or which – according to R&D Manager Peter Herder – has amazing any other end product – is subjected to, it’s a real challenge. potential and is going from strength to strength. It means taking a big risk. If six million tons of a particular “We were looking at using renewable sources – potatoes, adhesive are used in Europe every year, then there’s enormous wheat, oats – as a starting point for making wood adhesive,” pressure when you ask people to change – on us, to make he explains. “But bio-adhesives aren’t really anything new. sure it works, and on them for it to be cost-effective.” Proteins can be found in anything that grows and have known Many businesses, though, recognize the need to be more adhesive properties that were used for thousands of years. Over environmentally responsible and are keen to encourage the time, however, we developed new versions based on synthetics development. Swedish furniture giants IKEA in particular have and oils and so lost the know-how of using the power of nature. worked closely with Casco Adhesives, running a number of “Now we’re coming full circle as we aim for a carbon-neutral trials. With so many different applications to be formulated, society. We’re looking back to nature to provide what we need however, it’s a time-consuming process. and help us to protect the planet. Our chemists had the courage “You have different requirements for each stage of furnito look at new formulations using ingredients not usually found in ture-making, producing wood flooring, veneering – every area,” the laboratory – and it’s working.” explains Herder. “We’re running trials and offering products to Protein-based adhesives were still on the market in the customers. Some are already running bio-adhesives in some 20th century but, because they were derived from animals, fields, but at low volumes compared with what we hope to see. they smelled bad and were difficult to work with. The challenge We need to do more development and solve some technical has been to produce a new generation of products that is not problems, but I think we’re very close in many niches to be only environmentally-friendly, but also does the job to the same able to take products to the marketplace. Some companies standard as newer, synthetic versions. already sell adhesives based on soy protein – especially in the “There have been health and safety concerns over certain US for plywood – but I think we’re ahead in other areas, such compounds used in industrial adhesives, with new legislation as veneering and making chairs.” introduced as a result,” says Herder. He goes on: “You can’t use the same glue for everything. “This in turn means market demand for products with, It’s the same with paints and coatings – you have specialfor example, less or no formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile ized products, you tailor-make them for specific customers organic compounds). We have focused on this for several years. and their requirements. This is why it takes time. But we’re Obviously we know the synthetic binders or molecules used doing well. The eco-friendly technology means we can help in our current range of products – their properties, how they our customers become greener as well as ourselves, and it react – but proteins and starches are a new field for us in a way. will improve the working environment for our people. So when We need to put in resources to learn more and develop the pro- you think about it, in the end, it’s something that offers benefits cess to increase our technological knowledge and expertise.” all round.”
The end of the world as we know it? WORDS David Lichtneker
This aerial view of the CERN site shows the path of the 27-kilometer circumference LHC tunnel. The ring stretches from Geneva airport to the French countryside.
here’s a key scene in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters “nonsense” in the process. “To be honest, I like the idea that when actor Harold Ramis warns his fellow paranormal science can be headline-making,” he continues “because eliminators not to cross the beams of their weapon-like people aren’t generally interested in the details of how the particle throwers. It would be “bad” he explains, before universe works. But they will read a story about the possibility of they zap a pesky ghoul. “Try to imagine all life as you know it creating a small black hole which will devour the Earth, stopping instantaneously and finding yourself confined forever so that’s a great way to get them interested.” in another dimension.” A graduate of the University of Manchester in the UK and Admittedly that was a fictional apocalyptic scenario, now a renowned particle physicist, Cox knows a thing or two but a curiously prophetic one, given that crossing the beams about the media. Having also carved a career out for himself is fundamental to the science behind CERN’s Large Hadron as a respected and easy-going TV presenter – one who is Collider (LHC). The subject of much recent brouhaha, the most able to demystify science and make it understandable – the powerful particle accelerator in the world is due to be restarted route he took into his chosen field of expertise proved to be in late 2009 after a technical hitch brought its initial boot up to somewhat unconventional. Back in the early 1990s, he was an abrupt end last September. keyboard player with dance group D:Ream, who scored When the LHC is fully functioning, protons accelerated a major number one hit with the track Things Can Only Get to near light speed are sent hurtling in opposite directions Better (subsequently picked up as an anthem by the UK’s around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) circumference tunnel (located Labor Party). That brush with pop music fame means he’s deep below Geneva), colliding at several points along the way. sometimes referred to as the rock ‘n’ roll scientist. But as befits The energy resulting from these collisions tears the protons a native of north-west England, he’s incredibly relaxed about apart, liberating a spray of smaller particles. Four huge detec- that period of his life and prefers to concentrate on what he’s tors (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb) observe the collisions, been able to take from the experience. “All the work I now enabling physicists to explore new territory in matter, energy, do publicizing science has come out of that,” he says, simply space and time. adding that it was “a wonderful opportunity.” Most of us who were glued to the TV on that historic day Currently filming a five-part series for BBC2 about the last year (dubbed Big Bang Day) knew that some kind of giant seven wonders of the solar system (he was off to Ethiopia a experiment was about to take place – something to do with few days after we spoke), Cox’s main involvement with the trying to find Higgs boson, the elusive so-called God particle LHC is to study data produced by the ATLAS detector. “The – but there’d been too much talk about getting sucked into job of the LHC is to collide particles together, the rest of the oblivion to worry about that. Because the media frenzy which work is being done by universities all over the world, who will accompanied the big switch on suggested that Ramis’ words study the data produced by the four detectors,” he helpfully were still ringing in everyone’s ears. Fear had gripped the planet points out. There are two general purpose detectors (ATLAS and people all over the world waited nervously, half-expecting and CMS) which are looking for “anything that happens,” while that the Earth was about to be swallowed by a giant black hole. the other two (ALICE and LHCb) are smaller and more specialWhen no amount of bustin’ would have made us feel good. ized. “LHCb is looking at the way that in the early universe, But were those headlines justified? Was the world really matter and anti-matter behaved differently. So that’s really teetering on the edge of self-inflicted Armageddon? Who bet- asking the question why is there any stuff in the universe at ter to ask than Professor Brian Cox, one of the key scientists all?” ALICE, meanwhile, is tuned to work when the LHC is colinvolved in the LHC project, who is quick to put everyone at liding gold (the LHC doesn’t only collide protons, it can collide ease. “All that nonsense was started by two guys in America gold together, or lead). “When it runs in that mode, you get a who have a track record of stirring up controversy and snapshot of the universe as it was, let’s say a millionth of a conspiracy theories about major experiments,” he explains. second after it began,” notes Cox. “So the LHC is quite a gen“But in a sense they actually did science a favor. Because the eral purpose machine and these different detectors can do media loves a good headline and ‘Experiment could destroy different things. It’s not all about looking for the Higgs boson.” the world’ is much better than ‘Large Hadron Collider is turned Still, it’s all fairly mind-boggling and much of the detailed scion and searches for Higgs boson’. Editors are far more likely to ence is way beyond the comprehension of the average brain. How pay attention to the first story and I suspect we wouldn’t have then, would Cox sum up what is going on deep under Geneva had such major press interest had it not been for the loonies so that the not-so-scientifically-blessed can make sense of it? who said we might destroy the planet.” “What we’re doing is really part of the main line of physics. It’s simOnce this media mayhem had been created, Cox and his ply about trying to understand the forces of nature and looking colleagues were able to take full advantage, appearing on TV for the building blocks. Modern particle physics is where we’ve and in magazines to talk about the facts, dismissing all the got to in that quest. Essentially, we’re investigating the forces
30 Look beyond: cern.ch/LHC
Below: Particle physicist Professor Brian Cox [Photography: Vincent Connare]. Right: Global interest in the LHC has been intense, with several specially organized open days having been held to explain CERN’s scientific activities.
of nature.” He adds that there “There was a construction deare four forces that we know fect in one of the joins beof – gravity, electromagnetism, tween two of the magnets the strong nuclear force and which caused a helium leak the weak nuclear force – with and damaged 53 of the gravity being “almost certainly” magnets,” explains Cox, who outside the reach of the LHC. can also claim his own movie Which leaves the other three. experience on his CV, having “We’re investigating how they acted as scientific adviser mix together and how they on director Danny Boyle’s behave in similar and different Sunshine. “The LHC has to ways. With regards to the run at a very low temperature, Higgs particle – this thing 1.9 degrees above absolute that in the actual theory is zero, to enable its superresponsible for generating conducting electromagnets mass in the universe – it got to function properly and heliinto the theory because we um is used as a coolant. were trying to understand At that temperature, the wires the way that the weak nuclear have no electrical resistance, force and electromagnetism so you can end up with these mix together. It appeared in huge magnetic fields without the 60s as a result of those pumping idiotic amounts of efforts. So really it’s all pure physics that we’re dealing with. electricity into it. But if it heats up, then the wires become It manifests itself in this rather complicated way because I sup- resistive and you are then putting thousands of amps through pose the simple stuff has already been done. Anything you can something no bigger than a piece of fuse wire, so obviously it do with a couple of magnets and a coil of wire was done by goes wrong.” He adds that fixing the problem took relatively Faraday, but in many ways what we’re doing is exactly the same, little time and wasn’t particularly expensive. Finding out why it’s just a bigger experiment.” the failure (known as a quench) occurred and preventing it Aside from all the talk of black holes – which Cox admits from happening again has been the main challenge. are unlikely to be created in the LHC – the one thing he’s most A new protection system has since been added in an often quizzed about is the costs involved and whether all the effort to avoid a similar malfunction, but given the major money being invested is actually worth it. (For the record, publicity which is likely to surround the restart, is Cox nervous the direct total LHC project cost is €2.98 billion, made up of about the forthcoming event? “I’m more excited than nervous. €2.4 billion for the collider and €580 million for the detectors). The LHC is a machine which will answer some fundamental He’s quick to point out that around 85 countries are contribut- questions. This kind of physics has been pretty stuck to be ing to the project and that CERN’s overall budget of around honest and the LHC is the machine to move us on. But these €0.7 billion a year is roughly the same as that of a medium- things always take time to get going. I was working on the last sized European university. Add to that the fact that you can’t accelerator that was commissioned, a machine in Hamburg. put a price on what could potentially be discovered, and it’s That took three years before it began to work in a useful way clear that Cox is more than convinced that all investment in and it will be the same for the LHC because it’s the most CERN – one of the world’s largest and most respected centers complicated machine ever built. They take several years to unfor scientific research – is worth every penny. Established in derstand, they have quirks and they’re difficult to work. I had 1954 and sitting astride the Franco-Swiss border, the LHC is a conversation recently with one of the engineers at the LHC just one (admittedly very big) part of the center’s ongoing work. and he was saying that we’re used to technology just working. It’s famously the birthplace of the worldwide web and more When you buy a TV, for example, you don’t expect it to break recently featured in the Hollywood version of Dan Brown’s down, because they’re easy to build and we’re good at it. Angels and Demons – the story involves the theft of antimatter But when you do things that have never been done before, from CERN to build a bomb to destroy the Vatican. it takes a while. Most people don’t see that process in action, What then, went wrong last September? What caused an so it’s incredibly exciting.” experiment which is costing so much money, and has taken It’s estimated that the LHC experiments will run for around so much time to prepare, to be aborted after just nine days? the next 20 years, during which time some groundbreak-
Ray of hope
ing discoveries will hopefully be made. But Cox wants the attention the experiments are attracting to have an additional benefit. “The thing about science is that it’s too important not to be part of culture,” he states. “So when you have something like the LHC, it’s extremely important that there’s public interest for various reasons. One is that we need more young people to go into science and engineering. Secondly, we have a society which is built entirely on the fruits of science. The fact that it’s considered a minority pursuit is problematic, because it means that there’s a lack of graduates. If governments don’t invest correctly, then somewhere down the line we’re going to have a major problem. There’s nothing more important for our civilization than science and engineering. So I’d really like to urge youngsters to get into these subjects because there’s such a shortage of talent.” The big question which remains is, what happens next? If the LHC is the world’s biggest science experiment, where do we go from here? “It depends entirely on what we discover, and we know we’re going to discover things. You don’t just build these machines for the sake of it, you build them because you get stuck and you need to conduct an experiment to look at nature in this particular regime in order to make progress. If we need to do it again with an even bigger machine because we’ve got particular questions that are important, then we’ll build a bigger machine, or a different machine. We’ve got a question which needs answering right now about Higgs boson and the origins of mass which is stopping our understanding of how the universe works. Who knows? Maybe we won’t see where to go next and we won’t see where the next step is. Or maybe we’ll discover something which is astonishing, like extra dimensions in the universe. Then we’ll just have to build a machine to focus on that particular aspect of the way nature is. It’s a fascinating process trying to uncover all the answers.”
AkzoNobel’s unwavering commitment to continued innovation may not involve trying to recreate the socalled Big Bang. But deep inside a lab in the United States, the company is using a sophisticated electron accelerator capable of producing brilliant x-ray photon beams as part of its frontier research into coatings. The tests – being carried out in conjunction with University College, London – are being conducted using the sophisticated Advanced Photon Source (APS), located at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. The APS is one of the most technologically complex machines in the world and provides the brightest x-ray beams in the Western hemisphere. It works by injecting electrons into a booster synchrotron – a racetrack-shaped ring of electromagnets – and accelerating them from 450 million volts to seven billion electron volts (7 GeV) in one-half second. The 7-GeV electrons are then injected into a 1,104-meter circumference storage ring – a circle of more than 1,000 electromagnets – before a powerful electromagnetic field focuses the electrons into a narrow beam and a special sequence of magnets produces the ultra-bright x-ray beams. OK, not quite on a par with smashing particles together with cataclysmic force in a multi-billion dollar underground collider, but mind-bending stuff nonetheless. “The APS produces high energy x-rays which can be used for structural work, for example to understand the microstructure of materials,” explains Andrew Burgess, AkzoNobel’s Chief Materials Scientist. “We’re using it to probe the microstructure of our coatings by performing x-ray nanotomography. This will help us to understand the pigment distribution within a particular coating.” Tomography, he points out, enables the construction of a 3-D image and is commonly used in medical diagnoses, such as those carried out by MRI and CAT scanners. To date, more than 5,000 scientists from around the world have made use of the APS, all of them brimming with ideas for new discoveries in nearly every scientific discipline, from materials science, biology and chemistry, to fundamental physics and environmental and planetary science. The knowledge gained promises to have a real and positive impact on technology, health, the economy and our fundamental understanding of the materials that make up our world. “The particular work we’re doing involves making very high resolution scans which will reveal the internal structure of a coating at sub-micron resolution,” continues Burgess. “This will enable us to better understand how well we have managed to disperse pigment in the coating and could lead to the ability to generate the required levels of opacity using less pigment.” The versatility of the APS was underlined earlier this year when University of Southern California researchers brought along a collection of trade artefacts uncovered in Egypt. By peering past the corroded metal on their surfaces and deep into their cores, they hope to discover the make-up and structure of the finds.
The metaphysics oF
sustainable architecture WORDS Jim Wake and David Lichtneker PHOTOGRAPHY Foster + Partners
Buildings are becoming more sustainable. What does that mean, and how will we benefit in the long run?
Previous spread: The McLaren Group’s new Technology Center in the UK is located by a formal lake which is an integral part of its cooling system.
hen leading architect Stefan Behling speaks about sustainable architecture, he doesn’t intimidate you with detailed discussions on the efficiency of a new generation of photo-voltaic cells, smart hi-tech materials or passive energy systems. In fact, he says that the key to building sustainably is to design for the ages. The view from his London office, he says, offers an object lesson in what sustainability is all about. “Time is the most important word,” he says. “A sustainable building is a building that can last, that can change over time, and that can change its use over time. I’m looking out of the window here in London at buildings that are 200 years old. You’ll have a house with four floors that had one big family living in it, and then that area may have changed and suddenly the house has four or five families living in it, or 27 workers from other countries, and then later it turns into artists’ studios. Or as the area comes up, it turns into architect’s offices, and at some point it’s hedge fund offices, and maybe later, families come back into it.” Behling is a senior partner and resident expert in sustainability at Foster + Partners, the global architectural firm which has been a leader in innovative, sustainable architecture for more than 40 years. He heads up the firm’s efforts to develop new sustainable designs, and is the author – together with his wife Sophia – of Sol Power, a book on the use of solar energy in architecture. He combines his role at Foster + Partners with a professorship at the University of Stuttgart, where he heads the Institute for Architectural Technology, Building and Design, teaching all students a mandatory course in sustainable building. But his take on sustainable architecture is more metaphysical than technological. He believes that the primary mission of architecture should be to improve the world we live in. “If you think about what would make the world a better place, you have to come up with something that is good for you now and creates quality space and comfort for people now. But you also need to consider the next generation. I would say that good architecture has always been described as something that would stand the test of time, and that you can only really judge a building or a piece of urban design – or any design – after at least a generation. If you focus on quality, then you focus on creating something long-lasting and creating a good environment, which are the things that architects have always been talking about, starting with the Roman architect Vitruvius and continuing right up to the present. Interestingly, today we would call that sustainability.” Behling is one of those people who eschews labels, and sustainability in particular. “Sustainability means that you do something now that doesn’t compromise the existence of future generations. Even though I give lectures on sustainable architecture, I feel the word is slightly overused and misleading, because it’s not a special kind of architecture, it’s just good quality design and thinking.” But that’s a little disingenuous, because Behling does indeed have clear ideas about what goes into sustainable design – and it’s not primarily gadgets and technology. It’s flexibility.
Left: The new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in Texas, US, is entered beneath a broad overhanging roof, which shades the outdoor spaces from the harsh Texan sun. Top: Completed in 1999, the transformation of Germany’s Reichstag parliament building included a radical energy strategy which uses renewable bio-fuel refined vegetable oil to produce electricity. Below: London’s City Hall advances themes explored in the Reichstag. It expresses the transparency and accessibility of the democratic process and demonstrates the potential for a sustainable, virtually non-polluting public building. Overall, it has the capacity to use only a quarter of the energy consumed by a typical air-conditioned office building.
Look beyond: fosterandpartners.com Right: Part of the Masdar Initiative, the Masdar Development in Abu Dhabi is a new six million square meter sustainable development which uses the traditional planning principles of a walled city, together with existing technologies, to achieve a carbon neutral and zero waste community. The city itself is car free. With a maximum distance of 200 meters to the nearest transport link and amenities, the compact network of streets encourages walking and is complemented by a personalized rapid transport system. Masdar City will be built in seven phases, the first of which is the Masdar Institute, which is set to be completed in early 2010.
“The first thing you’ve got to get right is to make sure that Energy efficiency was essential to make ends meet, and preserving your building can be changed over time. So I want my columns the environment was part of their work. “It was in their nature to and floors to be long-lasting, but also flexible so I can change be very clever about how buildings functioned. But now you have things around. And second, you have to make sure that your millions and millions of people living in cities, and so you have a situabuilding is in a high density location. If you can create a city which tion where people don’t know what energy efficiency is. So over the has high density mixtures and people move around using their last 100 years, buildings have become inappropriate for the climate. own energy rather than their cars, you will always have a society For example, a glass box is not appropriate for a very cold country which uses a fraction of the energy and causes a fraction of the or a very hot country because glass has very low insulation value.” damage to the environment than you would if you were in a place For Behling, sustainable doesn’t mean that you have to skimp that is more spread out with segregated uses. So a person living on creature comforts. On the contrary, providing comfort is a given. in Copenhagen uses one tenth of the energy of a person living in “Whenever people see a higher level of comfort they want it. If you Detroit or LA, where you have to get into your car to buy your milk, live in a hot country and you’ve suddenly experienced air conditionbecause there is no corner shop and no walking life.” ing for the first time, you will want to have it. Now, if you have the Cities and the way they are being designed and planned desire to have higher levels of comfort, and you’ve got technologies hold the key to a sustainable future. The most important scientific that can deliver this, then you have to achieve this sustainably.” advances in this field are being made in Abu Dhabi, where Foster That’s where you enter the realms of engineering, says + Partners has designed a new city, which will be carbon neutral Behling. Façades and infrastructure need to be constructed to in its operation. It will be high density and mixed use and will revo- deliver energy efficiency, and the materials need to meet criteria lutionize public and private transport. Last, but not least, it will for energy efficiency. He tells his clients that comfort is something have a wide variety of super energy efficient buildings, powered “precious” and that one should never waste a precious resource. by renewable energy. But how do you convince a client that they should opt for a Behling suggests that the most energy efficient high-rise sustainable building, when it clearly entails extra costs? office tower is probably not a truly sustainable building because “I think you’ve got to somehow get the caring instinct to work,” it is mono-functional. “Maybe in the long run office work might he continues. “Even if someone doesn’t really care, he doesn’t not be here to stay. So why have a specialized office building want to wear a T-shirt saying ‘I don’t care,’” reasons Behling. that can’t be converted into anything else? It’s important not to “So let me extend that to buildings. I think there will be an era when understand a sustainable building as simply one that has a few people will find that it’s not good for their image to have a building photo-voltaic cells on it, some hi-tech gadgets, some special that clearly says ‘I don’t care.’ That’s what motivates me. I think carpet and some newspaper crumbles used as insulation. things are getting better and awareness is increasing. Ultimately, All that stuff comes much further down the line.” it’s a race against time. But architecture and the planning of cities When society was predominantly agricultural, says Behling, are not just a matter of technology and aesthetics. They set the low density building was practical. Farmers have traditionally built stage for a way of life. Hopefully, if they are done well, they will set sustainable homes out of necessity, because they lived off the land. the stage for a sustainable way of life.”
Solid foundations As architects and specifiers begin to embrace sustainable design and construction with ever widening arms, AkzoNobel is accelerating its efforts to remain at the leading edge of eco-efficient product development. The company already has strong links with Foster + Partners, supplying high performance systems for many of their projects. But architects are continually devising new ways of introducing sustainable features into their designs, so it’s up to us at AkzoNobel to ensure that our product innovation remains one step ahead. Two of our businesses – Protective Coatings and Powder Coatings – are major suppliers to the global construction industry through their market-leading International® and Interpon® brands. Together, they offer widespread solutions and boast an impressive track record which includes the likes of Wembley Stadium and the Sage (pictured left) in the UK, Sydney Harbor Bridge and Melbourne’s Eureka Tower in Australia, Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in China, Le Lagon in France and the New York Times Tower in the US. “We have a brand specifically for the architectural market called Interpon D,” explains Jean-Paul Moonen, Global Segment Manager Architecture & Furniture for AkzoNobel Powder Coatings. “It’s available in three different quality levels to fit in with the different standards in place in various parts of the world and architects will always mention one of these standards in their specifications.” He adds that the company’s architectural powder coatings are mainly applied to aluminum extruded profiles. “They’re used on window frames, doors and other important parts such as curtain walls. So if you have a skyscraper with a lot of glass on the façade for example, typically the supporting structure will be built out of aluminum and that aluminum would be coated with our products.” The big advantage of using powder coatings is that they’re inherently eco-friendly. “They’re basically VOC-free and extremely clean when it comes to production and application,” continues Moonen. “The product is applied via electrostatic spray in a special booth. All the powder that doesn’t stick to the surface or the object is collected and reclaimed and used again, therefore we can have efficiency levels up to 99 percent. So there’s hardly any waste.” However, while powder technology is developing fast, Moonen admits its environmental profile can be improved. “One of our major technological challenges involves curing. Powder coatings are applied electrostatically and then cured, so ovens are used. A temperature of between 180 and 210 degrees Celsius is
protecting europe’s heritage typically needed, which involves a lot of energy. If we can decrease that curing temperature, it will obviously save a lot of energy costs, so that’s one thing we’re working on.” While powder is a relatively new kid on the block, so to speak, traditional liquid paint is well established within the construction industry. One of the main markets served by AkzoNobel’s Protective Coatings business is HVI, or high value infrastructure. “HVI essentially means high profile exposed steelwork which utilizes high performance coatings systems to deliver long-term corrosion and fire protection, together with high impact, long-term aesthetics,” explains Jon Wilson, HVI Market Manager for the company’s Worldwide Protective Coatings business. “This includes structures such as stadiums, tall buildings, airports and convention centers, for example. Sustainability is very important for HVI because the construction industry has been facing growing pressure to build greener buildings. Owners and large corporations also want to embrace sustainable design and construction methods because it follows their corporate strategy to minimize impact on the environment during construction, operation and decommissioning.” He adds that the company supplies a wide range of primers, intermediates and topcoats, including high performance, high gloss Interfine® acrylic polysiloxane topcoats. These acrylic polysiloxane finishes contribute to reduced environmental impact because their long-term durability is up to four times longer than traditional polyurethanes over the life of a structure, which means that the need for materials, manufacturing costs and transportation is greatly reduced, while the VOCs per year are extremely low. This long-term mindset fuses neatly with Foster + Partners architect Stefan Behling’s philosophy that a sustainable building is a building that can last a long time. “When coatings are specified, it’s important to consider their impact during the entire life of a building, not just while it’s being constructed,” continues Wilson. “That’s when you help to make a building truly sustainable.” Concludes Moonen: “Increasing environmental awareness is good for AkzoNobel because it is exposing the benefits of our products. There are still big opportunities to grow in various regional markets and our combined product offering, coupled with our ongoing innovation, means the company is well placed to meet the industry’s growing need for sustainable solutions.”
Hi-tech sustainable paints and coatings aren’t reserved for use on spectacular new developments or futuristic buildings. Look around any European city and it won’t be long before you discover something which evokes a sense of its history and tradition. It’s these cultural icons, the buildings which make up Europe’s rich and colorful heritage, that are the focus of a new partnership between AkzoNobel and an organization called Europa Nostra. Dedicated to protecting Europe’s valuable heritage, Europa Nostra has worked with AkzoNobel (a leading supplier of specialist restorative coatings products) to produce the Guide to Colorful Europe. The publication is designed to raise awareness of how climate change is threatening to permanently damage, or even destroy, a long list of culturally significant buildings which have stood for hundreds of years. Rising temperatures, flash floods and increasingly violent storms pose a serious threat to many of the sites highlighted in the first edition of the guide. Launched in September, it aims to introduce some of the continent’s lesser-known historical sites and, through raising awareness, help to safeguard and enhance the vast range of built and natural heritage monuments and landscapes in Europe. It’s hoped that by drawing attention to the beauty and the value of these unique sites, European citizens will become more actively involved in their preservation before they are permanently damaged or, even worse, disappear.
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ter ers ca design to lp e e tt h le st tool to a color pa n Gue onary S Bria ti d D e lu R is o O v v W d a re ow de roduce obel has n N eady p o lr z a k g A lind, Havin . color-b mentia for the ople with de e p t assis
uthor Iris Murdoch, who died ten years ago, is widely recognized as being one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Creator of a host of books ranging from the 1978 Booker Prize-winning novel The Sea, The Sea to philosophical works on Sartre and existentialism, for almost half a century the Irish-born writer was a giant on the literary scene. In 1995, while writing her last book Jackson’s Dilemma, Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, an incurable degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. In his memoir of his wife’s life, Murdoch’s husband – the writer and academic John Bayley – described her slow decline into the husk of her former self. The agony of her descent into the illness, which fellow writer and Alzheimer’s sufferer Terry Pratchett described as a condition which “strips away your living self, bit by bit”, was brutally laid bare for all to see in the Hollywood movie Iris. An umbrella term for any of the 50 conditions that leads to a progressive decline in the cognitive functions of an individual – such as memory, attention, language skills and thinking – dementia (which includes vascular dementia, Huntingdon’s, Picks and Creutzfeld-Jakob diseases) strikes 5 percent of those over 65 and one in five over the age of 80. Just like cancer a quarter of a century ago, it’s a disease which meets with a wall of silence because in the public mind it is perceived to be a condition that little can be done about. According to the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, dementia now costs the country more than cancer, heart disease and strokes combined. It has also issued a gloomy forecast that by 2050, around 1.7 million people will be affected by the disease. Yet research into the condition – more than 100 years after German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer gave his name to the most common form – is woefully under-funded when compared with conditions such as cancer, prompting the Alzheimer’s Research Trust to coin it a “Cinderella disease, starved of attention.” One of the world’s leading centers of excellence in the field of dementia – and only one of a handful in the UK providing comprehensive dementia education and training, consultancy and research services – is Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre in Scotland. The facility’s flagship Iris Murdoch Building is a model for dementia-friendly design. This open and welcoming environment provides inspiration for ongoing work involving the design and remodeling of care homes. The center also conducts research into dementia aimed at improving the quality of life and services for both people with dementia and their carers. Colm Cunningham is the director of operations and has worked for the center for the last five years. A graduate of the university’s MSc course in dementia studies, Cunningham – whose background is in nursing and social work – obtained his degree the year Iris Murdoch died. He explains that the center’s work primarily covers four areas: information, consultancy – which incorporates design as a major priority – providing training programs and research.
Founded in 1988, their main objective is to improve the lives of people with dementia by seeking new ways to make the environment they live, and often die in, as comfortable and uplifting as possible. Besides MSc programs, the center also runs training programs for managers, as well as programs on how best to use technology and care for people with dementia in a hospital setting. It also boasts one of the largest libraries on dementia in the world. “Design is important to us, but it’s only one of the things that makes life more bearable for people with dementia,” Cunningham explains. The whole premise for the center is to work with organizations that support people with dementia from a range of professions. Everyone from architects right through to the care assistant who is delivering care on the ground on a day-to-day basis. “Every day when we go out into a public place, or even around our own homes, we use the space around us to navigate and make informed decisions,” he continues. “For somebody with dementia those decisions are harder, because due to neuron loss, they are using fewer cells to make those decisions. So if the design is poor, it causes stress. All of us make poor decisions when we are under stress, or we push it to one side and put it to the back of our minds. So particularly for somebody with dementia, a design must be simple and straightforward. It helps them take the right decisions and makes them feel more empowered and less disabled.” Cunningham gives a random example to illustrate what he means. “Suppose a patient living in a care home walks out of a room into a corridor and forgets where he or she was intending to go. If the building is designed well they will look left and right. Ideally there will be simple choices for them to make. Whereas if there is a only a blank wall at one end of the corridor and it’s hard to see down the other end because it’s poorly lit and all the doors are the same color, then they will struggle to make a decision.” The first enquiry the center received was about designing a space. Over the last 20 years, the use of color has been very prominent in the work the center has done. “We have just produced a design audit tool to help inform decision-making about this area of design. What has become patently clear is that it is not so much specific colors, but the use of contrasting colors that is important in helping people to find their way and make the right confidencebuilding decisions.” It’s an area in which AkzoNobel’s Dulux Trade business has been more than willing to lend a hand. Working together with the center, one problem the company’s color experts pointed out was that dementia sufferers (who are normally older than 60) are subject to the same physical changes as the rest of the aging population. For example, the lens of the eye can yellow as we age, resulting in changes to the way we see the world around us. Dulux pointed out that the appropriate color schemes would benefit older people, irrespective of whether or not they have dementia. “We learned that people don’t necessarily see colors in the same way,” notes Cunningham. “They might actually see blue as a
pale grey. The next person might see a slightly different tone again. It’s this body of knowledge about the importance of contrast that we have incorporated into our color schemes. Working with Dulux Trade has brought so many positives, but not only in terms of new information. We’ve had people from all over the world coming to visit, so much so that we’ve had to introduce a handset tour because we can’t cope with the numbers wanting to come and look around and get ideas.” While proud of what the center is achieving, Cunningham believes it and the wider world is only scratching the surface in terms of really getting to grips with the condition. As recently as
2002, half the respondents to a survey about dementia thought that the condition was an inevitable part of aging and not an illness that could be treated. “We need to really work hard to change perceptions about the disease and the levels of funding required to really make a dent into something that cannot be swept under the carpet. This means more funding for drug treatments and therapies. At present, there is a major imbalance between the resources and sheer number of people suffering from the condition. But what is good to know is that awareness is growing and there is an increasing call to action.”
Bold and Simple AkzoNobel’s involvement with the project at Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre included devising a palette of colors which met requirements laid down by the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The company’s Dulux Trade business was asked to develop a range of color schemes that took into account the need to enhance spatial awareness by contrasting visually adjacent critical surfaces by 30 points difference in LRV (light reflectance value), in accordance with official building regulations. “Color patterns can confuse people with dementia, so color schemes need to be bold and simple,” explains Dulux Trade Color Consultant Tiffany Allison-Hall. “For example, all bathroom doors should be the same color and the hallway a single contrasting color. Most of us tend to choose fresh, aqua blues in bathrooms
because of the association with hygiene and cleanliness. In fact, the elderly respond poorly because blues are often confused with grey. When we started to put warmer colors in – the peaches, the yellows – the response was far more positive.” Adds Dulux Trade Innovation Manager Vicki Fleming: “Our aim was to make people familiar with their environment and highlight areas that they needed to access, rather than to focus on the purported psychological characteristics of specific colors. We gave them pointers such as the need to highlight toilet doors, handles, the everyday things patients use. All cupboards should have glass fronts so that people can see what is in them. It’s vital that sufferers don’t become disoriented about the simple things most of us take for granted. Ultimately, the aim is to encourage independent living.”
The project is part of the Dementia Services Development Centre’s new technology suite, a unit which comprises a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, a living area and a kitchen. The suite acts as a “show home” for those who are involved in dementia care. It showcases all the different technology available to enable people with dementia to stay in their own home for as long as possible, or to improve the design of care centers, making residents feel more at home. The particular color scheme showcased at the technology suite encompasses lilac or pale green walls within the living and communal areas, contrasted with pristine white trim and oak doors. All bathroom doors were finished in a bright yellow, with the bathrooms themselves painted in visually contrasted shades of blue.
On the of
WORDS David Lichtneker
Join us on a voyage of discovery as we link research carried out by Charles Darwin with todayâ€™s hi-tech fight against fouling organisms.
Photography: Balanus trigonus feeding, by Professor A.S. Clare, Newcastle University
ne of the more memorable expletives often uttered by thickly bearded seafarer Captain Haddock – the cantankerous but loyal companion of cartoon adventurer TinTin – makes a somewhat bizarre reference to “blistering barnacles”. Perhaps creator Hergé just wanted to weave an appropriate maritime alliteration into the popular tales of his famous boy detective. But whatever his reasons for name-checking the tiny invertebrates, Captain Haddock’s colorful outbursts never really come close to causing the kind of rumpus barnacles prompted in the scientific world almost a century before the Belgian author first penned his fantastical stories. Back in the mid-1800s, another cultivator of impressive facial hair – naturalist Charles Darwin no less – dedicated a mind-boggling eight years of his life to dissecting, studying, classifying and cataloguing the marine crustaceans. They became an obsession – 1846 to 1854 are appropriately known as his “barnacle years” – yet the results of Darwin’s painstaking labors had a huge impact. Not only did he make innumerable scientific breakthroughs, but his findings (published over an exhaustive four volumes) were to later also give credence to his groundbreaking theory of evolution. The extensive research which would eventually become On the Origin of Species had already been sketched out, but Darwin didn’t think the world was ready for it. So he chose an alternative route. He decided that his barnacle studies could potentially refine his controversial theories and subsequently pave the way for publication. If he could first solve the many mysteries of the marine creatures and sort out their chaotic classification, he would surely earn a reputation as a leading naturalist. Gaining acceptance for his pioneering evolutionary theories would then prove less problematic. Fortunately for Darwin – who endured endless medical problems and suffered heart-breaking personal tragedy during his eight years of barnacle study – that’s exactly how things worked out. Thanks to his meticulous efforts, he became the first person to classify a group of organisms according to the principle of common descent, or in other words, how hundreds of variously adapted species branched out, over millions of years, from common ancestors – a fundamental idea in his theory of evolution. Rave reviews in the scientific press duly followed and he received various accolades, including the prestigious Royal Medal from The Royal Society, one of the highest awards in British science.
Top: A juvenile (uncalcified) barnacle stained with a fluorescent dye. Cement is visible as bright yellow central region [Photography: Professor A.S. Clare, Newcastle University]. Below: Balanus amphitrite, one of the most common fouling species found around the world [Photography: Dr Richard Kirby]. Next spread: As a major global fouling species, barnacles are happy to settle on anything that will offer a suitable home for life, be it a ship or even a whale.
Look beyond: international-marine.com/Intersleek900 ncl.ac.uk/barnacles darwin-online.org.uk
Five years later, in 1859, when his completed On the Origin same place for life). They are also cultured in hi-tech laboratories to of Species was finally published (more than two decades after he help AkzoNobel scientists speed up their testing and analysis. One returned from his five-year voyage on the Beagle), Darwin – by such lab can be found at Newcastle University in England, which now a respected figure in the scientific community – cemented has been working with International Paint for more than ten years. his place in history and became a reluctant celebrity who was “What we’re basically trying to do is understand the enemy,” suddenly in demand all over the world. says Jeremy Thomason, a marine biologist who used to lecture Darwin’s fascination with barnacles will come as a surprise to at the university but who now runs his own consultancy and conmany. To most people they are insignificant and totally unremark- tinues to work with Williams and his team. “If we can understand able. They’re small, seemingly harmless and do little more than more about the biology and genetics of barnacles, we might get cling to rocks, ships, whales or anything else that will provide a some clues as to how to stop them attaching to vessels. It’s a big suitable surface for them to live on. Appearances can be decep- challenge though, because these things are very sophisticated tive, however. In fact, before Darwin began his research, marine in terms of how they find somewhere to live, how they attach invertebrates were the darlings of British science, with many themselves and how they cope with drag.” eminent naturalists convinced that they held the secrets to life So while they may be incredibly small, you have to admire a itself. Even Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, had speculated that barnacle’s ability to make such complex choices so early in its all of life might have emerged from some sort of aquatic life form. short life. “The biggest are about a millimeter long and most are All this obsessive behavior and arcane scientific speculation barely visible when they start looking for somewhere to live,” notes might sound terribly Victorian, but even now, exactly 150 years Thomason. “But they are capable of deciding where they are goafter Darwin’s theory of evolution was first published, barnacles ing to settle, grow up, get enough food and reproduce. That’s a continue to be the subject of major research. They are of par- tiny little organism making these huge decisions. It’s like asking a ticular interest to manufacturers of antifoulings, the special paint six-month-old child where it wants to live and what job it wants used on ships and other ocean-going craft, which is applied to to have.” prevent marine life from attaching themselves to the hull. Using In charge of the research being carried out at the university these coatings is vital, particularly for large commercial vessels, is Professor Tony Clare, a leading world authority on barnacle because barnacles and other organisms can wreak havoc with physiology who has been studying them for more than 30 years. performance, impacting speed, fuel efficiency, emission levels Working closely with AkzoNobel scientists, his expertise is being and ultimately costing operators huge amounts of money. used to dig deeper into the many mysteries of barnacle behavior. “If a ship doesn’t use antifoulings, barnacle drag can cause Their efforts are primarily focused on Balanus amphitrite, regarded that vessel’s fuel consumption to increase by as much as 40 per- as being one of the most common fouling species around the cent,” explains David Williams, Principal Research Technologist world. “Most of the work on physiology and settlement behavior at the UK Technology Center operated by AkzoNobel’s Marine & carried out over the last 20 years has been conducted with this Protective Coatings business – manufacturers of the company’s species,” explains Clare. “They’re quite easy to obtain, can be industry leading International Paint brand. In fact, the use of cultured relatively easily and because it’s a tropical/semi-tropical antifoulings, or foul release coatings – such as AkzoNobel’s species it breeds more than once a year.” Once in the lab, the pioneering Intersleek® 900 – provides the shipping industry with barnacles are kept under the right conditions and fed regularly so annual fuel savings of around €21 billion ($30 billion), while also that they produce larvae throughout the year. “We collect these cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 450 million tons. first stage larvae and then rear them through to the settlement “Foul release coatings essentially make a surface unattractive stage, which is known as the cyprid,” he continues. “When they to marine organisms,” continues Williams. “If something does are at the cyprid stage we can start conducting our settlement attach itself, the coatings are designed to be so smooth that the behavior tests.” movement of the vessel through water is enough to displace them These tests involve putting the cyprids into water droplets and from the hull. The reason we are so interested in barnacles is that then placing them on the coated surface being tested. In order to they are a major fouling organism for vessels all over the world. ensure their own survival, the cyprids have to attach themselves They are also quite choosy in how they settle on surfaces, so we to this surface and they are grown until they reach the right size for can learn from their behavior and use that to our advantage when automated adhesion tests to be carried out. This requires measurdeveloping new products.” ing the area of the barnacle and recording what force it takes for International Paint’s barnacle research bears little comparison the so-called load cell equipment to remove it. “By using a simple with Darwin’s. The technology available in the 21st century means calculation we’re able to determine the adhesion strength and that sophisticated video tracking systems can now be used to relate that back to the speed a vessel would have to travel in order study larval behavior, while specialized equipment has also been for the barnacle to fall off,” says Williams. “However, we know that developed to help measure adhesion strength (barnacles secrete different species secrete different types of glues, so we’re looking a special glue when they find somewhere to settle and stay in the to widen our research and improve our understanding.”
With Clare at the helm, there’s every chance of that Owners and operators want to reduce costs to a bare minimum, happening. Scientists had been trying for more than 50 years to so if we can develop a product which helps to save another one characterize the chemical cue to gregarious settlement behav- or two percent on fuel, people will buy it.” ior. Then Clare and his team made a significant breakthrough. Clare – who points out that Darwin’s published research re“Barnacles have a tendency to settle next to each other. Most mains an important reference for those interested in barnacles species cross-fertilize, so they have to be near a neighbor to – also admits that there’s a long way to go when it comes to fully fertilize them. That proximity is achieved at settlement, so they understanding the many marvels of the humble barnacle. “We’ve perceive this chemical cue which they use to locate a barnacle only just scraped the surface,” he claims. “We still don’t have a of the same species, and we recently characterized that to a detailed understanding of how they are able to locate a particular certain extent through our work at the university.” surface. Although our lab recently characterized the settlement Understanding why barnacles settle where they do and the cue, there are other cues involved. So we don’t understand in mechanisms behind their behavior is vital to the development great detail how they make the distinction between different of future antifoulings. So while Intersleek 900 has undoubtedly species, or how that chemical signal is perceived. We also know been a huge success (almost 300 vessels have been coated next to nothing about the workings of the nervous system in with the product to date), it doesn’t mean that the company’s that sense and the cascade of chemical signals from when they scientists are sitting back and admiring their work. Far from it. perceive this cue to affecting of behavior. Quite a bit of progress In the true spirit of Darwin, they are continuing to experiment has been made on the adhesive mechanism with respect to and make new discoveries. “Our biggest issue at the moment is characterizing the cement of barnacles, but we don’t really with bacteria and slime,” reveals Williams. “Owners are starting understand how that works on different surfaces. So in an to ask what impact slime is having on performance, so this is applied context, there’s still a lot to learn.” an area we are investigating. We’re also looking to develop the And for anyone thinking if only Darwin was around to help, next generation of Intersleek. We have some new technology at his research into cement glands proved to be spectacularly the moment that we’re testing, but there’s still a long way to go.” wrong. To borrow a phrase from Captain Haddock, it was all a Continues Thomason: “I suppose we’re looking for perfection. load of blistering barnacles!
Walls come tumbling down WORDS Jim Wake
In November 1989, the whole world shook when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Twenty years on, two AkzoNobel employees â€“ and one journalist â€“ who were ideally placed at the time share their memories of a pivotal moment in modern history.
Previous spread: Barbed wire protecting the Brandenburg Gate. The sign warns that if you pass this point you are leaving West Berlin. Circa 1962. Inset in previous spread: US and Russian backed East German forces facing off over the newly constructed Berlin Wall. Below: August 1962. Police in West Berlin installing barbed wire fortifications at the Berlin Wall to protect it against demonstators. The makeshift sign says the police are protecting the Russian sector.
part from the death of a celebrity or a good political scandal, there is scarcely anything that the major media would prefer to cover than the anniversary of a great historical event. Just this summer, for example, we had the opportunity to relive the first Apollo landing and the Woodstock festival. But in the greater scheme of things, many such events are really just moments. The world didn’t change all that much because humans walked on the moon or a half million hippies grooved to Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and a host of counter-culture icons for three days. And some of the most significant changes are more processes than events, like the industrial revolution or the IT revolution. Truly historic events that suddenly create a new reality and change the world are of a different order: the two great European wars of the 20th century, the Bolshevik Revolution, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the withdrawal of Britain from the Indian subcontinent, or perhaps the independence of Ghana in 1957, which brought to a fairly rapid end the quaint notion that European nations had a right to rule over distant lands and peoples for their own political and economic benefit. But 20 years ago, the world really did change. During the summer and fall of 1989, the perceived invulnerability of the Soviet bloc was shown to be a mirage. In Poland, the Communist Party which had controlled the state since the end of World War II lost power and was forced to strike a deal with Solidarity, the labor union which had turned into a mass movement, despite all efforts to suppress it. In Hungary, liberal-minded members of the Communist Party had gained the upper hand, and they began a process which would lead to free elections and an end to one-party rule. As change rippled slowly through Eastern Europe, Soviet President Gorbachev – who was pushing reform in the Soviet Union and urging it on his neighbors to the West – clearly indicated he would not intervene in the affairs of countries that had long been viewed as satellites. In late summer, before the definitive end of Communist rule in Hungary, the government there announced the end of restrictions on travel to Austria, effectively opening the border. It was like priming a pump – thousands of young, disaffected East Germans began streaming into Hungary to make their way to the West, creating a strange sort of refugee crisis of relatively welleducated, prosperous refugees who had abandoned their jobs and their homes because they felt that it might be their only chance to get to the West. In Prague, thousands more East Germans invaded the grounds of the West German embassy, seeking asylum and passage to the West. In East Germany itself, street protests grew increasingly defiant, and people at all levels of society called for radical reforms. Every Monday, huge demonstrations were held in the East German city of Leipzig. Each week, the cries grew louder. Heavy-handed police actions, including the arrest of thousands and the use of force, failed to deter the protesters.
By mid-October, the long-time leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, had been forced to resign and cracks in the monolithic leadership were apparent. On November 6, 400,000 people demonstrated in Leipzig, and the next day, the government resigned. Two days later, on November 9, an East German official named Günter Schabowski appeared at a press conference and announced that restrictions on travel were being removed “immediately”. It was a clumsily formulated announcement of a decision which had been taken but not yet implemented, and the result was a mad rush for the exits by throngs of East Berliners who had heard that the border was open. The East German border guards, overwhelmed and unwilling to use force to stop people from crossing into West Berlin, simply stood aside, and soon the wall had been breached not only at the border crossing points, but elsewhere, as citizens on both sides took sledge hammers to what had been a hated symbol of the Cold War for the previous 28 years. The East German regime collapsed within weeks, and within months, the Communist governments in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria had also ceded power, while the Communist regime in Romania was ousted in a violent uprising. The iconic “fall of the wall” was not, in and of itself, the decisive event in the Revolution of 1989, but it did neatly symbolize the dramatic break with a past in which an artificial line ran through the center of Europe, arbitrarily (and often cruelly) dividing families and nations, and two superpowers competing for global influence pointed thousands of nuclear warheads at each other. Maria Porschen and Stefan Kauerauf – both now long-time employees of AkzoNobel – lived on opposite sides of the line in those days, and they viewed the events as they unfolded through quite different prisms. I too happened – more or less by chance – to experience much of the excitement and uncertainty from up close as I traveled through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the spring and summer of 1989. All three of us share our memories now of that very strange and special time.
Maria Porschen (53) has been working for AkzoNobel at the same location in Düren, Germany, for 38 years – since she was just a teenager. The site, between Cologne and Aachen, produces a variety of chemicals for the company’s Pulp and Paper Chemicals business, Eka Chemicals, as well as personal care products. Maria currently serves as the quality manager.
I was born in a little village just five miles from the Düren site. I’ve lived here all my life. That may sound boring, but I’m not that interested in travel. I like staying home with my family. So when I got married, my husband and I built a house near my parents and we’ve stayed in the same house ever since. Over the years I’ve had many different jobs here, starting with quality control,
and 38 years later I’m doing quality control again, but now as a manager. I really can’t complain – in fact, I’ll be perfectly satisfied if I can stay here until I retire. Back in 1989, I was still a young woman and, to be honest, I didn’t really pay too much attention to politics. I had two little girls and my family was really the most important thing in my life. There really wasn’t that much reason to think about what happened on the other side of the border, but every once in a while it did touch you. My own grandma came from a small town near the Polish border and I remember that when I was a child, she told me how, after the war, she came here and some of her family stayed in the East. They wrote letters to us and we sent them packages with treats such as chocolate and coffee and so forth, but we almost never saw them. And then one time, when my uncle did visit, what sticks in my mind is that he was standing in the kitchen and he ate seven bananas, one right after the other! In any case, when the family wrote to us, they would tell us that everything there was fine, but we knew that they couldn’t really tell us what was going on in their lives, because the authorities always checked the mail between East Germany and West Germany. Anyway, I didn’t think about it very much, because we had our work, we had the children, we had enough money and our lives were very far removed from the situation in the East. Still, like most families, we couldn’t help but think about it sometimes. I guess it was more difficult in my husband’s family. His mother’s brother had nine children. Five of them were in the East and four in the West. And that hit a little closer to home. When I visited my mother-in-law she would talk about the situation – about her nieces and nephews living on opposite sides of the border – so in a way I was more aware of it in my husband’s family than my own. But it still didn’t have much to do with my life on a daily basis. And even though you heard about how different it was in the East, it was hard to imagine.
May 1965. East German border guards watching through binoculars during HRH Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Berlin Wall.
When things started happening in 1989, we read about it in the newspaper and saw reports on television and naturally we spoke about it over the dinner table. It was clear that a lot of people wanted to leave East Germany, but what wasn’t clear was what would happen if they started coming and more followed and more followed them. How would we be able to take care of them? Where would they live? What would they do? Besides that, a lot of people – especially older people – were afraid that it could lead to war. I don’t think young people were so afraid, but people like my parents had lived through a terrible conflict and they knew what it meant. I remember my mother saying: “I just hope it doesn’t lead to another war.” Even though I wasn’t that interested in politics, I wasn’t that surprised about what was happening because of what I knew about the situation. But we were afraid of what the East German state might do. Everyone knew that they had been very brutal when they cracked down on opposition in the 1950s and we were afraid they could be just as brutal again. You had a feeling of helplessness. We were all asking ourselves: “What should we do? Should we send money? Should we send food or clothing?” But no one had a good answer. Not long before the Berlin Wall fell, some of our family living in the East came to visit us. They were pensioners, which is why they were allowed to visit. They had nothing good to say about the government, so we knew how unhappy people were. As the situation grew more tense, with all the big demonstrations in Leipzig and in other cities, we would go to work and then in the evening, my parents and my motherin-law would come to see us and they would talk about what was happening. It was very much on their minds, but I have to admit that even then I didn’t think about it all that much. I thought it was good that the people were doing this, and that they should have done it a long time ago. Then, when we saw the huge demonstration in Leipzig that November,
I thought that a very big change really was coming. At the such as child care, that were better than we had in the West. same time, many of us were afraid of what could happen. But those things were not implemented. Now most of that is We just hoped that the politicians wouldn’t order the police to gone and I think it’s a bit of a pity. shoot the people on the street. There were so many people. In the evening, my parents would sit in the kitchen and I heard them talking. They were saying: “It’s good, do more, Stefan Kauerauf is 45 years old. He was born in Greiz, do more, do more.” I didn’t feel as personally connected as my just south of Dresden and Leipzig in the former GDR, parents who, after all, still had strong memories of the Second not far from the Czech border. When he was about 18, World War and the building of the Berlin Wall. I knew it was he started working for VEB Chemiewerk Greiz-Dölau, important, but I wasn’t nearly as afraid of what might happen a huge state-run chemical firm. That company has now as my parents and my mother-in-law. become part of AkzoNobel and Stefan works as an When the wall finally fell, it was in the middle of the night. engineer in the field of engineering, health, safety I woke up in the morning and we listened to the radio and and environment. heard about it, but I don’t really remember exactly how I heard. I recall turning on the television and hearing that the situa- When I finished high school in 1982 I first went to work tion was OK. I thought to myself: “We’re lucky that it’s over.” for VEB Chemiewerk Greiz-Dölau. After I’d worked there A very typical reaction coming from a mother. Of course, I was for a short time, I left to do my military service and studied happy, and happy especially that the people were finally free. chemical engineering. I finished my studies in February 1989. But then I asked myself: “What will happen now?” They had VEB Chemiewerk Greiz-Dölau was part of a very large been living under a very harsh regime and now they were chemical company called Chemist Werke Buna – I think there free, they were coming to the West. They would see how we were about 25,000 employees spread around the country. lived and would want to have the same sort of lives that we They were also the biggest company in Greiz, so there wasn’t had. And that wasn’t about freedom really, but about money. much doubt about what I would do when I graduated from I thought it was certain that there would be a lot of problems. the university. Sure enough, in March 1989, I began working We knew that we would have to share our wealth and that there on a day-to-day basis. The tradition was that all young was not so easy for people to accept. You thought about your engineers worked in production areas, especially in the job and you wondered what would happen if these people summer when a lot of workers were on holiday. Then in come to the West. They were well-educated and were willing autumn 1989, I returned to the engineering department. to work for less money, so that gave people another reason to At that time in East Germany, there was a real division in be afraid. I think a lot of people had problems with this, but in society. There was one group of people who arranged themthe end, I think the government managed it quite well. selves with the system and supported the state in some cases, One other thing that I think about is that there were many and a second group which was critical of the state and looked things in the East that would have been good if they had been to the West. Some of them were open-minded and interested implemented in the West. For example, they had good ideas, in Western systems. I belonged to the second group.
Right: August 1967. A man waving to his relatives on the other side of the Berlin Wall.
I was very interested when I heard about people tryI can remember that at one point the foreign minister of ing to leave from Prague and Budapest to go to the West. West Germany, Mr Genscher, went to the embassy in Prague It was especially interesting for us in Greiz, because the trains and spoke to the crowd and said to them: “You are free. with people leaving Czechoslovakia for West Germany went You can come to West Germany.” And I asked myself what through our part of East Germany just ten kilometers away, would happen to us now? Was it possible that the border so we had contact with a few of these trains between the two German states could disappear? It was very Because our area is so close to the Czech border, we also emotional for me. saw some of the people who were on their way to Czechoslovakia On the actual day that the wall fell, the East German and Hungary to try to get out, and some people from Greiz were broadcast company staged a press conference fronted by an involved with them. Just like in the rest of the country, Greiz was official named Günter Schabowski. One journalist asked him if split between those who supported the government and those people were free to travel to the West. He wasn’t prepared for who opposed it. I think that the opposition had a little more the question and he made a slip of the tongue and said that support. After the big demonstrations in Leipzig began in the yes, people were free to travel. That was the start of everything autumn, people in Greiz also started to demonstrate. At first that happened on the night of November 9, with everybody I didn’t take part, but after the third or fourth demonstration in going to the wall and then just walking across to West Berlin. Greiz, I was also on the streets. I personally didn’t follow the actions in Berlin that closely. I’d never been to the West. Actually, almost no one was al- I was looking more to Bavaria because that was nearby. Before lowed to travel to the West. But I had been to Czechoslovakia the wall was built, my parents went to Bavaria on holiday quite and especially to Hungary, where you could see a more often. And then the wall was built and they were cut off from all Western standard of living. They had things like Western that, so I looked more to Bavaria than to Berlin. magazines and shops with consumer goods. My family also After the fall of the wall, I knew that things were going to had contact with people in the West and they would come to change, especially in Greiz. I knew that it would be a great visit us once or twice a year. challenge to integrate East Germany – which was about one In my view, the turning point was the large demonstra- quarter the size of the whole of Germany – into the West tion in Leipzig. It was a very uncertain time, and I really was German state. They were bound to make mistakes, because wondering if this was going to lead to a war. But many of the no one had ever tried anything like that. If I look back over the most important leaders in Leipzig supported the demonstration. last 20 years and think about the good and the bad that have The director of Leipzig’s orchestra, for example, was a big come about from reunification, I think that overall, the change supporter of the demonstrations and many people in the has been positive. military and the government were also siding with the opposition. But for people living in the East, there were very difficult People were out on the streets demonstrating all through times, with a lot of people losing their jobs. In former times, in the the autumn. The demonstrations spread to cities and towns 1980s, the factory in Greiz was responsible for many different all over East Germany, including Greiz. Every day we sat in jobs – not just for chemical workers, but also kitchen personfront of the television and watched the news. In most of East nel, insurance, all kinds of different jobs. The town was pretty Germany, people only saw what the government wanted them dependent on the company for its own well being. They had to see, but in Greiz, we could also see West German television. around 1,050 employees in 1989 and now there are only 220, At the beginning of the revolution, East German television with almost all of them being chemical workers. Some of only gave brief reports about the demonstrations. Basically, the people who lost their jobs have found other work nearby, they had a simple story to tell – everyone in the opposition and others have gone to the West. In 1989, we had about was bad. But after the big demonstration in Leipzig, that all 37,000 inhabitants and we’ve lost between 10,000 and 12,000 changed. There was a split in the media too, some siding with people. Often, if young people attend university in the West, the government and some taking a much more independent they don’t come back. position. This was the first time in a very long time that there Right after the fall of the wall in 1989, I went to the West had been open opposition to the government and socialism myself. The first trip was to visit the city hall in the Bavarian in the GDR without any consequences for the demonstrators. area near the former border to get what they called greeting And there were no consequences, no military crackdown, money – the 100 German marks that was offered to every no violence against the people and no war. Before the first East German citizen by the West German government. A short big demonstration in Leipzig, I really didn’t think that change time after, I went to visit a friend in Wiesbaden for his birthday. was possible. And even after we saw the people in the train And I remember that my girlfriend was afraid that I wouldn’t from Prague to West Germany, we still had the feeling that come back, or even that I might not be allowed to return. the system was stable, the government would be stable and She didn’t have to worry though. I did come back, and we nothing would change. stayed together, and she’s still my wife 20 years later.
Jim Wake is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been contributing to AkzoNobel publications since the mid-1990s.
In 1989 I was between lives. A couple of years earlier, I’d taken a detour from my career as a writer and journalist to join a software venture in Silicon Valley, but the project was unraveling and I’d been shown the door. I was contributing freelance articles to a local newspaper for about $100 a week and eating up my savings to make up the difference between what it cost to live and what I was earning. In contrast, my younger brother was a paragon of respectability – a young diplomat serving as Deputy Counsel in what was still called Leningrad at the time. He encouraged me to visit and in April of that year I flew to Helsinki and took the train to Leningrad. I was what you’d call a politically engaged person and I had a hunch that Russia, in the midst of “glasnost” and “perestroika” (openness and restructuring), would be a politically stimulating place to travel. But I never expected it would be quite as exhilarating as it turned out to be. It was in part thanks to my brother. He was the sort who played by the rules, but who was every bit as intrigued by politics as I was. In a sense, he was a sort of “above-ground” spy – part of his job was to know as much as was possible to know about the political climate in the Leningrad area and in the Baltic republics, where a long repressed nationalist fervor was coalescing into powerful independence movements. He’d met all sorts of fascinating characters, and within a few days of my arrival, he’d hosted a small reception at his apartment attended by artists, intellectuals and a handful of young political
activists allied with a fledgling opposition movement called the Democratic Union. They became my friends and often my guides as I explored Leningrad. I found that people all over the Soviet Union were hungry for Western contact. They invited you into their homes, fed you sweets and tea and forced you to consume copious amounts of cognac and vodka. Then they would lay into everything Soviet with a cynical vengeance. Some predicted the eminent collapse of Communist Party and Soviet rule, while others foresaw a cataclysm of violent repression. The disheartening crackdown in Tiananmen Square – which had been protested on the streets of Leningrad by liberals – served as an ominous reminder of what could happen. One of the things that astonished me as I wandered the streets of Leningrad was what a basket case the place seemed to be. This was a superpower? You couldn’t even buy coffee or sugar. One day I saw a crowd of people around the back of Gostiny Dvor, the large government-operated department store. It turned out they were mobbing a black marketeer who had a supply of razor blades. I was shooed away by a police officer when I tried to take pictures. Officially, I was required to pay $1.60 per ruble. Unofficially, street hustlers offered up to 12 rubles per dollar. I traveled widely – to the Baltics, Georgia, Armenia, Minsk and Moscow – and around the outskirts of Leningrad as well. In the Baltics, they were already acting as if Soviet rule was a thing of the past. At the end of May, I traveled to Georgia with my parents and my brother. The day after our arrival, we were out on the main street near our hotel and saw a boisterous crowd approaching. We asked what was going on. It turned out that we had arrived
Left: November 1962. A West Berlin woman at the foot of the wall talking to an East Berliner on the other side.
Below: One of the checkpoints in West Berlin.
on the day before Georgian but the people in charge Independence Day – May 26. would never give up power beBut since Georgia had been cause they were afraid of what occupied by the Soviet Union in would happen to them if they 1921, any public observations did. On August 21, I stumbled of the day had been banned. into what was very nearly a With glasnost, for the first time riot – people had gathered on in nearly 70 years, a huge crowd the streets to commemorate made its way to Victory Park the 21st anniversary of the (the victory in question was the Prague Invasion, when Soviet victory of the Soviet army over and Warsaw Pact troops had the Germans in World War II) invaded Czechoslovakia to to celebrate Independence Day crush the liberal Prague Spring and listen to fiery speeches that had tried to put a “human about the glorious Georgian face” on Czechoslovak socialnation and the rosy future once ism. Riot police with helmets, they achieved independence. shields, batons and paddy One of the things that I wagons in waiting greeted the couldn’t understand was how demonstrators on the street the so-called experts could and ushered those away who have things so wrong. It didn’t were foolhardy enough to get take a genius to figure out that too close. I snapped as many something was seriously wrong with the Soviet Union. And yet, pictures as I could until I was also accosted by a police officer. this was the feared enemy of the West. We didn’t need to fear When he realized I didn’t speak Czech, he demanded to see them; if anything they deserved our sympathy. Or perhaps we my passport and then sent me away with a stern warning to might have considered bailing them out. Still, the uncertainty was cease and desist. Down in the Czech subway, you could see always there. I was cautioned to watch what I said and who I said that people who had been on the street were seething with anger it to. I was somewhat amused by the prospect of a KGB agent and embarrassment. tailing me, since my days in Leningrad were aimless meanderA few days later I went to Budapest. The weather there was ings into back streets and then churches and markets and then dreary, but the climate was, once again, completely different. down into the Metro, only to pop up on the other side of town and The Hungarian government had already liberalized the economy wander around some more. But my political activist friends often and allowed a great deal of personal freedom. Life on the street had visits in the night, and sometimes they would get arrested was very relaxed and there was a level of prosperity apparent and held for a few days or weeks to remind them who was boss. that I hadn’t seen since Helsinki. But in the midst of all of this, More than once I was told: “Don’t be afraid.” I never was, and Budapest was hosting a steady flow of East Germans who had it took me most of the summer to realize that my friends were traveled across Czechoslovakia to then transit from Hungary into really trying to persuade themselves that it was safe to befriend Austria – the West. There was something very surreal about wellan American and talk politics. dressed young teachers and nurses camped out in makeshift In early August, I left Leningrad by train and traveled to tents in churchyards and parks, waiting for an assurance that Warsaw. The place was outwardly calm but basically in a state of they could indeed cross the border. Some had left friends, family limbo. Earlier in the year, the government had agreed to elections, and jobs behind, saying that they couldn’t afford to wait and then and even though the agreed plan reserved some of the seats in miss the opportunity to get out. The air was often thick with the the parliament for the Communists, they suffered a humiliating noxious fumes of “Trabis”, the little East German cars reputedly defeat. In 100 openly contested races, they had failed to win a made of cardboard (it was actually flimsy fiberglass). You didn’t single one. When I arrived, there was no government and the know whether to feel happy for them because they were getting Polish zloty was in free fall. Roundtable discussions were under- away, or sorry for them because they felt they needed to. way to hand power over to Solidarity. In mid-September I headed back to the US. I never made it My next stop was Prague and the climate there was very to Berlin on that trip. The wall fell in November and the Western different. The government seemed very much in control. press marveled at the astonishing developments. “Who would The morose Czechs clearly bristled with resentment. But they have imagined?” they asked in virtual lockstep. I shook my head didn’t mind talking about it. The regime was brutal and corrupt, in smug disbelief. How could it have been otherwise?
WORDS Brian Guest & Rebecca Parsley
As environmental legislation tightens, soap and detergent formulators are looking for safer and more eco-friendly ingredients. Fortunately, AkzoNobel has come up with the answer.
he Babylonians had a word for it, the Romans apparently The recent raft of legislation, particularly in Europe, has not. Indeed, the origins of the word soap are shrouded continued the drive towards more environmentally-friendly in mystery. Some online sources would have us believe alternatives. Most countries are committed to reducing or banthat soap derives its name from Mount Sapo, a sacred ning phosphates, while REACH, the new European Community mountain close to Rome where animals were sacrificed to regulation on chemicals and their safe use, has guaranteed that the gods. all chemicals are safe and analyzed by an independent body. Rainwater is said to have washed a mixture of animal fat The industry, for its part, is responding to the demand for innovaand ash down the mountainside, where it settled along the tive and sustainable chemistry, says Lairdwright. banks of the Tiber River. According to legend, Roman women “The money is available to fund research into new formulations. found that they were able to wash their clothes cleaner using Products such as ABS and EDTA were in many ways ideal – highly this mixture. The only trouble is, there’s no such mountain and effective, easy to formulate, cheap and freely available. But they no such legend. simply don’t pass the litmus test when it comes to biodegradYet there is nothing ambiguous about the modern soap ability and sustainability. That’s why the launch of AkzoNobel’s and detergent business. In fact, by the middle of the 20th cen- Dissolvine® GL range is so exciting. It is technically excellent, tury, the industry’s astounding global success had become biodegradable and produced mainly from sustainable resources. something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was And it doesn’t have any rivals. In the past, the epithet sustainable supplying ever-more technologically advanced products to would have been synonymous with a well-intentioned, but technia seemingly insatiable public, while on the other it was fast cally inadequate product. That’s not the case with Dissolvine GL.” becoming associated, albeit not always fairly, with a growing Lairdwright believes that demand for chelates such as problem in the public psyche – pollution. Dissolvine GL is set to triple. The current market for phosphates Rivers, lakes and waterways were choking up aquatic is huge, but the inconvenient truth is that the world’s reserves plant growth because of high levels of effluent phosphorous of phosphate rock, the main source of phosphorus used from phosphates used in laundry detergents and soaps. in fertilizers for food production, are being depleted quickly. The problem was a direct result of the rapid development As a consequence, governments and NGOs are already urging after 1945 of cheap and highly effective synthetic detergents, manufacturers to seek alternatives. which no longer needed to draw on the limited supplies of “Dissolvine GL has put AkzoNobel in a tremendous posinatural fats. tion,” continues Lairdwright. “The company really deserves the The trouble was that the main ingredient for the surfactant success I’m sure will come its way because it was brave and required to make a detergent – alkyl benzene sulfonate (ABS) innovative enough to develop a product which depended on the – was not biodegradable. As a result, ABS detergents were world opening its eyes to biodegradable products.” responsible for some pretty spectacular water pollution and a With the environmental ball rolling and more and better rising tide of public anger. The response by government and formulations on their way, Lairdwright expects many older regulatory authorities since then has been ever-tighter limits surfactants now in use in a host of industrial processes – from on the use of potentially harmful substances such as NTA, laundry detergents and dishwasher tablets, through to photo EDTA and phosphates. processing, agriculture, textile auxiliaries, paint manufacture and According to Rona Lairdwright of Brenntag Specialties, foodstuffs to name a few – to be gradually replaced by products part of Brenntag, one of the world’s largest distributors made from sustainable resources. “We are already seeing the of chemicals, the writing has long been on the wall for the introduction of intelligent biological molecules able to work at hitherto popular formulations that have been the mainstay of lower temperatures of say 15 degrees Celsius – because let’s the post-war soap and detergent industry. “Times change,” face it, the problem when it comes to cleaning is the high levels she explains. “The vociferous anti-phosphorous lobby and of energy required. Bring that down and you can really talk about emergence in the 1960s and 70s of alternative soap and making an environmental impact.” detergent producers – irrespective of how inadequate their A passionate believer in safe and scientifically credible products were – was a real wake-up call for the industry. products untainted by marketing hype, Lairdwright admits to It became increasingly clear that price and performance occasionally being frustrated by the language bandied about weren’t the be-all and end-all for the general public. The in the “green” debate. “In many ways it has fudged the real emergence of an environmental movement represented both issue by suggesting that the general public should seek altera threat and an opportunity to the industry because it had natives to traditional products. But what’s in the best interests to rethink formulations, yet at the same time it opened up a of people and planet is that customers buy products that large new market of people willing to pay a higher premium for perform best scientifically and deserve the label sustainable, sustainable, environmentally-friendly products.” products such as Dissolvine GL.”
Jewel in the crown A clean, green alternative that’s powerful but gentle, readily biodegradable and easy to switch to without incurring excessive costs – how good does that sound? Dissolvine® GL – the brand name for AkzoNobel’s GLDA chelate – certainly seems to tick all the boxes, and the Chelates group at our Functional Chemicals business is bracing itself for the product to really take off in the next few years. “Chelates control the reactivity of metal ions, particularly in detergents,” explains Tony Minshull, the company’s Senior Market and Development Manager for GLDA. “They help avoid precipitation and in turn improve the shelf life of many personal care products. “But there are problems with many of the extensively-used traditional chelates. Last year, there was a drive by the authorities – predominantly in Europe – to reclassify certain chemicals used in the detergent industry, such as NTA, EDTA, phosphates and phosphonates, and look at their impact on humans and the environment. They found that NTA had a risk of being carcinogenic, EDTA was slow to biodegrade and phosphates and phosphonates weren’t readily biodegradable at all.” He adds that questions were raised over whether they should even be used. The result was a change in regulations – product manufacturers now have just over a year to prove they no longer use them above a threshold level in critical detergent applications. Enter Dissolvine GL. “We’ve had this molecule in our portfolio for a number of
years, and have recently increased our focus,” says Minshull. “Timing is everything, and it’s come good at just the right moment. The key formulators are looking for change – the use of traditional chelates is restricted and they need suitable alternatives. We’re offering a greener, more environmentally-friendly, sustainable alternative – there’s little or no change needed when it comes to processing or application. Dissolvine GL has proved as effective as the chelates it’s replacing.” Dissolvine GL is more expensive than its predecessors – and is priced as an ecopremium product. But when the worst-case scenario is for formulators to withdraw some of their key products – big-name brands known around the world – it seems an obvious decision. “We’re in a critical phase now,” Minshull goes on. “Last year we introduced GLDA to the key formulators. This year they’re converting trials to semi-production pilot runs. In 2010 they’ll up the ante and move whole product ranges to greener ingredients.” Dissolvine GL is already enjoying success in Europe, growing from virtually nothing in 2006 to product sales of 5,000 tons so far in 2009. The drive for Minshull and his colleagues now is to develop its position in the Americas and Asia Pacific regions – two areas where production capacity for Dissolvine GL will be increased. They’ll be talking to the key players in the laundry, homecare, hardsurface cleaning and even cosmetic product industries. And they’re confident it will be a big success.
“We’re under no illusions – if this product didn’t perform, it would have been scrapped at a very early stage,” states Minshull. “Obviously when you introduce an alternative product, it has to match the performance of what it’s replacing very closely. We wouldn’t have gone into an extensive launch without knowing it worked. We do have competition, but we also have the expertise and a product which really is a jewel in the crown. In our studies, GLDA comes out top in most critical areas. More importantly, this is also the case when the key formulators have carried out their own comparisons.” So 2009 really is “The Year of Truth”, the point when Dissolvine GL will become established in the marketplace. The project team has three years to drive the growth initiative and ultimately make Dissolvine GL the first product of choice with all key formulators. “It will be a success, it’s just a matter of to what level,” says Minshull. “Dissolvine GL is a prime example of how we try to develop a greener portfolio, to offer sustainable, innovative solutions that benefit our customers. In future, GLDA sales could grow to extraordinary levels. The industry has to find alternatives and we’ve got the best.” He adds: “We’re aiming to have global manufacturing capability to produce 60,000 tons of product a year by 2012. It’s a great product and sends a clear message to the industry and our customers that we’re looking ahead to the future. Looking for ways to both serve their changing needs and protect the environment.”