Submitted: The Two Sides Team November 7, 2012
Every year approximately 3 billion tons of waste are generated in the European Union. But not everything that gets thrown away is necessarily junk; in fact as one European research project is proving, one person’s waste could be another’s treasure.European researchers from the Technological, Environmental and Logistics Centre (TEC Ltd) in Slovenia have successfully transformed waste from paper mills into a product that can effectively soak up fuel from leaks or oil from spills.
October 28 2012, Laboratory Equipment
Every year approximately 3 billion tons of waste are generated in the
European Union. But not everything that gets thrown away is necessarily
junk; in fact as one European research project is proving, one person’s
waste could be another’s treasure. European researchers from the
Technological, Environmental and Logistics Centre (TEC Ltd) in Slovenia
have successfully transformed waste from paper mills into a product that
can effectively soak up fuel from leaks or oil from spills.
Marko Likon, former CEO at TEC spoke about the link between paper
mill waste and oil spills. We very quickly made the connection between
oil and fuel sorption and waste from the paper industry, which then
started us thinking of paper mill sludge as treasure rather than waste,
The amount of paper and paper-derived products is huge, and
unfortunately so is their waste. In Europe alone the paper industry
produces more than 14,400,000 million tons of paper mill sludge per
year. The sludge from paper mills has traditionally had little usage as a
material that can be employed in other industrial applications, and as a
result ended up in landfills. Recent EU environmental legislation,
however, means that as a result of organic carbon and other admixtures
content in waste, landfilling is not necessarily an option.
Instead of becoming waste, the conversion to absorbent from paper
mill sludge (CAPS) technology created by the research group at TEC means
that paper mill sludge from the paper industry can now be recycled into
a highly efficient absorbent material that they call CAPSorb, which is
capable of cleaning oil and chemical spills in ports and marinas. The
material is so efficient that they claim it will absorb more than 99
percent of the initial quantity of the hydrophobic substance on the
surface of the water, such as from an oil slick.
Its use is not only confined to open bodies of water, but it can also
be used on hard surfaces to soak up substances of different
viscosities. The best part of the absorbent is that 1 kg of their
material can absorb up to 4 kg of spilled substances.
By recycling waste to clean up waste they have not only provided an
environmental benefit to the paper industry by reducing their waste, but
have also provided an environmental benefit to businesses such as
marinas by offering them an environmentally friendly solution to keep
their surroundings clean.
The prospective market for their product is huge, aside from oil
spills it can also be utilized in other industrial sectors, in
particular those that require oil separators. These include ports,
petrol stations (around 110,000 in Europe), oil refineries, mechanical
workshops, car wash outlets, metal industries, the machine building
industry, yacht marinas, restaurants, hotels, chemical industries and
The technology developed is relatively cheap, simple and easily
replicable particularly in markets with a developed paper industry. An
initial assembly line has already been put to the test in Slovenia and a
further plant is scheduled to be ready in the near future in Finland.
There are plans to expand our operation with a new production line
within the Slovenian paper mill and later on with another production
line in Finland, says Franc Cernec, Project Leader at TEC.
The process of re-inserting waste into the economic cycle is known as
Industrial Symbiosis, or Industrial Ecology. This process increases the
portfolio of material or energy sources and takes its cue from
naturally occurring ecosystems where animals and plants live in a
symbiosis with each other. The underlying basis for this paradigm is
that all wastes should be regarded as potential resources and that
decoupling development from resource use is the key for sustainability.
This philosophy also lies behind Europe’s Resource Efficient Europe
initiative. This European project is an important step to proving what
can be done to achieve its goals.