Tiny Denmark looms large in conservation
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Starting with water, Kalundborg's key industrial firms found ways to turn one firm's waste products into another's raw resources.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, waste heat from the local power plant warms fish farms and most of the area's homes and businesses, while excess steam is piped to a neighboring oil refinery and biotech company. Air scrubbers on the power plant's smokestack turn sulfur dioxide into gypsum, which is then sold to a neighboring plasterboard factory, which dries it in kilns fired by flare gas piped over from the refinery and turns it into wallboard.
The power station uses the refinery's wastewater to keep the scrubbers working. Sludge from the county's wastewater treatment plant is sold to a local soil clean-up company, which uses it to grow the pollution-eating bacteria that cleans contaminated soil brought there from across Denmark. Fly ash from the power station is sold to cement makers or firms that extract valuable metals from the wastes.
In the process, the firms have all saved money while reducing pollution and slashing consumption of water, energy, and other resources. By investing approximately $75 million in this "industrial symbiosis," to date the firms estimate they are saving about $15 million a year.
"We realized we could all make better business if we could trade our wastes," says Thomas Nagy, director of Novoenzymes, a biotech firm located a few minutes' drive from Kalundborg's power station. "It's a matter of attitude and mind-set to be willing to trust your partners and open your doors to one another."
Kalundborg has since inspired researchers in "industrial ecology," which looks for ways to pattern industrial systems after natural ecosystems, in which one organism's waste is another's food. With scores of researchers, company managers, and other interested parties visiting the area every year, the firms have created a joint public information office.
Danes dominate wind power
Other Danish companies completely dominate the booming wind power industry, which was the world's fastest growing source of electricity in the 1990s. Danish companies supplied more than half the turbines now in use worldwide, making it one of the country's largest exports and employing more than 12,000 here. Wind turbines dot the Danish countryside like gigantic pinwheels, and many are owned by cooperatives of local residents who took advantage of tax incentives that encouraged investments in renewable energy.
Because wind power doesn't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it has helped Denmark meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade.
"We've been able to show the world that wind energy can let you de-carbonize your economy without hurting economic growth," says economist Christian Kjaer of the Danish Wind Manufacturer's Association in Copenhagen. "In certain [foreign] markets we're already able to compete with existing power sources without any subsidies."
At the same time, Danish energy planners are slowly replacing the country's large centralized power stations with a broad network of small local power generators. This is expected to reduce losses from long distance transmission and allow rural communities to heat their homes with the residual heat from their local power station.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor