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Eco Expo Asia Looks to Embrace a Green and Sustainable Future

With the majority of companies, businesses and individuals now accepting the wisdom of climate protection, the environmental protection industry is about to move into a new phase with sustainability now equating to profitability.

Photo: All the signs are green at Eco Expo Asia.
All the signs are green at Eco Expo Asia.
Photo: All the signs are green at Eco Expo Asia.
All the signs are green at Eco Expo Asia.

The argument for environmental protection has been won. Now it's the turn of big business to seize new opportunities, while politicians meet the challenge of creating sustainable cities and states. Celebrating a decade of success, the Eco Expo Asia International Trade Fair on Environmental Protection has stayed ahead of the curve, doubled in size, and is now the most important trading platform for green companies in the Asia region.

With the theme "Embracing a Green and Sustainable Future", 320 exhibitors from 18 countries and regions gathered for Eco Expo Asia, which welcomed new pavilions from the US state of Illinois as well as Taiwan. The Chinese mainland, meanwhile, turned up in force with more than 30 delegations, demonstrating the importance of environmental progress to the world's second leading economy but biggest polluter.

Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung underlined the importance of green issues in his opening speech at the 10th edition of the show, which was held at the AsiaWorld-Expo fairground last October. Describing the city as a "super-connector" to the rest of the world, he said: "Environmental protection is the key to quality living, to sustainability."

In reference to the large number of city government institutions and local companies at Eco Expo Asia, Leung said there was a strong "commitment to green technology and the wider use of green products and services". The Chief Executive added that significant government investment in recycling, improving roadside air quality, and cleaning up polluting industries and waste treatment plants supported this commitment.

First order of the day for yours truly was seizing with both hands the opportunity to take a spin in the zero-emission, multipurpose Nissan van, e-NV200. It was just like driving a petrol or diesel car, but better. The first thing you notice is the quietness and lack of engine noise and vibration. Contrary to some critics of e-cars, this vehicle accelerated strongly and smoothly (thanks to something called EV torque), and it was nimble and easy to drive. If this is the future, even if it is driverless, I want it now.

As for the problem of charging the engine, this was done from the hood and takes 4-10 hours in a normal cycle with a single-phase 220V charger, or a supercharged 30 minutes for 80% capacity with a quick charger. As was pointed out by the Honest Motors assistant, however, the problem lies in finding charging stations, not only in Hong Kong, but in most places around the world.

While the recently disgraced Volkswagen and its e-Golf all-electric models weren't attracting as many visitors as the company might have hoped, a Green Dynamic Electric Vehicle parked in the Expo hall did. Produced by China Dynamics in collaboration with the Hong Kong Productivity Council, it is the city's first electric bus, and features a permanent magnet synchronous motor with integrated control system (no gear box) and has a light, aluminium, monocoque body.

Enlivened by my all-too-brief stint in the driver's seat of the future of green transport, the next priority was to have a look around the expo, which shared space with two other events: World of Outdoor Lighting and Lighting Accessories and the Hong Kong International Building and Hardware Fair. This made complete sense, as many businesses from the lighting and building industries are trying to make the most of their green credentials.

This crossover effect was notable in the Green Building Solutions and Services category, with the catchily named Big Ass Fans. Founded in 1999 as the HVLS (High Volume, Low Speed) Fan Co, in Lexington, Kentucky, that name evolved after customers started asking for "those big-ass fans". Focussed initially on dairy barn fans, the company moved into industry and warehousing before becoming a specialist provider for sports complexes and offices.

While this sounds like a building and hardware story, it also shoehorns into the "ecobuild" category because of the fan's energy savings. For example, one of the company's residential fans "blew away" the Energy Star ratings and won awards worldwide. But while Big Ass Fans do their job by helping to keep you cool – at the same time reducing air-conditioning costs by 20% – they also have a role to play in keeping you warm, according to Big Ass Architectural Engineer Specialist Matt Chen. The process is called "destratification" and works because hot air rises to the ceiling, where it's circulated by slow-moving fans, enabling energy savings of up to 30%.

When you realise that "heat stress" and cooling, rather than heating, is increasingly the cause of global warming, fans make sense. Chen said: "Most people in Hong Kong don't really think in terms of green concepts and the advantages of fans, but they will because some concepts are old but have new applications."

Chen said Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is trialling the company's fans, while the city government has also set a target of reducing electricity consumption by 5% in five years. "Given the energy efficient flows produced by our fans, they could with one swipe save 7% [on electricity consumption]," Chen claimed.

He also described how the company is introducing "intelligent" fans that can detect people entering or leaving a building, and regulate temperature and humidity accordingly. This was a repeated theme at Eco Expo Asia, namely intelligent or tech solutions to the problems mankind is creating for the natural environment.

For example, an assistant at EM Intelligence, headquartered in Hong Kong's Kowloon, said the world's air conditioning electricity consumption currently amounts to 40%-60% of total electricity usage. This figure will only rise as Asia and other regions become richer and their populations begin to afford to buy air-conditioners. EM's specialty is providing centralised air-control system solutions and services that minimise costs and maximise effects.

Another major problem now and looking forward is water quality and scarcity. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 1.1 billion people currently lack access to clean water, while 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month a year. The organisation estimates that two-thirds of the world's population may be facing water shortages by 2025.

Photo: Repurposed wooden furniture.
Repurposed wooden furniture.
Photo: Repurposed wooden furniture.
Repurposed wooden furniture.
Photo: Diesoil: Turning plastic waste into mineral oils.
Diesoil: Turning plastic waste into mineral oils.
Photo: Diesoil: Turning plastic waste into mineral oils.
Diesoil: Turning plastic waste into mineral oils.

Real-time analysis of water quality (PH, temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen levels and conductivity) is the focus of Foshan Germa Environment Technology, of Guangdong Province. Its online automatic water monitoring system gives instant information that enables water problems to be tackled at source and water quality to be monitored over time.

Meanwhile, Geb Impact Technology, a Hong Kong company, produces algae for the nutraceuticals industry. It is a promising area of research, as algae converts inorganic substances into carbohydrates, proteins and lipids through photosynthesis. It can therefore potentially be turned into pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and animal feed, and can be used as a biofuel and for wastewater treatment.

Geb Impact collaborates with the Institute for Research in Innovative Technology and Sustainability, which was set up by the Open University of Hong Kong. The company's Managing Director, James Chang, said: "It's actually very cheap to produce, so if you can extract the alginate then it can be very useful."

Another Hong Kong innovator, Cityponics, is developing hydroponic solutions by employing a circular ecology set-up that marries the growing of herbs and vegetables with creating better conditions for freshwater fish. Using an aquarium, hydroponic growing trays and a two-stage filtration system, microorganisms are utilised to break down fish waste so that both fish and plant life flourish together. Project Manager Ng Wai-shing said the system also serves an educational function: "We want people to visit us at our city garden and learn more about nature and basically reconnect with it."

While companies are the lifeblood of Eco Expo Asia, countries were also keen to make their mark in the green-tech market. Taiwan made its debut with a pavilion that showcased a range of green products, such as Green Taiwan's energy monitoring equipment, which controls air conditioners, saves energy and avoids waste. Ephraim Biotech exhibited its non-toxic Tupperware, household freezer bags and soil conditioner, while Hao-Yang Environmental Science demonstrated its rather attractive iTrash 24-hour auto rubbish disposal and auto-recycling machines. Garbage collection fees are paid and deducted from an electronic fare card according to the weight of the rubbish deposited, while "feedback money" is credited back to the consumer's card for any recycling.

Sherry Tsou, Marketing Division Supervisor for the Green Trade Project Office in Taiwan, said: "We are no longer an industrial power base so we need to develop new industries, particularly green companies. We are a small island so we should be environmentally friendly and make the most of our expertise in this area.

"Since Europe and the US are already fairly eco-friendly, it is more suitable for us to look at the Southeast Asian market and at products like solar panels, or turning waste into power. Green products are a growing industry sector in Taiwan and the government is putting a lot of money into this, so you could say we have a strong focus on the issue."

Politicians and policy shapers attended Eco Expo Asia in droves, in part to learn more about the latest green products, or to support their countries' pavilions, but also to sign agreements and take part in forums. These ranged in scope from energy-saving technologies to emissions controls and challenges presented by the Chinese mainland's new environmental protection law.

A number of eco-agreements were also signed at the expo, including a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) between Hong Kong's Green Council and its counterparts in Thailand and Japan. The MRA followed up on bilateral agreements already forged by various countries in Asia that encourage collaboration on labelling practices and verification processes, as well as the adoption of standardised testing and compliance.

The three-day Eco Asia Conference, comprising lectures, panel discussions and seminars, was a highlight of the event. It got off to a strong start with Hong Kong's Secretary for the Environment, Wong Kam-sing, outlining the city's environmental policy and declaring the trade event would "give further impetus to sustainable development in Hong Kong and throughout the Asia-Pacific region". He was joined by a series of high-profile industry leaders and government ministers from around the world, but particularly China, who shared insights on their green policies and developments.

Over the next two days the conference examined air and water pollution, cleaner production methods, green purchasing and consumption, and green building and efficiency. At the waste management and recycling seminar, speaker Nigel Mattravers, Director and General Manager of ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions, said the amount of electrical and electronic equipment waste in Hong Kong increased by 70,000 tonnes last year.

But obsolete electronics are not simply junk, Mattravers said, as 80% of their components can be recycled into plastic, aluminium, iron and copper. His company has signed up to the EcoPark programme in Tuen Mun, in Hong Kong's New Territories, and will begin operating an electronic waste and recycling facility there by 2017.

Staying with the "waste not, want not" theme was Swiss company Diesoil, which specialises in waste decontamination and turning plastic into mineral oils. Sales Representative Markus Stickel had creatively strewn plastic bags around Diesoil's stand to graphically illustrate the idea that where there's plastic bags, there's brass. Stickel said there had been multiple enquiries about his company's services, such as from a plant in Shanghai that processes 2,500 tonnes of plastic a day. He said 80% of that plastic could be transformed into mineral oil.

A fitting end to Eco Expo Asia was provided by its "Green Living" open day for the general public, with organic healthcare products on offer in the "Green Mart" zone. A wide range of speakers at the "Green Workshop" and "Public Day Forum", meanwhile, enabled visitors to connect with industry experts and share ideas about living more eco-friendly lives. Finally, near the close of the show, 500 secondary school students attended the "Dialogue with the Secretary for the Environment", a forum that acknowledged the importance of environmental concerns to the next generation.

Photo: Entertaining while educating: A vital element of the green agenda.
Entertaining while educating: A vital element of the green agenda.
Photo: Entertaining while educating: A vital element of the green agenda.
Entertaining while educating: A vital element of the green agenda.

Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, in conjunction with the Environment Bureau of the Hong Kong Government and Messe Frankfurt (HK), the 10th edition of Eco Expo Asia was held at AsiaWorld-Expo from 28-31 October, and staged concurrently with the HKTDC Hong Kong International Building & Hardware Fair.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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