Balttechnika: environment with German accent

  • 2000-06-01
  • By Darius James Ross
VILNIUS - This year's Balttechnika trade fair and exhibition could easily have been subtitled "Made in Germany." There were 161 companies from 12 European countries in attendance: 22 of these participated as part of the German pavilion. This did not include other companies, such as Siemens, which had their own stands. Of the 26 Lithuanian companies, most were obviously acting as purveyors of German technology and equipment.

The German government covered about one-third of the exhibition costs for its companies.

"Balttechnika is one of only three exhibitions officially sponsored by our government, the others are Baltmedika and Baltic Textile and Leather, so it's a popular choice," said Peter Seckel of IEC Berlin, a consultant who helped organize Germany's pavilion. "Most of the companies in our pavilion were here for the first time. They have been satisfied with the results. Some contracts have been signed but mostly they were here to better understand the market," he said.

Latvian and Estonian companies were few and far between leading one to wonder if Balttechnika is the appropriate name for the exhibition. There is a competing show at Riga's Skonto Olympic Hall next November called Baltic Industry.

"Eighty Latvian companies will be present plus many from Europe. The exhibition is slightly smaller and the emphasis is more on machine tools and metals," said Ilze Jatniece of Riga's Creatio exhibition company (See URL below).

Overall attendance at Balttechnika has been growing at a steady pace since 1996 when only 82 companies attended. Floor space has also grown commensurately from 1,425 square meters in 1996 to 6,700 square meters at this year's show.

Traditionally Balttechnika includes companies in such diverse fields of engineering as instrumentation, industrial automation and power engineering. This year's emphasis was environmental technology, and it showed: 71 companies, almost half the total, were involved in some aspect of environmental protection.

Recycling hazardous waste

Hamburg's AVG was looking for partners in the hazardous waste incineration business.

"Our business is very specialized. We're here looking for long-term partners as this is still an early part of the market for us," said AVG's Stefan Kuhnbach.

A single one of their plants costs 400 million deutschmarks to build - slightly expensive given the present state of Lithuania's budget.

"Lithuania faces many challenges in waste disposal over the next three to five years as it prepares for EU [European Union] accession. Hazardous wastes not suitable for landfill sites, including oils that contain PCBs, pesticides, wastes containing dioxins and residue from pharmaceutical production and labs now all go into long-term storage. They need to be properly incinerated," he said.

AVG's modern incineration plant burns waste in a rotary kiln at up to 1,200 degrees Celsius. The resulting slag then gets broken down through a complex series of secondary processes that produce marketable recycled hydrochloric acid, gypsum and carbon. The steam produced heats some 30,000 homes. "Our waste disposal plants are actually small energy and chemical production plants. At the end of the process one plant produces 0.000054 units of PCBs per year. That's less than a single automobile," said Kuhnbach.

Williams aftershock

Kaunas-based BioEkra was also looking for more local business for its sewage and water treatment plants. The company is a joint venture of Denmark's BioBalance and Lithuanian entrepreneurs. They're most successful project to date was the iron removal plant for the city of Zarasai in northeastern Lithuania. The project cost 1.4 million litas ($350,000) with 400,000 litas coming from the Danish government. Water in the city is now four times lower in iron content than minimum EU standards.

Renovating the wastewater treatment plant in the city of Ignalina is their next project. "If it hadn't been for the Williams deal to buy Mazeikiu Nafta, we would have started the project last year," said Vidas Bonkys, BioEkra's general manager. "The Williams deal drained the country's infrastructure budget and hurt us badly," he said. With the Williams deal behind them, they can afford to ramp up from 90 to 130 employees this year with additional work going to contractors. Bonkys expects revenues to double this year to 8 million litas.

Garbage pays but would you want this job?

The most unusual stand belonged to Vilnius' Chitina composting company. Chitina offers three ways of treating organic waste for re-use: flies, worms and fungus. Fly larvae are spread over pig or chicken excrement in hothouse-like structures to break down and neutralize the otherwise dangerous substances: a major culprit in water table infestation in many countries. After five days, the excrement is transformed into a highly concentrated and sellable fertilizer. The company's founder, Stanislovas Tracevicius, claims that this process is his invention and has never heard of it being implemented in any other part of the world.

Chitina also receives organic waste from Vilnius' restaurants, hospitals and schools as they are no longer allowed to dispose of it using the municipal garbage collection system and pay the company to remove it. Imported California red worms are one option for treating the waste as it lies in a composter. The other is a novel fungus developed in cooperation with the Vilnius University Botanical institute that Tracevicius hopes to patent though, understandably, he won't give many details right now.

Tracevicius buys waste at roughly 40 litas per ton and can sell one cubic meter of the resulting fertilizers for 100 litas. With 14 employees he can process 300 tons in a month right now. "What I really want is a contract for the whole Vilnius region which would mean 9,000 tons a month of business. With landfill becoming less and less popular, I know I'll get there," said Tracevicius.

Baltic Industry 2000 (Riga)
[email protected]
LitExpo Schedules and Information (Vilnius)
[email protected]