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The Warsaw Voice » Business » September 2, 2011
Business & Economy
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Useful Destruction
September 2, 2011   
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Kazimierz Zając, chairman of Elektroniczny Zakład Innowacyjno-Wdrożeniowy Hybres Sp. z o.o. and chairman of the board at Eko Hybres Sp. o.o., talks to Barbara Deręgowska about the practical applications of scientific achievements in industry.

Kazimierz ZajĄc, aged 64, married, with two children and three grandchildren. In 1968, he graduated from the State Technical School in Koszalin, specializing in radar systems. He studied and worked at the Gdańsk University of Technology. In 1971, he started working at the Electrical Department of the Rzeszów School of Engineering. In 1976, he graduated from the Rzeszów University of Technology and then worked there until 1990. In 1988, he took a specialist course, started a company and bought a production line for hybrid electronic modules from the trustee-in-bankruptcy of the Polam plant. Since 1988 he has been chairman of Elektroniczny Zakład Innowacyjno-Wdrożeniowy Hybres Sp. z o.o. and in 2008 he became chairman of the board at Eko Hybres Sp. o.o. He is a member of the international organization IMAPS and a founding member of the Polish Business Chamber for Advanced Technology.

How did it happen that you gave up your work as a researcher at a university and took up industrial production instead?
I decided to revive the closed-down Polam plant in [the southeastern city of] Rzeszów, which had modern equipment, the necessary technology and research done. No one else was brave enough to undertake such a project and put the results of many years of research work to practical use. Earlier the company manufactured fluorescent light tubes, but for environmental protection reasons, a complementary, environmentally safe production line was launched at the Rzeszów University of Technology. At the university where I worked, a research program was created for this purpose and a workshop for the manufacture of hybrid electronic modules was launched, where electronic accessories for fluorescent tubes were developed. I dealt with this project from beginning to end together with my colleagues. When we were ready and handed over all the documentation and prototypes to Polam and the plant purchased basic technological equipment, it turned out that the company had been earmarked for closure. So I decided to repurchase this technological equipment, which I had designed, and launch the production of modules on my own. This was how Elektroniczny Zakład Innowacyjno -Wdrożeniowy Hybres Sp. z o.o. was created in 1988. Today we supply components to many well-known companies producing electronic equipment in Poland and we also manufacture products for the market.

You are building a modern factory in the Rzeszów Technology Park in a project that began a year or so ago. You plan to use a plasma reactor for the destruction of waste there in an unprecedented project by Polish standards. What was the inspiration behind this idea?
It all started with a trip I made to Slovakia for a business meeting with a group of local businessmen. I generally like to attend conferences, including scientific ones, because I always meet people there from whom I can learn new things. The same was true of that particular trip. As the Slovaks talked with one another at dinner, they used the word “plasma reactor.” I took an interest in the subject and joined the conversation. They suggested that I take part in a scientific conference on renewable energy and get in touch with a professor at the technical university in Kosice [in eastern Slovakia] who deals with these issues. I went there immediately. The professor, together with a Czech company, has built such an experimental plasma reactor and is carrying out practical research. I developed such a strong interest in the matter that after returning to Poland I started to look for information about this equipment. It turned out that quite a lot of research has been done in this area in our country, but a plasma reactor was still unavailable. I found it interesting to know that plasma destruction technology could be used for the neutralization of virtually all industrial waste. This also applied to those kinds of waste that are the most difficult to dispose of, with the exception of radioactive waste.

Does your plant generate a lot of electronic waste?
My plant and thousands of others in Poland continually produce electronic waste. There is a lot of it, and it cannot be really put to any reasonable use. In 2005, a law on electrical and electronic waste took effect. So I started looking for companies that collect and neutralize such waste, thinking that maybe I could help them in that. After all, old computers, televisions, radios, monitors, washing machines, refrigerators, food processors, vacuum cleaners as well as transformers, capacitors or cables keep growing in number. However, it turned out that companies active on our market do not deal with this kind of comprehensive recycling of such waste. In most cases, they take it apart and recover scrap metal and plastic, but when it comes to electronic modules, for example, they throw these into some holes they dig out or dispose of them on a garbage dump—despite the fact that this waste is hazardous. This explains why I decided to take care of the process of destruction of such waste on my own.

Weren’t you afraid of becoming a pioneer in such innovative technology in both Poland and beyond?
The main factor driving me was really that I was hugely concerned over the state of the environment. Besides I decided to prove to my businessmen friends that what we are working on scientifically could be applied in industry. Since I had come into contact with this technology, I decided to give it a shot. I set up a separate company, bought land for a production facility within the Rzeszów Technology Park and brought an experimental plasma reactor from Slovakia to perform my own tests.

I had to see how it worked and how versatile and useful it was. We started making efforts to get the hang of it and upgrade the technology to meet our needs. At the same time, I contacted a Norwegian company that already used such plasma reactors and found out about their ways of destroying municipal waste. It turns out that technologies that are not allowed in Poland are used in the West—which is a pity because, while destroying waste, in addition to metal alloys, such companies recover electrical and thermal energy, which they can sell and that’s exactly what they do. In Poland such sales are still impossible. Consequently, I upgraded the technology so that only the copper-based alloy and a type of building material were the end marketable product. To obtain an alloy of commercial value, one needs to clean it and for this purpose I turned to the scientists at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow. In turn, the gas obtained as a result of the destruction, after being cleaned, is turned into steam that powers an electrical turbine. In this way, I obtain energy for my own needs and use the hot water for heating.

What about those modern machines in your factory: are they of your own design as well?
Not all equipment can be bought because it simply does not exist. The most important equipment is made according to our own designs. We prepare the documentation, commission the manufacture of individual pieces of equipment from specialized companies and then put all this together into a single whole. We work with not only Polish, but also Czech, Slovak and German companies. A basic experimental unit of equipment with a capacity of about 20 kg per hour is already operating in our plant; we keep observing and improving it with a view to making sure that our factory in the Technology Park works perfectly with a capacity of 1 ton. We plan to launch it in early October.

Who will buy your products and will they be completely safe?
Our recovery technology is based on the fact that we first dismantle the acquired electrical and electronic equipment and segregate it into plastic components, electronic modules, cables, batteries and scrap metal. Already at this stage steel and aluminum components are our first marketable product. The first three groups are gasified in three different processes. As a result of gasification, we obtain an alloy of metals and contaminated gas. The metal alloy is purified in a refining process and converted into bronze or brass bars. These can be reused in the construction of machines or electrical and electronic equipment. They are full-fledged materials meeting all rules and regulations, and they are completely safe.

In turn, the gas obtained in the plasma reactor is subject to treatment in a process that yields pure fuel gas; its composition is similar to that of wood gas. This gas is subject to controlled combustion in a steam boiler and we obtain steam to power the turbine and hot water to heat the plant in winter. And in summer we will use the same water to produce cool air for air conditioning.

This is waste-free technology, monitored on a nonstop basis. A laboratory is being developed in the plant in which a highly qualified research team, composed of mostly chemists, will monitor the safety of all the technology on an ongoing basis. After all, we will be processing and recovering various materials from so many different electrical and electronic devices that the process must be supervised on an ongoing basis.

In a month or so a new device based on your idea and design will hit the market. It is intended for athletes and all those who want to practice skiing in summer...
That’s right. I thought of all those people who love skiing and want to prepare for the season, practice and be fit while skiing. Until now such equipment—which perfectly imitates the technique of downhill skiing—was unavailable not only in Poland but also in other countries. We worked on it for more than six years, initially together with another company. But for a few years we have had our own patents for this equipment, including international patents. But to produce this hardware from stainless steel was not an easy thing to do; the control system is very important. Another big problem was finding subcontractors. But eventually we were successful.
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