THE SCHOLAR: Professor Vladko Panayotov is deputy rector of the St Ivan Rilski University of Mining and Geology in Sofia. His main interest is the processing of ores and minerals, water purification and introducing new technologies for extracting copper and gold from industrial waste. In 2007 he was elected MEP from the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe on the ticket of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party.
Bulgarian scholar Professor Vladko Panayotov has created a clean technology for extracting non-ferrous metals from industrial waste, i.e. copper, nickel and aluminium etc. In this way, he has put an end to the use of cyanides, acids and other bases that are detrimental to the environment and to people’s health. Another huge benefit, coming from his innovative method, is the reduction of industrial waste - another global pollutant with long-term consequences.
Professor Panayotov, could you tell us more about your innovative method which is in the process of being patented on a worldwide scale, including the most developed countries?
To begin with, we tested the new technology in a pilot project in the village of Elshitza in southern Bulgaria. After the trial period, the method was introduced routinely. It has been processing industrial waste from the Plovdiv plant for ferrous metals. In 2007 we presented, and defended successfully before the European Parliament, an international project. This envisages the creation of a European Technological Centre near Plovdiv with the participation of the UK, Portugal and other EU states. With this project, research into industrial waste recycling has been given a kick-start. This will be financed by the Marie Curie Fund to the tune of three million euro.
What was the response to your innovation at last year’s World Congress on Raw Materials Processing in Beijing?
There was a massive response to my presentation about the new technology and offers to patent it on all continents. I also presented another new technology, connected with water purification, especially removing the highly toxic arsenic. Wherever there are gold deposits or deposits of other precious metals, there is a lot of arsenic. This is another instance of dialectics - good goes alongside evil. My water-cleansing technology is directed to arsenic removal from industrial waste water. My method does not involve other chemicals to eliminate the arsenic, which makes it revolutionary and environmentally friendly. There was great interest shown in it by the US, Canada and Australia which will be among the first to apply for patent rights.
What is your vision of the water deficit, expected worldwide in the next 20 years?
The only solution is purification and recycling of water, industrially polluted. It is completely unacceptable to use it only once; it should be cleansed and recycled.
What are your immediate plans for the future?
My future plans are connected to my work in the environmental commission in the European Parliament and are related to Bulgaria’s global interests. One of them refers to looking for alternative sources of energy. Another involves reducing environmental pollution - neutralizers on cars, filters on factory chimneys and recycling waste. As far as alternative energy sources are concerned, a seminar was held in Brussels, dealing with hydrogen fuel and biomass second generation. I mean biomass from dead leaves, sawdust and straw etc. When processed in a specific way, they turn into gas. As we well know, fossil fuels cannot last more than another 50 years. Germany is quite advanced in using hydrogen in public transport vehicles – cars, trains, trucks and buses. The US is about to launch the first hydrogen-fuel pilot-free Boeing, Japan has launched its arrow trains, Denmark is running a hydrogen fuel train between two railway stations. The incentive for Bulgaria to take part is the divisive recycling of waste. The key point is to cultivate consciousness and responsibility among people that is still lacking. Waste is a resource invested in each bottle containing energy, light and heat. This is a serious source of material welfare in all areas: clothes-making, construction and packaging. Denmark is a telling example in this respect.
What are the major criticisms of Bulgaria in the EU Parliament?
Until now, the attitude is to encourage us to keep up with other EU countries. I have stood up for amendments of EU law, defending Bulgarian interests. This is done by bearing in mind our long-term industrial policy, our environmental legislation etc. In the EU, complaints and despair do not work. To achieve success, you must target common interests and common motivation. A major issue is a Bulgarian lobby, as the Romanians have.
And, again, about the precious depleting resource of water in seas, rivers and oceans. How could they be purified of continual pollution?
The soil is a very sensitive resource; once polluted, it is lost forever. Much must be done to educate the young about environmental awareness. This has to be implemented through education at school and family upbringing. There must be control exerted over the divisive disposal of metals, glass and paper.
What are your academic projects in this area, so vital for saving the planet?
I have published a book, co-authored with leading Bulgarian and foreign scientists. It focuses mainly on hydrogen fuel, second generation biomass fuels and the conservation of CO2 emissions. We have to act, too, following the example of Germany, Denmark and Italy.
*This interview was taken in early 2009.