Electrically charged tea cups

In Kenya, tea leaves are usually collected by workers driving small gas-fueled cars around the plantations. But electrically charged cars and solar-powered funiculars could soon reduce the carbon footprint of a cup of tea
Image by NCPC-SA.

Tea leaves growing on plantations in the Kenyan highlands are usually collected by workers driving small, gas-fueled cars. But on one plantation, the owners replaced the cars with electrically charged cars and solar-powered funiculars that transported the tea leaves to a central collection point. As a result, the plantation managed to reduce on-site costs as well as its carbon footprint, while at the same time diminishing the risk of accidents to workers.

This was one of the case studies discussed during a recent workshop in green chemistry offered in Pretoria, South Africa, and led by McGill chemistry professor Audrey Moores. It was one of a number of green chemistry workshops held in various countries around the world over the past several months, supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The workshops, which drew on expertise from researchers from Yale and McGill universities, were designed to provide participants from industry, academia and the government with the most current information and techniques in the field.

“In some ways it seemed to me that in less developed countries such as Kenya and Uganda, which sent participants to the workshops, there is an even greater potential for developing green solutions because the need is so great, and the force of habit is less present," says Moores. "At the workshop, we gave lots of examples of real cases where people overcame hurdles, over time, by making small decisions to do things in new ways.”

The McGill professor sees the workshops as a sign of a global realization, amid climate change and pollution, that there is a need for new products that are cleaner for the environment and more respectful of human health. She came away from her workshop galvanized by the potential for green chemistry innovations to move out of the lab and into the field.

“This workshop was an eye-opener. I could see how my work is relevant to solve global problems, but also how innovative ideas uniquely emerge from peer exchanges," Moores says. "Clearly, translating knowledge from academia to business can seed ideas and produce concrete solutions." 

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