Industrial Nature

Nature creates a second life for abandoned Industrial areas

Officially the term Industrial Nature refers to the regeneration of natural vegetation on former industrial sites. The concept of Industrial Nature was developed in the German Ruhr region in the late 1980s. As a result of a largely disappearing mining industry, the regional government of Nordrhein-Westfalen was confronted with an enormous challenge: how do we handle 800 km2 abandoned and polluted industrial terrain?

To solve this problem a new concept was developed, called “Industrial Nature”. The polluted industrial sites were transformed into a green and modern urban area, giving the area an enormous ecological, economical, social and cultural stimulus. This area is now known as “the Emscher Park”. Over the years the Emscher Park has become very interesting ecologically, because the (partly planted) vegetation and animals present in the area have adapted to the difficult circumstances.

Particular and mostly rare, plants and animals prefer the restrained conditions of the former industrial wastelands. In the old mines, coke ovens and blast furnaces, nature has developed into a green oasis with trees and plants like, Robinia, Canadian goldenrod, Chinese butterfly bush and St. John’s wort. Furthermore birds, wild bees, dragonflies and frogs like to stay in the area. The abandoned shunting and collection station has even evolved into a location with the highest biodiversity in the Ruhr district.

Ecology and industry: a natural combination?

But why wait to accept the help of nature until factories are abandoned? Why wouldn’t we combine nature and industry during production?

Bioclear earth would like to give a new dimension to the concept of Industrial Nature, namely actively adopting nature during the industrial production process to make use of natural degradation processes of pollutants. We can use nature as a preventive measurement: through natural purification of industrial wastewater we can prevent environmental damage as much as possible. When damage to the environment has already occurred, we can use the remedial powers of nature.

In many cases applying Industrial Nature will lead to the production of residual materials (biomass). In these situations Bioclear earth researches whether these materials can be used as raw material or as a source of bioenergy. In short, by applying Industrial Nature we can prevent damage or remediate damage to the environment and at the same time create a beautiful work environment and even produce raw materials or energy.

Examples of using Industrial nature

Industrial waste water

Dow chemical uses the concept of Industrial Nature in a large industrial complex in Texas, involved in the production of plastic resins and other organic chemicals. All wastewater and storm water of the facility is lead through a constructed wetland. The area was constructed 15 years ago, but is no longer recognisable as human made. An enormous biodiversity of microorganisms and plants has developed through the years. The biodiversity of this mini ecosystem leads to an enhanced ability of the water treatment system to adjust to the fluctuations in the circumstances.

The result:

  • The industrial complex recycles as much water as possible and meet the permits 100 %.
  • Low energy and resource requirements (minimal equipment, no pumps, no additives, no oxygen system, no added water)
  • The wetland requires minimal support from operations and maintenance, while the grey alternative requires 24/7 support.
  • Purification runs without producing bio solids to handle or dispose.
  • Low operational capital required ($1.2 to 1.4 million as opposed to $40 million for grey alternative).

Heavy metal pollution in the soil

On the former industrial site of the straw carton factory “de Eendracht” at Appingedam a heavy metal pollution is managed by planting willow trees.

Bioclear earth is researching if willow trees are capable of accumulating or binding the heavy and subsequently improve soil health. Furthermore we investigate whether or not these trees can be safely used as raw material or source of bio-energy.

You can find more information on this project on this website. Look under project: “Are willow trees into heavy metal?”

Is Industrial Nature a suitable option for your company?

Based on our expertise in biological soil and water remediation, water quality, fytotechnology, risk assessment and management, we can assess if applying Industrial Nature is a suitable option for your company.

If you are interested in our approach please contact Freek van den Heuvel.

Freek van den Heuvel
Consultant water quality and phytoremediation