Waste Matters

Waste Matters

The Technology Center, a sparkling structure of glass shaped like a sloping cylinder, is the centerpiece of Electronic Park in Duisburg, Germany. It stands in the middle of the Ruhr Valley, the heart of Germany’s industrial sector. On the second floor of the center, in the offices of ITS (Institut für Technische Dokumentation, Schulung und Beratung), company president Edouard Mbemba, 42, carefully considers the scaled model of a machine that will soon be the centerpiece of his company. The machine separates waste materials for recycling, a highly profitable aspect of the heavy-industry trade.

ITS consists of two companies, “the mechanical engineering component, and one in which I train people to be draftsmen and information technology workers,” says Mbemba. Projected 2003 revenues for ITS are 1.2 million euros (or $1.3 million U.S.): 60% from worker training and 40% from engineering design and consultation. “The [worker] training is supported by Arbeitsamt, the state employment and human resources agency, and another government agency,” adds Mbemba.

But the engineer turned CEO is far more focused on his recycling machine. “I’m currently overseeing construction on a model of the machine at a university research center,” he says. The project is financed by Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (the Federal Department of Economy and Technology) and will be completed by June 2004.

Mbemba designed the machine around the mathematical principle of the sinuskurve, or sine wave. “It will take any material — building material for example — and separate the lighter material from the heavier. Water is rhythmically pumped into a container with an eccentric drive, building up pressure and then releasing it. The lighter materials rise to the top and the heavier ones fall to the bottom. The two loads are then collected in separate compartments,” he explains.

The current recycling technology uses a mechanical, continuous wave process. Mbemba’s machine, however, has an electronic component that calculates and sets the accelerated lifting/uplift and the decelerated downstroke of the bed in which the material is placed. Consequently, Mbemba refers to his design as a Schwingsetzmaschine, or pulse-setting machine. Its applications are many and manifold in environmentally conscious Germany, especially in the eastern part of the country, where old Soviet-style factories are in desperate need of refitting.

In addition to heading ITS, Mbemba is also head of the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (ISD), an organization that promotes the interests, and businesses, of blacks in Germany. Born in the Congo and adopted by a German couple after the death of his birth parents, Mbemba’s involvement in ISD has not only helped him reunite with his Congolese family but aided him in expanding his business interests into Africa. Following a 2000 ISD conference, Mbemba made contact with a Protestant vicar who helped him do what he had been unable to for 15 years: find his siblings. “I have a brother in Kinshasa and a sister. One sister died. And I have two cousins.”

When Mbemba flew to Kinshasa to meet his relatives, it sparked the idea for a new venture: the family-owned