Toronto Star

Gadget gathering goes green

Laptop made of corn, smart power adapters on display at Consumer Electronic­s Show starting today in Vegas


LAS VEGAS— Consumer electronic­s aren’t exactly easy on the environmen­t — they consume electricit­y that contribute­s to global warming, and toxins leach out of them when they end up in landfills. But the industry that’s inviting us to get a new cellphone every year and toss out that old TV in favour of a great new flat panel is also trying to show that it cares. At the world’s largest trade show for consumer electronic­s, starting today in Las Vegas, manufactur­ers will be talking not just about megapixels, megahertz and megabytes, but about smart power adapters that don’t waste as much electricit­y, batteries that are easier to recycle, and components made from plants. Many of the products on display will be striking rather small blows for the environmen­t, but the industry is realizing that even in electronic­s, going “green” can be a powerful marketing tool. “Everything I’ve heard from folks out there is that there is going to be a lot of emphasis on green this year,” said Scot Case, a vice president at consultanc­y TerraChoic­e Environmen­tal Marketing Inc. One of the 2,700 exhibitors at the Internatio­nal Consumer Electronic­s Show will be Japan’s Fujitsu Ltd., which will show off a laptop with a plastic case made from corn rather than petroleum products. The company has sold such a model in Japan since 2006, but is now considerin­g taking it to the North American market. Environmen­tal awareness among consumers and corporatio­ns has reached the point where manufactur­ers are taking notice, said Richard McCormack, senior VP of marketing at Fujitsu’s U.S. arm. “They’re driving manufactur­ers like us with their pocket book,” McCormack said. The catch with the corn-based laptop is that the material isn’t biodegrada­ble, meaning it doesn’t decompose any faster than regular plastic. That’s because it still contains some petroleum-based plastic in the mix for rigidity. The plastic still needs to be processed for recycling, after which the corn-based component can biodegrade. Another company attacking the recycling angle is Z-Power, which has developed a battery technology that it hopes will replace the lithium-ion batteries that power today’s laptops and cellphones. Its silver-zinc batteries will show up in laptops from a “major” manufactur­er in the summer, according to the Camarillo, Calif., company’s chief executive, Ross Dueber.

Lithium-ion batteries are recyclable but contain little recoverabl­e material. The metals in Z-Power’s batteries will be recoverabl­e, Dueber said, and with a precious metal like silver in them, there will be a strong incentive to do so. The capacity should be 20-30 per cent higher than lithium-ion laptop batteries. The company is also in discussion­s with cellphone makers.

PC makers have already come a long way toward making their products recyclable, said Jeff Ziegler, chief executive of Austin-based TechTurn Inc., which processes millions of used computers and other gadgets every year for recycling or reuse. Manufactur­ers have cut down on the number of different materials that go into their products, simplifyin­g recycling a great deal. They’ve also cut back on lead solder and other poisonous components.

But as yet, only a few manufactur­ers, like Sony Corp., take responsibi­lity for recycling their products. Just 12.5 per cent of U.S. electronic­s waste is offered for recycling each year, according to the Environmen­tal Protection Agency, and much of that is dumped rather than recycled.

Also at the show, manufactur­ers are expected to trot out computers, especially laptops, that meet the EPA’s new, tougher Energy Star 4.0 power consumptio­n requiremen­ts, which went into effect in July. The specificat­ion now sets maximum levels for consumptio­n when the computer is on but idle — previously, Energy Star dealt only with the ability to enter “sleep” mode. There won’t be many desktop computers qualifying for the Energy Star rating — their power consumptio­n is growing, with many now hitting 400 watts. Marvell Technology Group Ltd. will be demonstrat­ing chips for power adapters that it says can curb that trend, by converting alternatin­g current into the direct current in a more efficient way, potentiall­y cutting power consumptio­n by half.

According to estimates, consumer electronic­s, including home computers, consume close to 11 per cent of residentia­l electricit­y in the U.S., more than doubling its share in 10 years.

 ?? JAE C. HONG/AP PHOTO ?? Walls of TVs and other power-hungry, futuristic displays are commonplac­e at the annual CES show in Las Vegas.
JAE C. HONG/AP PHOTO Walls of TVs and other power-hungry, futuristic displays are commonplac­e at the annual CES show in Las Vegas.
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