Two Imperial academics spoke at a major conference on the research road to net-zero industry in Brussels this week.
Hosted by ScienceBusiness, the two-day conference brought together experts from academia, industry and the European Commission to assess progress towards implementing the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s landmark policy commitment to accelerate Europe’s transition to net-zero.
Professor Tim Green, Professor of Electrical Power Engineering and Academic Leader for Sustainability in the Department for Electrical and Electronic Engineering, spoke in the opening plenary session of the day and Professor Silvestre Pinho, Professor in the Mechanics of Composites in the Department of Aeronautics, joined a panel on strategic materials and the circular economy.
accelerating green technologies
The European Green Deal sets out Europe’s ambitions to become the first climate-neutral continent by creating wholesale changes to existing European Union environmental and sustainability policy. Firmly within this focus is the EU’s Net Zero Industry Act, which is the attempt to make European green technology manufacturers competitive in the expanding global market and a direct response to the US Inflation Reduction Act.
In the opening plenary session to discuss whether Europe is on the right track to supporting green technology, Professor Green spoke alongside Christian Ehler MEP, European Parliament lead for the Net Zero Industry Act. They were joined by Ann Mettler, the European Vice President of Breakthrough Energy - the organisation that launched the Cleantech UK initiative at Imperial earlier this year - and Maive Rute, Deputy Director-General in the European Commission Directorate for Growth.
The panel discussed how the European Union needs to support green technologies through an array of measures, including loan guarantees for infrastructure projects to increase investment in green tech. Professor Green outlined the need for Europe to build an electricity grid that is capable of accommodating the new infrastructure for renewable energy production, combined with the digitisation required to control and deploy the electricity to citizens.
“We do tend to focus on gas, electricity and heating, but we have to think about decarbonising the whole supply chain” Professor Tim Green
The speakers also said that the impact of the Net Zero Industry Act will be hampered unless it has a specific budget attached to achieve its aims. Christian Ehler MEP raised concerns over the lack of funding for basic research in green technology, saying that this basic research funding is essential in driving future progress and innovations.
critical materials in the circular economY
As part of the EU’s agenda in green technology, it is also reviewing how it can improve the supply chain of materials critical to production of green technology systems. The EU’s Critical Raw Minerals Act, focuses on improving the EU’s domestic capabilities to extract, process and recycle raw materials such as lithium, manganese and helium. Recycling of critical materials also feeds into the EU’s Circular economy action plan, where the EU is seeking to tackle issues and promote initiatives across personal electronics to create greater sustainability in technology life cycles.
"To my mind, the key message is that recyclability targets need to be informed by life cycle analysis, and to be specific to individual materials and sectors." Professor Silvestre Pinho
Professor Pinho discussed the challenges of recyclability of carbon fibre composites used in modern aircraft and the importance of life cycle analysis of materials as part of any recycling targets. He explained that the main goal for recycling carbon fibre composites is improving the business case. There are four key pillars to achieving this goal, which are the standardisation of recycled materials, introduction of digital tools to track flow of materials, creating modelling, simulation and design methods for the recycled carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, and establishing a multisector circular supply chain.
Professor Pinho outlined that the technology to recycle carbon fibre composites is increasing but there is still a need to create a sizable market for these recycled materials. A key element of future recycling targets should reflect the full energy usage of materials across their whole life cycle, from initial production to recycling possibilities, he noted. He then described how even though it is more challenging to recycle carbon fibre composite aircraft than aluminium aircraft, and carbon fibres are very energy-intensive to produce, it is still more favourable to use carbon fibre composites in aircraft due to the significant energy efficiencies made during flight.
EU green policy and Horizon Europe
As the EU’s programme for research and innovation, Horizon Europe is central to creating partnerships that will drive the transitions in the environment that the European Green Deal is calling for. On September 7, the UK and EU confirmed that they had reached an agreement on the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. The UK Government and the EU confirmed that UK researchers will be able to fully participate in the 2024 Work Programme including any 2024 calls opening this year. This includes leading consortia and participation in the ERC. For calls from the 2023 Work Programmes, the UK will continue to provide funding under the UK Guarantee. Please contact the Research Office EU team for more information and support on upcoming bids.
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