30 August 2018Recycling techniques for end-of-life ships developed by a LIFE project are now being used by shipyards in Spain to dismantle fishing vessels and support ships. And Reciclauto Navarra, the company behind the project has just signed an agreement to be involved in safer ship recycling in North and West Africa.
From 2010-2013, the EU invested nearly €1.7 million in the €3.4 million Recyship project to dismantle old sea vessels in a way that was both environmentally friendly and economically viable. End-of-life ships from European owners are often dismantled in emerging economies to sidestep safety norms for dangerous compounds built inside them. This is in contravention of the Basilea Agreement, which bans the export of dangerous waste to developing countries.
“A boat out of use is an environmental bomb - we are talking about oil, we are talking about asbestos. This project is very important because we are avoiding sending such a bomb to the bottom of the sea,” explained Recyship communications manager Jesus Jiménez during a tour of the Navalria Drydocks in Aveiro (Portugal), where trials of new dismantling technologies and procedures took place.
The Recyship team validated three prototypes – one for steel cutting, one for paint removal and one for treatment of water and other waste liquids. It also developed protocols for workers to ensure safe and environmentally-sound dismantling.
The EU Ship Recycling Regulation (1257/2013) requires that, by the end of 2018, all large commercial seagoing vessels flying the flag of an EU Member State will have to be recycled in ship recycling facilities included in the European registry of boat recycling plants. This will ensure the work is done safely and without environmental harm. Around 150 European-flagged vessels are put out of use every year, creating a significant opportunity for new employment (up to an estimated 400 new jobs in Spain alone). Thanks to the LIFE project, Navalria Drydocks became one of the first shipyards to be included in the registry.
“The aim is to make more services available for out-of-use and end-of-life ships, in line with the circular economy objectives of the EU,” says Miguel Ángel García Molina, managing director of Reciclauto Navarra. He explains that “larger naval and commercial vessels should begin to be dismantled in major French and Spanish shipyards in 2019-2020.”
His company has also reached an agreement to be involved in “ongoing projects for dismantling of large vessels and military vessels in Senegal, Libya, Morocco and Algeria under the Ship Recycling Regulation.”
Mr García believes that “this will help to achieve the objectives set by Europe for the circular economy and immigration, to support and develop employment-generating activities that help not only the environmental economy but also the social and economic one.”
Further investment is necessary to build this nascent green industry. “We are open to international partners who want to invest in these projects as well as investment funds and financial institutions that want to support this type of initiative,” concludes Mr García.
27 August 2018Based in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, the EKO-LIFE project found a novel way to address climate change, while supplementing existing policies and actions. “It is hard for people to change their lifestyles, because there are always difficult decisions to make, so we decided to provide experimental spaces for people to try out new things,” says project leader, Karin Feurstein-Pichler.
The first challenge the LIFE project faced was to identify the daily routines that could be most readily adapted to reduce carbon emissions. Preliminary research led the team from the Vorarlberger Energy Institute to focus in particular on mobility and nutrition.
Residents were then able to explore sustainable ways of living over an experimental three-week period, the minimum time required for the long-term changes in habit to take hold.
“People just could 'give it a try', which is the title of the project in our local tongue, and just for a few weeks get into another space,” explains Wolfgang Seidel, the energy institute’s head of communications. “If you succeed you keep the changes you reach and if you fail, well at least you gave it a try.”
The project set up a wide-ranging communications campaign, with social media at its heart, to encourage people to get involved and to share their experiences of changing their daily habits. EKO-LIFE provided advice and support, with participants taking the role of “change ambassadors” to encourage others.
“This approach allowed people to try new things in specific contexts and with full support, so on the mobility side participants could test e-bikes or receive tickets to try the train as an alternative means of transport,” says Ms Feurstein-Pichler.
Participants’ experiences were then shared with others in the project to help improve opportunities for change. These exchanges also helped the project reflect on what works and to adapt to the needs of participants.
The response from citizens was exceptional. Whereas the communications campaign had been expected to reach 26 000 of Vorarlberg’s 380 000 residents, “the project was so well received that this goal was overreached, as 17% of the population, some 65,000 people, became aware of the campaign,” says Ms Feuerstein-Pichler.
Mobility targets were also smashed. The initial goal was 2 000 people to adapt their daily routines and save 1 700 tonnes of carbon dioxide through alternative methods of mobility. “In fact we saved 2 000 tonnes of CO2 and 10 000 people changed their behaviour,” she notes with pride.
Support from LIFE was crucial to the success of the project, with Ms Feurstein-Pichler explaining that “it was particularly important to receive help with incentives for participants to get involved in the project.”
EKO-LIFE is a Best of the Best LIFE Climate Action project 2016-17
21 August 2018Treating wastewater from industrial plants is an expensive business, requiring a lot of energy and generating high carbon emissions. EffiSludge for LIFE has a solution to this – converting waste sludge from the process into biogas.
Project beneficiaries Scandinavian Biogas Fuels and Biokraft have built a biogas plant for processing waste material generated by the Norske Skog pulp and paper mill in Skogn, Norway. The mill can produce around 500 000 tonnes per year of newsprint, the paper on which newspapers are printed. “On average, 20 000 m3 of wastewater are processed there every day, equal to the water volume of eight swimming pools, generating sludge that is incinerated on site,” says project manager Dr Francesco Ometto.
However, EffiSludge for LIFE is demonstrating a more sustainable method of wastewater treatment, thanks to the integration of the mill’s existing wastewater treatment plant with the new biogas facility, which has just starting producing biomethane. “It consumes less energy and chemical nutrients, and uses the residues for biogas production, reducing the overall carbon footprint of wastewater treatment,” Dr Ometto explains.
Wastewater is treated by active microbes in the water which multiply and consume the pollutants within it, producing a material called activated sludge. Instead of drying and incinerating this waste, the project processes it with additional organic biomass, such as fish waste, to make biomethane (through anaerobic co-digestion). This is cooled to obtain liquid biogas, a fuel particularly suitable for heavy transport.
In this way, EffiSludge for LIFE is turning a costly waste product into a valuable resource. Once the project has achieved stable production of biogas in the next few months, the focus will shift to the next stage. “By upgrading the Norske Skog mill’s wastewater treatment plant to support EffiSludge conditions of operation, we expect to see a saving of up to 500 g of carbon dioxide per cubic metre of treated wastewater,” says Dr Ometto. The upgrade will involve improving the activated sludge’s quality to enhance its biomethane potential and the efficiency of its conversion into biogas.
The solid residues from the biogas production process are a valuable fertiliser expected to be used by local farms in Norway. The leftover water, which has a high nutrient content, will be recirculated back into the wastewater treatment system, replacing most of the chemicals required today.
Overall, the project should cut the wastewater treatment plant’s electricity consumption by 50% and, with less need for energy and chemicals, its annual carbon emissions are expected to fall by 3 500 tonnes. “This is equivalent to the amount of CO2 emissions required to produce 1 000 reams of paper!” Dr Ometto adds.
EffiSludge for LIFE has huge potential for replication elsewhere in the paper sector and in other industrial processes that generate wastewater requiring treatment (e.g. food processing and chemicals production). Around 180 million tonnes of pulp and paper products are manufactured worldwide every year, a quarter of which is made in Europe. If the EffiSludge concept was applied to many of the mills in Europe today, the project manager estimates that carbon emissions could be reduced by hundreds of thousands of tonnes.
“We have a great opportunity to demonstrate at commercial scale the project’s value in terms of industrial symbiosis and the circular economy,” concludes Dr Ometto. “Biogas production is no longer merely a way to process organic waste into energy. Integrating biogas solutions into existing industrial processes opens the way to significant energy, chemicals and carbon savings that aren’t otherwise achievable.”
21 August 2018An unusual sight now greets drivers travelling down the N272 in North Brabant, the Netherlands. One of the first bio-based safety guardrails installed in Europe lines a 20-metre stretch on both sides of the road. The construction replaces metal elements from conventional guardrails, notably substituting their environmentally problematic zinc oxide coating.
“Some 19 tonnes of zinc leach out of guardrails each year in the Netherlands alone,” says Harm Jan Thiewes of the company Millvision, based in the village of Raamsdonk, also in North Brabant. “This metal is toxic for the environment.”
The zinc oxide coating is designed to protect steel rails from rusting, but its own degradation can contaminate groundwater, leach into soils and impact biodiversity. Plants, birds and snails found near motorways tend to suffer from unusually high concentrations of zinc in their metabolism.
As part of the LIFE-funded BG4US project, Millvision is processing plant fibre into green and durable building materials for environmentally sustainable guardrails. Feedstock ingredients include potato waste from chip producers and roadside grass. Mr Thiewes says that this local to local approach lies at the heart of many green solutions proposed by Millvision. It meets the objectives of the EU action plan for the circular economy while profiting both the environment and local communities.
Another potential beneficiary of substituting metal in road infrastructure is the global climate. Manufacturing steel, the main component in guardrails, currently emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Preliminary studies suggest that replacing it with bio-based materials would bring down the carbon footprint of guardrail production processes.
The BG4US consortium is still fine-tuning recipes to optimise the properties of its bio-based materials. Its partners are combining bio-composites with steel components and pulling them though a mould to shape guardrail components that can withstand the elements without harming the local environment.
“Biological materials don’t poison the environment and they don’t corrode,” says Mr Thiewes. “But it remains to be seen how well they survive over time.”
The guardrail on the N272 is a mock-up. It provides no certified safety measures, but it does supply researchers with insight into how to optimise their fabrication processes to avoid biodegradation. Mr Thiewes says that the bio-based materials that he and his partners are working on could ultimately outlive the 25-year lifespan of existing metal guardrails.
He expects the LIFE BG4US project to have soon optimised the right combination of biomaterials and mechanical properties to crash-test their first bio-based guardrails by the middle of next year. A 100-metre prototype will be examined in an official test centre to authorise its adoption on European roads.
The project plans on installing several hundred metres of guardrails in 2020 to demonstrate the merits of bio-based materials under real-life conditions. Millvision is already investigating a business plan with its partners to roll out the technology on a broader scale. With tightening EU rules on industrial emissions and tens of thousands of kilometres of motorways extending across Europe, green guardrails present a potentially vast market opportunity.
20 August 2018A transnational LIFE project plans to start testing two hydrogen-powered bin lorries in Eindhoven this October. Led by the NGO, WaterstofNet, the LIFE'N Grab Hy project is demonstrating a zero-emission and low noise alternative to traditional refuse collection vehicles.
To judge the success of the tests, the project beneficiary has set up key performance indicators on environmental benefits. “These trucks only emit pure water, so there are no harmful tailpipe emissions,” says Stefan Neis, a project manager with WaterstofNet in Belgium. “That means no particulate matter, no carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, no nitrous oxides, and a saving in energy,” he adds. “They are also low noise due to an electric driveline.”
The project team will gather data, organise events and also conduct interviews with the end-users (drivers, handlers, operators) and get feedback from the public during the testing phases. After Eindhoven, further month-long tests will take place in another Dutch city, Rotterdam, followed by Bolzano-Merano in Italy and Cologne in Germany. By the end of the project, 10 cities in total will have tested these new vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel cells are already being used to power cars, buses and forklifts. Lorries are the new frontier for the technology. “This is a new and global market: garbage trucks, tractor-pulling combinations etc,” says Mr Neis. “Also companies are looking at unmanned hydrogen vehicles and drones,” he says.
The new heavy-duty vehicles will be commercially available as soon as the first two hydrogen trucks have been certified for road use and thoroughly tested. “The manufacturer is ready to start production. A follow-on project, made possible by the experiences in and work done by the LIFE project, has started and aims to produce 15 trucks,” explains Mr Neis.
Price of components and lack of infrastructure are the main barriers to commercial success. “For now, the prices are not yet competitive with regular diesel trucks and more hydrogen stations have to be built, but this will soon change.” concludes Mr Neis.
17 August 2018Large areas of flower-rich grassland still exist in mountain ranges in Central Europe. These provide an important refuge for endangered insects, but their long-term survival depends on appropriate land management.
Butterflies CZ-SK is the largest butterfly conservation project ever conducted in the region. It helped to conserve rare butterflies in such meadows in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The outcome of this LIFE initiative has been an overall increase in populations of targeted species of butterfly, including the large blue (Maculinea arion), Alcon blue (Maculinea alcon) and Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo).
Patchwork mowing is considered essential for the conservation of rare butterflies. “It is important this measure be applied in larger and larger areas progressively. A part of the meadow has to be mown earlier, and another part left unmown until September,” explains project manager Libor Ambrozek of the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic.
Butterflies CZ-SK restored over 280 ha of grassland habitats and managed around 1 400 ha for flowering plants and insects in Natura 2000 sites, specifically targeting 10 rare butterfly species.
“During the project, Maculinea arion occurred in sites where grazing had been reintroduced, and monitoring confirmed the fact. Parnassius apollo responded in a similar way in Slovakia. After shrubs were removed and grazing or mowing reintroduced, Maculinea alcon also occurred in new sites,” says Dr Ambrozek.
The project’s methods formed the basis for a new agri-environmental measure for butterfly conservation. This will enable farmers in the Czech Republic to be paid for implementing patchwork management on habitats previously excluded from agricultural subsidy schemes.
Butterflies CZ-SK is one of the projects presenting their findings at next month’s LIFE platform meeting, Bringing Bugs Back to LIFE: action for threatened invertebrates.
“The ‘take-home’ message of our presentation will be the need to collaborate with landowners and farmers,” says Dr Ambrozek. “We regularly met them and convinced them about the need for patchwork management. This maintains site management after the project. It is important to involve landowners and farmers, as the state cannot be responsible for nature conservation alone because of the extent.”
The platform meeting takes place in the UK (Stirling, Scotland) on 18-20 September 2018. For more information click here.
10 August 2018The food processing industry’s biggest impact on the environment comes from cleaning and disinfection. While this is vital for food hygiene and safety, it consumes vast amounts of water, energy and chemicals. Cleaning and sanitisation also releases undesirable chemicals into the environment, and generates wastewater and greenhouse gases.
The Spanish agro-food research and technology centre, AINIA, set up LIFE ECO-DHYBAT to see if applying eco-hygienic design principles could reduce the environmental burden of food manufacturing, in particular dairy and fish products.
“We worked with two companies, Calidad Pascual and Nueva Pescanova, modifying some of their production lines to make the equipment easier to clean,” says project manager Alfredo Rodrigo. “Then we measured the environmental impact of the cleaning and disinfection process on the different lines, so we could compare the results from the improved lines with the standard ones.”
The benefits were clear: the modified lines proved easier to clean, consuming less water and energy; wastewater quality improved as less organic matter remained in the equipment pre-cleaning; and energy consumption (heat and power) decreased, resulting in lower carbon dioxide emissions. What’s more, less time was spent cleaning the new lines, which boosted productivity.
An important lesson from the project is that even small modifications, such as avoiding sharp corners when designing equipment, can make a difference when it comes to the overall environmental impact and effectiveness.
The cost of adapting existing equipment was shown to be largely offset by savings on water, energy and cleaning products. “The cost is recovered very quickly,” explains Mr Rodrigo. “And if eco-hygienic criteria are used at the design stage of food processing lines, there is no extra cost.”
The project’s achievements have led the EU to consider it and eco-hygienic design as a role model for the food and beverage sectors. “Although our industrial trials focused on dairy and fish processing, very similar results can be obtained for other food and drinks such as juice and meat products,” says Mr Rodrigo.
LIFE ECO-DHYBAT proposed eco-hygienic design as a candidate Best Available Technique (BAT) for the food industry. BAT Reference Documents (BREFs) are used by EU Member States when issuing operating permits for activities covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive. It was therefore a cause for celebration for the project team when the European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau included eco-hygienic design in thefinal version of the BREF for the food, drink and milk sector.
LIFE ECO-DHYBAT is a Best of the Best LIFE Environment project 2016-17
09 August 2018Commercial fishing has unintended negative consequences for sea turtles. An estimated 200 000 turtles die every year in the Mediterranean after being accidentally caught in fishing nets. The Italian Marine Science Institute led a project called TARTALIFE to tackle unnecessary turtle deaths, focusing on the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in particular. This involved showing fishermen what to do in case of accidental capture and how to use devices to prevent such by-catch occurring.
The project team encouraged the use of LED visual deterrents, circular hooks for line fishing, which are less damaging to turtles, and exclusion grids for bottom trawling. “It is essential to train fishermen because they are the first actors in the species conservation process,” explains project leader Alessandro Lucchetti. “Protection of sea turtles mainly depends on the procedures implemented in the immediate aftermath of capture.”
TARTALIFE’s efforts were not in vain. “The fishermen showed interest in the various activities and great cooperation during sea trials,” says Mr Lucchetti. Some 500 of them took part in those trials, with around 1 500 fishermen in total reached by the project through ‘infodays’.
Results showed that TARTALIFE’s procedures can help reduce incidental catches of sea turtles without reducing commercial catches and the team says that most Italian fishermen are now aware of what needs to be done. The project also reached out to around one million visitors to the turtle rescue centres that are benefiting from LIFE funding, spreading the conservation message to tourists.
For more examples of how LIFE is having a positive impact on the marine environment, see our new LIFE Focus brochure.
06 August 2018The Kleine Nete is a lowland river situated in the Flemish Campine region. The river valley consists of heathland and moors in higher areas and valley ecosystems along the stream.
"One of the unique things about the Kleine Nete is that there is still freshwater tidal influence, which means the river is affected by tides," said Wout Opdekamp, project coordinator of the LIFE Kleine Nete project. "This, combined with the connectivity to heathlands, makes it a very special area. You can find species like the summer snowflake, which is an inhabitant of freshwater tidal systems, and only a few hundred metres along on you can find dry heath species."
Decades of tree planting, intensive agriculture and drainage placed several habitat types in the Kleine Nete Valley under severe pressure, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, with some species on the verge of extinction.
The construction of holiday cottages and artificial ponds caused major fragmentation of the natural habitats of the valley as well as causing other problems such as the introduction of invasive species and increased waste disposal.
"One of the main difficulties in Flanders is that the landscape is highly fragmented, so we truly had to piece the nature reserve together again by acquiring private land," says Mr Opdekamp.
With the help of LIFE funds, the project successfully restored the region to a more natural state, with better connected habitat types, reversing the impact of years of destructive activity.
The project removed a number of former holiday cottages and transformed their artificial ponds into more natural environments. By creating a better connection between the river and the valley bottom, the flood risk was reduced and biodiversity improved, which now includes a stable beaver population.
Within the context of the LIFE programme, the project performed an important eco-hydrological study and developed an innovative 'Softrack' vehicle. "It's a caterpillar-tracked device that can mow grasslands or peatlands that are inaccessible by regular agricultural devices, because it has a very low ground pressure," says Mr Opdekamp.
The Kleine Nete team also launched a new initiative to produce compost from the vegetal biomass produced by the management of the grasslands and heath vegetation.
One of the project's successes was the close collaboration between different public bodies and interests, making the management of the region more integrated and leading to a more effective climate change adaptation policy. Led by Natuurpunt, a Flemish NGO with over 100 000 members, the project worked with the province of Antwerp and the Flemish Environmental Agency to improve the river's natural environment. Natuurpunt will continue the management of the protected areas.
LIFE Kleine Nete is a Best of the Best LIFE Nature & Biodiversity project 2016-17