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News: February 2018

Fine advice on air quality

Photo: Axel-FriedrichPhoto: Axel-Friedrich

27 February 2018 By mid-March, the EU will decide whether to fine nine of its members for breaching limits on air pollution. As it considers legal action, LIFE projects present potential solutions that could help countries clean up their act.

Meeting this month at the 21st European Forum on Eco-innovation in Sofia, Bulgaria, funding beneficiaries from nine LIFE projects exchanged advice on how to cut toxic emissions from the transport and the energy sector.

“The conference is a necessary platform to act effectively for better air quality and for the health of millions of Europeans,” said Joanna Kiersnowska from the Marshal Office of the Małopolska region in Poland.

Air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths in the EU each year, according to the European Environment Agency. In January, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella told ministers from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia that they could delay their legal obligations no longer.
“Inaction has consequences for citizens and the polluted air that they breathe,” said Commissioner Vella.

In recent weeks, these countries have produced a list of measures to meet air quality standards, notably creating low emission zones in city centres, promoting public transport, and revising their budget for the environment. Whether these plans succeed in bringing the concentration of pollutants back in line with EU standards will depend largely on how well they are implemented.

A little "converstation"

Photo: LIFE MałopolskaPhoto: LIFE Małopolska

At a dedicated session of the Eco-Innovation Forum, LIFE projects exchanged their field experience in rolling out measures to improve air quality. Kiersnowska said that airborne pollutants are particularly challenging to tackle, in part because they have so many sources, and each measure must be tailored to a different target audience.

As coordinator of the LIFE integrated project Małopolska Region, Kiersnowska has worked for two years in the south of Poland. The scenic region is both a prime destination for tourists and a hotbed for air pollution. Old houses use inefficient boilers that burn low quality fuels like coal, plastics and biological waste. Breaking such private habits requires a human touch, communicating government measures face-to-face with thousands of homeowners.

“To accelerate the implementation of the EU’s Air Quality Plan, the region’s authorities have decided to use the LIFE financial instrument of the European Commission,” said Kiersnowska.

She presented Małopolska Region’s work at the conference in a series of so-called converstation workshops, speaking informally in groups of a dozen participants at a time. The dialogue made it possible to swap tips on turning air quality measures into action. While the focus of each LIFE project at the conference varied, they shared many challenges and goals.

Photo: Kaare-Press-KristensenPhoto: Kaare-Press-Kristensen

The LIFE-funded Clean Heat project for instance explained that it is bringing down emissions of toxic particles released when burning wood. Active in seven countries across Europe, the project encourages consumers to switch to cleaner heaters through awareness raising tools.

While the technologies tackled by each project differ, both emphasise the importance of raising awareness. Jens Hürdler from the NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe in Berlin, Germany, said that by fostering public debate, their project has led some municipalities to consider introducing bans or stricter requirements for wood burning. Given shifts in public perception, the project is also bringing a new eco-label for firewood stoves into existence.

Clean tech & clear governance

Other LIFE projects at the conference presented their attempts to tackle air pollution using new technology. LIFE CleanOx is reducing emissions from a glass melting factory. The LIFE GySTRA project is developing a remote sensor to spot emissions from highly polluting vehicles on the road and inform their owner.

Photo: LIFE GySTRAPhoto: LIFE GySTRA

“We have finished the first prototype of our information panel and are street-testing it in Madrid,” said LIFE GySTRA coordinator Dolores Hidalgo.

In its own converstation, the LIFE 'N GRAB HY project explained how it has constructed two hydrogen-fuelled garbage trucks. One is already being certified at the road administration agency in the Netherlands to receive its first license plate. The trucks will enter operation as of March this year, entering their service in Eindhoven, and later in Cologne, Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Not all progress stems from technology. Some LIFE projects showcased ground-breaking combinations of off-the-shelf solutions. For instance, Life for Silver Coast is rolling out e-bikes, electric cars and other forms of sustainable mobility on the Italian coast. LIFE BrennerLEC is helping city centres set up low emission zones. The recently completed IMPROVE LIFE project has released a technical guide for urban transport networks to reduce air pollution in their subway systems. The LIFE PREPAIR project is helping regions, municipalities and environmental protection agencies across the Po Basin and Slovenia work together to improve their air quality.

European air quality standards are exceptionally high. Reaching them has required advances in technology, governance and lifestyle changes in the past. As the EU refuses to lower the bar, the European Forum on Eco-Innovation will continue to bring policy makers, NGOs and companies face-to-face with a tapestry of measures to help them tackle air pollution. The exchange is helping to spread tried-and-tested solutions to broader horizons.

Green List your Natura 2000 site

Green List LOGO

26 February 2018 The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is inviting Natura 2000 site managers to field-test the Green List Sustainability Standard. This new standard will recognise areas that conserve nature, provide ecosystem services, and safeguard key social, economic, cultural and spiritual values. To make the cut, sites will also have to be equitably governed and effectively managed.

The IUCN is test-flying the new standard as part of the EU-funded LIFE Preparatory Project ‘Improving the performance of the Natura 2000 network through a Green Listing approach’. Applications are open until 13 April 2018 for the test phase of project, which is expected to start in June and run for at least one year.

Managers of selected sites will help tailor the Green Listing approach to Natura 2000 sites and receive expert feedback on the management of their site.

Applications are free of charge and can be made by completing a 2-minute survey on your protected area. The IUCN will be in contact if your site has been selected. For more information please visit the project website or contact ana.nieto@iucn.org, the project manager.

How LIFE projects contribute to a greener and innovative industry

EU Industry Day

22 February 2018 The second annual EU Industry Day on 22-23 February will bring hundreds of industry experts to Brussels for an update on the EU’s strategy towards industrial competitiveness and manufacturing in Europe. Speakers include no fewer than three European Commissioners, two European Commission Vice-Presidents, and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

Emerging markets, digital innovation and a growing sensitivity to sustainability are redefining business plans across industrial sectors. The EU remains to date the largest trading block worldwide. Staying at the forefront of business and industry requires constant adaption to the times. An exhibition on the evening of 22 February will showcase some of the innovations that are shaking up European industry.

Industrial trailblazers

DYEMOND SOLARPhoto: DYEMOND SOLAR

Among the exhibitors is the LIFE-funded DYEMOND SOLAR project that has demonstrated a cost-effective method of making next-generation solar cells. Based on a patented technology, the Swedish technology firm Exeger is using photonic crystals to manipulate light and electric charges in new photovoltaics. These high-tech nanomaterials are improving the efficiency of their devices and can also tailor their colour, adding a touch of style to the future of energy conversion.

“We’re excited to showcase how far we have come,” said Exeger founder Giovanni Fili. “To a great extent, we owe our progress to the LIFE programme’s financial support. EU industry has a strong future in green development and the EU Industry Day offers a chance to demonstrate how programmes like LIFE are helping new ideas reach the market.”

In 2014, the DYEMOND SOLAR project demonstrated the potential of a screen-printing technique to manufacture thin sheets of solar cells over large scales. Its pilot plant sustained production rates of 50 square meters for several days. Now, Exeger manufactures more than 300 000 square meters a year. It has won prizes as the best indoor solar cell in the world and notably received LIFE’s best project award for 25 years in the climate action category. Giovanni Fili expects products incorporating its technology to reach shop shelves soon.

Compostable coffee capsules

LIFE-PLA4COFFEE Photo: LIFE-PLA4COFFEE

Aroma System from Bologna, Italy will be presenting a compostable coffee capsule that they have developed as part of the LIFE-PLA4COFFEE project. The company has invented biodegradable polymers that could replace existing plastics in highly demanding applications.

“Results have been better than expected,” said the chairman of Aroma System, Cesare Rapparini. His company has extended the shelf-life of the organic capsules from four to ten months, doubled their operating temperature to 150 °C, and slashed their fabrication cost. “We have developed a family of resins that could replace many kinds of plastic, and they can all decompose into compost.”

LIFE-PLA4COFFEE has already led to one academic spin-off, which is now working on compostable substitutes for milk and wine bottles. Aroma System, a family business inherited by Cesare Rapparini, has grown over the past three years from 150 to 200 employees and has increased its turnover to €30 million euros. The company is now looking to replace other plastic products such as degassing valves.

The EU Industry Days offer an opportunity for industry’s frontline to share insight of this nature with policy makers. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made clear in his last State of the Union address, making EU industry stronger and more competitive means becoming world leaders “in innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation."

Keep that noise down

LIFE GiocondaPhoto: LIFE GIOCONDA

19 February 2018 This month, school students from Terni, in Italy, are teaming up with academics and local officials to tackle environmental threats in everyday surroundings. Their collaboration notably addresses health risks arising from air pollution and ambient noise.

As part of the LIFE-funded project Gioconda, 170 pupils met with researchers from Italy’s National Research Council (CNR), and representatives from Umbria’s Regional Environmental Protection Agency, their local health agency and the municipality.

Over the coming months, the students will help collect environmental and health data that will feed into recommendations on how to make their city more agreeable to live in. Potential improvements could help tackle issues of mobility, waste management, and pollution in the air, in local soils, or even noise levels.

Safety in silence

The LIFE Gioconda project has monitored air and noise pollution in eight schools taking part in its activities, investigating at the same time how students perceived the risk associated with loud environments. Unsurprisingly, most students expressed annoyance with high noise levels in their schools and classrooms.

Gioconda coordinators based at the CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy, say that scientists and policy makers increasingly recognise noise as an environmental pollutant. There is mounting concern that it affects student health, well-being and learning abilities. Several studies have highlighted the consequences of noise on children's performance at school.

The Gioconda project asked over 500 students to express the discomfort that they experienced from ambient noise at school. With vocabulary still lacking in part of this emerging field of science, the researchers summarised a range of acoustic factors into one quantifiable indicator. Their so-called Global Noise Score takes account of sound volume, wall and facade insulation, echo time and the general intelligibility of speakers in a room.

By conducting student surveys and measuring acoustic quality across eight Italian schools, the study demonstrated that the level of discomfort experienced in classrooms clearly scales with the Global Noise Score. It also revealed that about 75% of the classes monitored suffered from substandard acoustic quality.

Sound policy

LIFE LOGO

These results confirm the severity of noise pollution at school and highlight opportunities for local authorities to address the situation. Following publication in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the study is now backing recommendations for local and regional administrators.

Reducing the burden of diseases associated with environmental health risks is a European priority, all the more so among children. In their study, the researchers point out that children are particularly vulnerable to environmental noise. They have limited control over their surroundings and spend a lot of time at school.

To date, tackling noise pollution has proven tricky given the subjective nature of its impact. A clearer description of the annoyance and health consequences that it causes is an important step towards grasping the full scale of the challenge and ultimately dealing with it.

Two-stage application for LIFE Environment sub-programme - a major simplification for LIFE applicants

LIFE LOGO

14 February 2018 The project submission procedure for the 2018 call under LIFE's Environment sub-programme will undergo changes for simplicity. Applications will be submitted in two stages.

The first stage is a concept note, approximately 10 pages long. Applicants that make it through to the second stage of LIFE's Environment sub-programme will then submit their full proposal based on feedback from the LIFE programme. For the LIFE Climate Action sub-programme, the submission procedure remains unchanged. Applicants will submit full proposals from the start.

Stage 1: Concept Note

Applicants will be requested to submit a concept note in English that is approximately 10 pages long. The information that will be requested will notably include:

  • Basic information about the coordinating beneficiary
  • The environmental problem targeted (for environment and information & governance strands) / description of species, habitats, biodiversity issues targeted by the project (for nature and biodiversity strands)
  • Project objectives
  • The project partners (information on the coordinating and associated beneficiaries, and co-financers of the project)
  • Actions and means
  • Expected results and impacts of the project
  • The sustainability of project results
  • Project risks and constraints
  • The EU added value of the project (understood at this stage as the contribution to LIFE priorities and objectives)
  • The pilot or demonstration character of the project (and/or best practice for nature and biodiversity strand)
  • An indicative budget for the project

All concept notes will be evaluated against two criteria:

  • Overall quality of the proposal
  • Overall EU added value

They will then be ranked by merit. Applicants with the best ranked concept notes will be invited to stage 2: submission of their full proposal.
For more information on the evaluation criteria please refer to the Multiannual Work Programme. Please note that the evaluation and application guides will be published on the day the call opens.

Stage 2:  Full proposal

While there will be small adjustments to the full proposal forms, the information requested will not differ substantially from what has been requested in past calls for LIFE funding. You may wish to consult previous call documents for further guidance on the kind of information to provide. However, please bear in mind that only information published in the Guidelines for Applicants 2018 will be binding. As in past years, it will be possible to submit a full (stage 2) proposal in any official EU language, except Irish or Maltese. We nonetheless encourage applicants to submit their proposal in English.

Advantages for applicants

  • The submission of a concept note that is approximately 10 pages long requires less time and fewer resources than a full proposal (in case of the application is unsuccessful)
  • Applicants will receive feedback sooner on whether their proposal has a chance to be financed (has been admitted to stage 2)
  • Applicants invited to participate in stage 2 will have a higher chance of seeing their projects financed, as the competition will be open only to high ranking concept notes

Indicative timetable

Indicative timetable
Date or period Activity
mid-April 2018 Call publication
12 June 2018 (tbc) Deadline for applicants to submit concept notes to the Contracting Authority
October 2018 (tbc) Applicant notification, invitation of shortlisted applicants to submit their full proposal
January 2019 (tbc) Deadline to submit full proposals
January 2018 to June 2019 (tbc) Evaluation and revision of proposals
July 2019 (tbc) Signature of individual grant agreements
1 July 2019 (tbc) Earliest possible starting date

 

New features of the LIFE Multiannual Work Programme 2018-2020

Photo: LIFE05 ENV/NL/000200 Photo: LIFE HEIGHT

14 February 2018 In 2018, projects applying for funding under LIFE’s sub-programme for environment will, for the first time, submit proposals through a two-phase selection procedure.

The move is designed to simplify administrative steps and save applicants time. It is one among many updates set out to streamline the LIFE programme in its new Multiannual Work Programme (MAWP) running from 2018 to 2020.

Meeting in Brussels on 22 November 2017, representatives from EU countries unanimously declared their support for the LIFE Programme, and gave the green light to its new work programme for 2018-2020. The document, adopted by the European Commission on 12 February 2018, specifies how, over the coming three years, LIFE will focus its policy objectives, share out its budget, and streamline administrative tasks like applying for funds.

Making LIFE easier

Building on insight from LIFE’s recent mid-term evaluation, the new MAWP lays down new rules on how candidates can apply for funds. It also does away with national allocations, meaning that LIFE funds will be granted to quality projects regardless of which EU country they are based in.

One marked change is the introduction of a two-stage application procedure for traditional projects under the Environment sub-programme. From now on, candidates will present a lighter outline of their work at the first step of the application process. They will receive feedback on this outline and, if successful, will then submit the full version of their proposal.

By scaling down demands on the first step of the application procedure, LIFE opens its funding opportunities more broadly to newcomers, and aims to streamline administrative steps for all applicants. The two-stage application process will launch for the Environment sub-programme. Under the MAWP for 2018-2020, the application process for the Climate Action sub-programme remains unchanged.

In numbers

Photo: LIFE Sinergia

The new MAWP details how the LIFE programme will allocate resources among areas of policy priority in 2018-2020. It clarifies budgets by specifying what kind of projects can receive support within sub-programmes for Environment and Climate Action.

The MAWP for 2018-2020 increases LIFE’s budget for nature conservation and biodiversity by 10%. This rise follows key measures indicated in the Action Plan for nature, people and the economy, which are to be rolled out by 2019 to halt biodiversity loss in the EU.

The Delegated Regulation adopted on 16 November 2017 specifies that at least 60.5% of the budget allocated to LIFE’s sub-programme for Environment will now go towards protecting Europe’s natural capital. In budgetary terms the increase corresponds to around €60 million of additional funds for projects and actions on nature and biodiversity conservation.  

The new MAWP will also continue to support LIFE’s investment in energy efficiency. The programme’s “Private Finance for Energy Efficiency" (PF4EE) has contributed €80 million to LIFE projects from 2014 to 2017. It will receive an additional €75 million over the period leading to 2020 to match identified increasing needs.

To date, the instrument has leveraged €540 million of additional investment, and more is expected when the funds are fully allocated. Since the launch of PF4EE’s pilot phase, the European Investment Bank has witnessed increasing market appetite in many Member States for the kind of investment that it supports.

In total, €1 243.81 million will be earmarked for work on nature conservation and environmental protection, and a further €413.25 million for climate action. In parallel, the total number of project topics in the sub-programme for environment has come down from 87 to 42.

In this way, the 2018-2020 work programme is helping LIFE sharpen its funding priorities in view of recent policy developments.

In touch with the times

Photo: Vindel River LIFEPhoto: Vindel River LIFE

Over the coming three years, LIFE projects will help drive progress on strategic initiatives such as the Action Plan on Nature, People and the Economy, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Circular Economy Action Plan.

New guidelines will encourage projects to also work alongside private companies. Special attention will be devoted to close-to-market approaches to keep project results growing beyond the timeframe of the projects themselves. LIFE will also encourage projects that mobilise complimentary funds from private and public partners to scale-up and replicate their solutions.

The progressive approach laid out in the work programme protects the values that have defined the LIFE programme over the past 25 years, and carries them further to 2020. Its adoption marks the beginning of another chapter for green initiatives in the EU.

More on LIFE

For further information, view the LIFE multiannual work programme 2018-2020 in the Official Journal of the European Union.

The LIFE programme is the only EU funding instrument dedicated exclusively to the environment, nature conservation and climate action. Having co-financed over 4500 projects, the programme has helped implement policies in these fields for 25 years.

Benicàssim recycles spare tiles into climate-resilient drain

LIFE CERSUDS Drainage material from recycled tiles
Photo: LIFE CERSUDS

9 February 2018 The municipality of Benicàssim, on the eastern coast of Spain, is pioneering a sustainable urban drainage system to evacuate torrential rain water from its town centre. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency with which heavy rainfall floods the streets of Mediterranean towns.

As part of the LIFE CERSUDS project, the project consortium has been working on a new kind of drainage system that allows water to seep through the ground, rather than build up on the tarmac.

The innovative design consists of a permeable pavement made of ceramic tiles of low commercial value.  It allows water to flow across its surface, and seep through joints. Underneath the tiles, cells of polypropylene plastic carry rainwater to cisterns or into the soil.

“This prevents localised runoff,” said Celia Rodríguez from the ITC Institute of Ceramic Technology in Castellón, Spain. “Now we are optimising the productive process and demonstrating the technology in the street.”

LIFE CERSUDS Recycled tiles
Photo: LIFE CERSUDS

Construction work has started on one of the most flood-prone streets of Benicàssim. The town’s scenic location between the mountains and the beach exposes it to torrents of water in times of heavy rain. The CERSUDS project is incorporating a ceramic drainage system into the pavement of one particularly vulnerable street to guide excess water into the soil.

Upscaling the technology will require staggering volumes of ceramic tiles. CERSUDS has released a report detailing supply options of this ceramic materials needed to help streets and cities with climatic and productive similar characteristics across Europe adapt to climate change.

“We have estimated an stock pile of low value ceramic tiles in Spain over 5.5 million square meters,” said Celia Rodríguez.

These tiles have little commercial value once their design is dated but they remain solid and watertight. Using techniques optimised by ITC, Spanish mosaic manufacturer Trencadis carved up low-value ceramic tiles and recycled them into the permeable surfaces used in Benicàssim’s sustainable drainage system. Doing so required adapting manufacturing processes, but the result is opening a new business opportunity for the company.

LIFE CERSUDS Artist's view
image: LIFE CERSUDS

Giving spare tiles a second life also keeps them out of landfills, reinforcing the green nature of this sustainable infrastructure. Public authorities attentive to climate adaptation also tend to care about the environmental footprint of their solutions.

The municipality of Benicàssim expects construction work on its demonstration street to last some four months. Once complete, the CERSUDS project will test the new drainage systems and model its performance in similar climates in Portugal and Italy. These results will be presented alongside an action plan for town planners across Europe to follow.

 

 

Member States to benefit from €98.2 million in investments to improve citizens' quality of life

LIFE LOGO

8 February 2018 The European Commission has approved an investment package of €98.2 million to support Europe's transition to a low-carbon, circular economy under the new LIFE funding programme for the Environment and Climate Action.

Today's investment package will contribute towards improving the quality of life for European citizens in five areas: Nature, Water, Air, Waste and Climate Action. The investment covers 10 projects in Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Spain and Sweden. The EU funding will mobilise investments leading to an additional €2 billion, as Member States can make use of other EU funding sources, including agricultural, structural, regional and research funds, as well as national funds and private sector investment.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: "One euro from LIFE mobilises 20 euros from other funding sources. In addition to this remarkable leverage, LIFE Integrated Projects directly respond to concerns voiced by citizens about air and water quality and the impacts of climate change. They enable Member States to tap into resources to tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges today, such as air pollution, water scarcity, circular economy or biodiversity loss in a coordinated way. This is a perfect example of EU funds making a real difference on the ground."

Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said: "These new projects will be a catalyst for regional adaptation to climate change and energy efficient housing. They demonstrate that an inclusive, integrated and climate-smart approach to funding can unlock more investment and improve the lives of citizens across the EU."

Supporting Member States towards a low-carbon and circular economy

The 10 projects have a total budget of €182.2 million, including €98.2 million of EU co-financing.
In the area of the environment, projects have a total budget of €152.7 million, including €80.2 million of EU co-financing, and plan to make use of some €886 million of complementary funding:

  • Nature: 5 projects in Denmark, France, Greece, Lithuania and Sweden will help conserve Europe's nature on a wider scale. For example, by improving the implementation of management plans for nature protected areas (Greece) or by providing incentives to farmers to manage their land in a more environmentally-friendly manner. The specific project in Denmark will help farmers harvest biomass from natural areas, through the development of high-value specialty products, sold at a premium of at least 25%.
  • Water: Projects in Malta and Spain address water scarcity, offering solutions for sustainable water management, such as investing in water treatment and greater reuse of water.
  • Waste management: A project in France aims to improve waste management and prevention in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, contributing to the transition to a circular economy. The project's aim is to increase the amount of organic waste being collected by around 30% and significantly reduce the amount of landfilled household waste.

In the area of climate action, a budget of €29.4 million is available for 2 projects, of which €17.9 million is EU-funded. They will also access more than €1.16billion in complementary funding in support of energy efficiency and climate change adaptation policy priorities.

  • Energy efficiency: A project in Belgium will help renovate more than 8500 homes improving their energy efficiency, while the project in Spain will help the Navarra region with implementing its 2030 climate change adaptation goals.
  • Climate change adaptation: A project addressing climate change adaptation in the region of Navarre, Spain for example by introducing early warning systems for river floods and emergencies involving wastewater treatment.

Descriptions of all 10 new integrated projects can be found in the Integrated projects section.

 

More money for nature and biodiversity

LIFE LOGO

7 February 2018 The EU has increased LIFE funding dedicated to nature conservation and biodiversity by 10%. New EU rules adopted on 16 November 2017 specify that at least 60.5% of the budget allocated to LIFE’s sub-programme for environment will now go towards protecting Europe’s natural capital.

The increase was implemented through a Delegated Regulation, which was consulted with the Members States and then successfully passed the scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council. It was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 18 January 2018.

This decision follows a Fitness Check  of Nature Legislation that highlighted the need for more funding for EU work on nature conservation to reach its potential. This applied also to the LIFE programme and the Natura 2000 network of protected sites.

For over two years, the European Commission has gathered evidence from authorities, experts and the general public on the effectiveness of EU laws on nature conservation. Over 500 000 people responded to an on-line survey as part of this research.

Following the extensive consultation process, a team of 10 Commissioners, supported by the European Committee of the Regions, drew up a plan to boost the traction of the nature policy, and ensure its coherence with broader socio-economic objectives in the EU.

“This is urgently needed, as too many species and habitats which are of the EU conservation concern, are threatened or declining,” said European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella while addressing the first Natura 2000 summit in Munich, Germany. He described LIFE-funded work as key to stopping Europe’s loss of biodiversity and protecting its natural heritage.

The Action Plan for nature, people and the economy has proposed over 100 measures for the EU to roll out by 2019 to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services.

Increasing the share of LIFE funds earmarked for projects on nature and biodiversity is one of the policy measures identified in the Action Plan to strengthen EU investment in nature. Others include leveraging more external funds with public money and stimulating contributions from the private sector.

Towards standard CO2 accounting for sustainable forest management

Photo: LIFE FOREST CO2Lidar image: LIFE FOREST CO2

5 February 2018 The European Parliament promoted action on climate change mitigation by inviting experts from across Europe to discuss the challenges and opportunities of sustainable forest management with Members of the European Parliament.

The meeting was hosted by representatives from the Spanish region of Murcia, which is carrying out a LIFE project on techniques that could help forests mitigate climate change.

The main challenge addressed by the LIFE FOREST CO2 project is to formulate a common methodology to keep track of greenhouse gas emissions and removals in Europe's farms and forests.

At present, there is no internationally recognised procedure to chart the carbon flowing in and out of land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). The project expects to standardise accounting techniques in line with EU objectives on climate action.

Vice-president of the European Parliament Ramón Luis Valcárcel opened the meeting by saying that projects such as LIFE FOREST CO2, which demonstrate the benefits of using resources sustainably, are the "reason for LIFE to continue and be strengthened in the next funding programme".

His remarks were followed by presentations on the aims and issues addressed by the project. Consuelo Rosauro Meseguer, Natural Habitat General Director from the Region of Murcia, emphasised that forest owners are already signing agreements to manage their land in a sustainable way. An ecological label for wood-based products has been instrumental in encouraging the forestry sector to participate in the project.

Ms Rosauro Meseguer described Murcia as a "delicate" region for its small forestry sector. The recently introduced LULUCF Regulation aims to ensure that natural areas, which currently remove on average 10% more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit, remain carbon sinks, or at least carbon neutral in the future. This presents a challenge in her area given the diminishing capacity of its ageing forests to lock in more carbon and increasing competition for land.

"LIFE FOREST CO2 is working with landowners and businesses to create confidence in a voluntary market of carbon credits," explained project leader Miguel Chamón Fernández. "The way to ensure trust and thus greater participation among forest owners and industry is through better methodology."

The accounting procedures that the project is drawing up will help keep track of CO2 emissions and carbon sequestration in forests. Once tested in Murcia, the technique will be replicated in France in view of a broader European roll-out.

Textile treatments stop microplastics released in the wash

Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS

1 February 2018 The LIFE MERMAIDS project has found a natural polymer that fixes synthetic fibres in place, reducing by up to 80% the number of microplastics released when washing clothes.

According to research conducted by the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and the LEITAT technological centre in Spain, a typical 5 kilogramme load of polyester clothing can release millions of microfibres.

Building on these results, the Barcelona-based firm POLYSISTEC is now formulating innovative fabric treatments to keep those plastics safe. Synthetic textile manufacturers like the Radici Group, and fashion brands including G-Star have already taken an interest in the product.

As part of the LIFE MERMAIDS project, the CNR Institute for Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials in Pozzuoli has collaborated with its sister Institute for Macromolecular Studies in Biella, Italy, to test existing laundry products under laboratory conditions. Together they screened the microfibers released in each wash using a scanning electron microscope.

Tiny but toxic

Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS Microfibers
Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS

Plastic particles smaller than 5 millimetres are particularly worrying for the environment because wastewater treatment plants cannot intercept them. When these microplastics break loose from synthetic fabrics, they spread through sewage pipes, rivers and oceans, eventually contaminating food chains.

At present there is no established solution for cleaning microplastics out of the environment, but there are options for catching them at the source.

Researchers in the LIFE MERMAIDS study found that the environmental impact of each load of laundry depends heavily on the type of clothes washed, the detergent and even on the settings of the washing machine.

In a recent scientific study, they showed that woven polyester, powdered detergents and higher temperatures all cause clothes to release particularly high concentrations of microplastics, whereas fabric softeners reduced them – current thinking suggests that it may reduce friction between textile fibres.

Shrimp shells and fruit peels

Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS Laboratory equipment
Photo: LIFE MERMAIDS

These results are helping companies like POLYSISTEC adapt recipes for textile additives to contain the release of microplastics even further.

Dr Maurizio Avella, project coordinator for LIFE MERMAIDS, says that new formulations can be mixed into laundry products, and that even better results can be achieved by combining eco-conscious detergents with finishing treatments applied to textiles before they enter the wash.

“Finishing treatments can protect plastic-based fabrics very well,” he said. “By testing and mixing innovative additives, the MERMAIDS project is helping to reduce the number of microfibers released when washing synthetic textiles.”

Many of these pre-wash treatments are based on synthetic and natural polymers. Researchers have derived some of the most promising candidates from silicone, and compounds found in fruit skins and crustacean shells.

To export their success from the laboratory to home washing machines will require further R&D. Dr Avella is optimistic. He says that that all the ingredients used in the chemical compounds are commercially available, and that initial tests show that the microplastic-catching coatings remain stable in the wash.

 

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