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News: November 2018

Making ceramics more climate-friendly


15 November 2018The ceramics industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, producing an estimated 1.84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide globally each year. A prototype kiln tested by the LIFE ECONOMICK project has shown significant improvements in energy performance.

The project is led by the Italian group SE.TE.C, which set out in July 2016 to develop a shuttle kiln for firing sanitaryware and tableware with similar levels of specific fuel consumption to a tunnel kiln.
Shuttle kilns are more flexible than tunnel kilns, but they are also more energy intensive. “They lack the internal heat recovery systems typical of tunnel kilns,” explains project manager Antonio Fortuna.

To reduce energy consumption, LIFE ECONOMICK has focused on two crucial aspects of shuttle kilns: heat recovery and insulation. A patented technology is being used to recover heat from flue gases to pre-heat combustion air. “Significantly, this technology does not use flues or additional pipes and above all does not alter the fluid dynamics of the flue gases in any way,” notes Mr Fortuna.

Insulation materials have been selected so as to achieve the best combination of weight and thermal conductivity. The result is “a lining that minimises thermal inertia and at the same time has a cool wall temperature of below 60°C,” he adds.

Testing the prototype


A prototype of the new shuttle kiln was installed in April 2018 at the facilities of project partner Kerasan. The company is a well-known sanitaryware manufacturer in the Civita Castellana cluster in Viterbo province, north of Rome.

The 9 cubic metres kiln was tested for six months in order to monitor consumption and productivity levels during single firing of ceramic sanitaryware.

By pre-heating combustion air, optimising insulation and using software to better manage air and gas flows in the kiln, results have more than met expectations. The project reports 45-47% lower energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions compared to a conventional shuttle kiln. Nitrogen oxide emissions are also lower. In terms of productivity, “complete cycles (cold-to-cold) can be performed in 12 hours, making it possible to perform up to 2 cycles/day,” says Mr Fortuna. In addition, since the prototype kiln has a cool face temperature of less than 50 degrees Celsius, there is “greater well-being and safety of operators present in the kiln area,” he adds.

Stages to commercialisation

“Now that tests have been completed in the Kerasan factory, the Economick kiln will be installed at the facility of Ceramica Bianca in Romania for sanitaryware refiring,” says Mr Fortuna. A third round of tests - for tableware firing - will subsequently take place at Ceramica Cuore's factory in Civita Castellana, Italy.

SE.TE.C is already planning to commercialise the technology through trade fairs and direct contact with its main customers. “This technology is valid for sanityware, tableware and in general for all ceramics,” says Mr Fortuna. Emissions could be further reduced if it becomes possible to recover residual flue gas heat as well.

Sustainable farming to mitigate climate change

Emilio Gonzalez, ClimAgri coordinator Emilio Gonzalez, ClimAgri coordinator

13 November 2018A clear message emerged at the November LIFE ClimAgri workshop at the European Parliament: faced with climate change, current intensive farming practices are unsustainable.

Farmers and agricultural experts at the ClimAgri workshop described a host of challenges facing the industry. Soil loss caused by erosion, more days with high temperatures, and high levels of soil degradation on their land are all factors negatively impacted by climate variations. And conventional tilling practices, which cause soil layering and prevent water from penetrating the surface, compound many of the problems. The farming industry has to find working methods which are sustainable for the environment and make financial sense.

Seizing upon carbon capture

Carbon storage is one vital way to mitigate climate change, says Emilio Gonzalez-Sanchez, LIFE ClimAgri project coordinator. “Our role is to break the cycle of carbon by storing it in agricultural soils.” In order to do this, the project is showing how the farming sector can use conservation agriculture to reduce the amount of carbon released from the soil. This activity is known as carbon sequestration.

“Farmers see soil degradation in front of their eyes, and have responded with ‘conservation agriculture’,”, says Amir Kassam, a member of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “It is far more resilient and efficient than anything else we know.”

Conservation agriculture is a management practice which implies

  • avoiding tillage to disturb the soil as little as possible
  • creating a permanent groundcover with a growing crop or mulch
  • rotating or diversifying crops planted

Demoing conservation agriculture

ClimAgri has built a network of demonstration farms where conservation best management practices have been put in place. Conservation agriculture is at the forefront of these practices.

“20 years ago it was seen as mad to allow weeds to grow,” says Rafael Calleja, an agricultural engineer and farmer on the demonstration farm in Andalusia, Spain. “But weeds are our allies to protect the soil.”

ClimAgri demonstration farm ClimAgri demonstration farm

The 13 demonstration farms in Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy show significant environmental and financial benefits.

A study plot in Portugal, where organic matter had all but disappeared, showed increases from 0.2% to 2% of organic matter in 6 years. It also reported reduced soil run-off, lower machinery emissions and increased biodiversity. The farm implemented direct seeding – where seeds are inserted with a drill to minimise soil disruption – and crop cover.

In Italy, a demonstration farm is using precision technology including global satellites and geographic information systems to track data such as soil compaction, texture and nitrogen levels. These insights enable the farm to optimise the amount of seeds and fertiliser used. ‘Casoni’s Farm’ combines precision agriculture techniques with conservation agriculture in its search for sustainability.

Similar conservation techniques are being used on 3 plots in Greece, with no negative effects on yields.

Economical as well as environmental

Conservation agriculture has other significant benefits which can act as a real incentive for farmers. Results from ClimAgri demonstrations have shown

  • energy cuts of up to 35%, including less fertiliser and better use of pesticides
  • water savings of 30-40%, and reduced energy and labour costs of 50-70%
  • over 10% more organic carbon in the soil
  • Significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as less nitrous oxide

Globally, conservation agriculture offers other opportunities well beyond the national perspective. The ClimAgri team notes that by implementing the practices more widely, the agricultural sector would offset greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors such as transport and energy. And the practices would help governments meet international agreements such as the Paris agreement, the EU’s 2050 low-carbon economy roadmap, and UN sustainable development goals.

Timely legislation

The EU is currently drafting significant legislation that will determine the next period of agricultural funding until the end of 2027. The European Parliament and European Council are assessing European Commission proposals on the EU’s common agricultural policy, known as the CAP. The Commission proposes that 40% of the next agricultural budget would contribute to climate action.

The Commission is also looking to streamline and simplify the EU budget, Jean-Claude Merciol, Head of LIFE at the Commission’s environment department explained. One way of streamlining is by running projects like ClimAgri which demonstrate repeated success in multiple EU countries.

EU Raw Materials Week 2018 – closing the loop on critical raw materials

Copper, public domain image Copper, public domain image

8 November 2018Three projects funded by LIFE are forging new ways to recycle everyday products that contain critical raw materials (CRM). Recovering more critical raw materials is central to the EU’s move towards a more circular economy. This subject is part of the 2018 EU Raw Materials Week, a 5-day event which brings together the raw materials community to discuss policies, technology, and frameworks from a global perspective. LIFE is manning an information stand to showcase the LIFE programme and promote funded projects. 

Fundamentals of critical raw materials

Critical raw materials are used more and more in everyday products, from mobile phones and laptops, to household appliances, to fluorescent lightbulbs. Precious metals like gold or yttrium, rare earths, and minerals like graphite or cobalt are considered ‘critical’ because they are

  • used by industries with a high economic value for the EU – including consumer electronics, green tech and automotive
  • sourced from a small concentration of countries outside the EU and so vulnerable to supply disruption
  • fundamental to achieving a shift to a greener society

Out of the loop

Critical raw materials are everywhere in the modern world, but not enough recycling takes place. Recycling standards are missing, manufacturers and recyclers need to find new ways to share information, and businesses lack data on the potential benefits of recycling these materials. And the process of recycling – as well as mining and refining – can have significant environmental impacts if not properly managed.

LIFE projects seek innovative methods that show how critical raw materials can be recycled in an economically viable way – and how they can meet the requirements of a true circular economy.

Trialling viable solutions

Public WEEE Collection bin. Public WEEE Collection bin.
Co-op Grocery Store, Milan

CRMRecovery, coordinated by The Waste and Resources Action Programme in the UK, focuses on better ways to extract critical raw materials from electronic waste. By conducting collection and recovery trials in 4 EU countries, the project is showing how recovery targets can be increased by 5% within the project cycle and 20% by 2030. Through this, CRMRecovery would demonstrate EU-wide environmental, economic and social benefits.

"In October 2018 we started sharing our recommendations for policy and infrastructure [pdf]. And on 20 February 2019, we will host our final conference in London to discuss and celebrate our work," explained the project team.

Lighting up a new source of materials

Light bulbs, Pixbay Light bulbs, Pixbay

The LOOP project in France tackled an unexplored resource of rare elements in Europe: powder waste from fluorescent lightbulbs. Using an innovative process developed by Rhodia (now Solvay), LOOP showed that 90% of this waste could be recycled and used to produce new energy-efficient bulbs.

Recycling these elements has wide benefits across the EU: the materials are used in high-tech electronics and green technologies. And since demand is growing 6% each year, having a new supply source will reduce the EU’s reliance on imports from outside Europe.

Screen dependence

LIFE RECUMETAL also focuses on how to recycle raw materials from electronic waste and reduce EU dependency on supply chains outside Europe. Partners in Navarra, Spain, are building a pilot recycling plant which will show how flat panel displays can be disassembled and their metals extracted. Up to 80% of indium and yttrium could be recycled from 100 tonnes of flat panel display waste. As well as making significant gains on the levels of materials recycled, the project will help to reduce the EU’s footprint in other countries which have lower controls on extraction and recycling processes.

Together, these projects will help to

  • reduce waste from our everyday electronic devices
  • reuse the critical materials they contain
  • drive new processes for the waste and recycling industries, and create jobs
  • minimise the EU’s dependency on other countries, especially China, to source and recycle critical materials

See also

Publication: LIFE and the circular economy [pdf 15MB]

Lists of critical raw materials and global supply overview

2018 report on CRM and the circular economy [pdf 4MB]

Innovative technologies to help deter environmental crime

Photo: LIFE Natura Themis Photo: LIFE Natura Themis

5 November 2018Environmental and wildlife crimes are cross-border, global problems that need modern solutions. LIFE projects are using new technologies and digital platforms to help national authorities identify crimes and deter potential offenders. A 2018 LIFE publication on wildlife crime details the many projects supported by LIFE, from training to prevention to enforcement and prosecution.

Catching and prosecuting environmental criminals is the task of the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE). LIFE-ENPE together with 2 other projects – LIFE Natura Themis and the LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project – organised a conference last month on protecting habitats and endangered species. “If we, as prosecutors, can catch those who committed the crime, if we can prosecute, obtain damages and remove the proceeds of crime, then we can make others stop and think twice,” said Anne Brosnan, ENPE President and LIFE-ENPE project sponsor at the event.

Reporting crime in Crete

Photo: LIFE Natura Themis Photo: LIFE Natura Themis

The LIFE Natura Themis project in Crete encourages members of the public to submit anonymous reports about environmental and wildlife crimes to the authorities. Reports are possible via the online app ‘LIFE Natura Themis’, available for free download on Android and iOS. The app gives members of the public an easy tool to submit reports, and because they can be made anonymously, people have more incentive to speak out – especially on possible crimes in their local area.

“So far the app has been downloaded by more than 120 users and more than 70 reports have been registered,” says Michalis Probonas, the project coordinator. “Most of them have been forwarded to the competent authorities to act on.” Reports are overseen by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, analysed and, if appropriate, passed to the authorities.

One report from an anonymous citizen has led to a successful prosecution, where solid waste was found to have been illegally dumped on private land near a Natura 2000 site. A €2 000 fine was imposed on the manager of the business responsible.

Ambitions for the project extend beyond Crete. After it ends in September 2020, LIFE Nature Themis will hand over the app to the Greek environment and energy ministry so it can be rolled out across the whole country.

Streamlining intelligence on waste crime


In the UK, the LIFE SMART Waste project runs an online communications hub for regulatory bodies and other interest groups to work together on prevention and intervention. LIFE SMART Waste is led by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). The cross-European hub generates a wealth of information on the waste industry. This enables enforcement agencies to spot vulnerable areas that could become subject to criminal activity.

LIFE SMART Waste is now looking to pilot a secure, web-based application to supplement the hub. “Initially related to cross-border movement of waste, this may offer a potential to share classified intelligence between agencies in the UK and Europe,” explains Iain Brockie, LIFE SMART Waste Technical Team Unit Manager.

LIFE SMART Waste has also created a new practical toolkit to help regulators gather intelligence to identify trends and emerging issues, using publicly-available information. Issues identified can be discussed with interested parties and external experts during workshops. “Gathering these signals of change can provide valuable insights into the future development of waste crime and criminal behaviour,” says Mr Brockie.

A legal footing

The EU’s Environmental Crime Directive requires EU countries to treat certain breaches of EU environmental law as crimes. Killing and trade of protected species, for example, should be prosecuted by national authorities. The LIFE programme has invested over € 80 million in more than 50 projects targeting environmental crimes.

EU legislation on environmental crime
Publication: LIFE and wildlife crime


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