|Research > Growth > Research themes > Products & processes > Clean technologies feature: Major commitment to sustainable development in Europe|
|Clean technologies feature: Major commitment to sustainable development in Europe|
An estimated 30% of research funded under the European Commission’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) is devoted to clean technologies and recycling processes for industry. These include waste prevention, conservation of resources by reducing the use of raw materials and energy, recovery of reusable constituents and making better use of products at the end of their lives. With a budget of over € 1100 million within FP5, the GROWTH programme alone has supported some 1000 industrial technologies and materials projects.
Human activities in providing food, shelter and comfort have long resulted in undesirable impacts on the earth’s environment. Prior to the industrial revolution, these effects were generally contained at local or regional level. The past century, however, has been characterised by the globalisation of environmental threats and their extension to create new forms of environmental degradation. It is estimated that Europe now produces between 1 and 2 billion tonnes of waste each year, of which at least 30 million tonnes can be described as ‘hazardous’.
Although manufacturing industry is certainly a contributor to many and various types of contamination, pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources, it also plays a growing role in providing solutions to environmental problems.
Former simplistic solutions described as ‘foul and flee’, ‘dilute and disperse’ and ‘concentrate and contain’ are clearly no longer adequate. Nor can the ‘end-of-pipe’ treatments adopted in the 1960s meet today’s requirements, as these frequently generate further undesirable by-products that in turn require neutralisation or disposal.
Shift to more integrated approach
‘The modern factory’, one of five targeted research actions (TRAs) in the innovative products, processes and organisation section of GROWTH, aims to stimulate the production of new or better quality products at reduced costs in a fast-changing industrial world. It embraces waste reduction and the optimisation of resources in all phases of the product life cycle. In addition, it seeks to encourage the design, construction and operation of safe and sustainable industrial facilities – as well as the rehabilitation, upgrading and decommissioning of existing installations.
Facing up to tougher targets
However, the need to achieve ever higher recycling targets in all sectors means that methods must be found to treat material streams of decreasing quality, or increasing complexity, as cheaply as possible. This entails research into optimised pre-treatment techniques – automatic sorting, separation, cleaning and so on – as well as into the extraction processes themselves.
In modern automotive construction, growing use of plastics, advanced composite materials and integrated sub-assemblies brings real benefits in terms of weight saving and reduced fuel consumption – not to mention lower cost and improved safety. On the other hand, it greatly complicates the eventual segregation of the components of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).
The number of ELVs in Western Europe is expected to soar from around seven million a year at present to around ten million by 2015. While a high proportion of the raw materials, ranging from metals and glass to plastics, can already be recycled, reused or recovered, a large tonnage still finds its way as waste into landfill sites.
The EU Directive on End-of-Life Vehicles, agreed in May 2000, places the responsibility on manufacturers to take back and deal with all new cars put on the market after 1 July 2001, and existing cars from January 2007. By the end of 2005, the makers will be required to reuse and recycle 80% of cars’ total weight.
The rapid proliferation and reducing life cycles of consumer appliances, electrical and electronic goods pose similar and fast-growing problems. The EU currently produces over eight million tonnes of electronic waste a year. Here, too, laws such as the proposed EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment will oblige the manufacturers to assume responsibility for the costs of collecting and recycling wastes from their products, as well as for finding replacements for banned materials.
In both cases, several participants – dismantlers,
shredders, recyclers and material producers – may be involved in
dealing with the environmental outcomes, each having their own separate
priorities. A number of individual projects and networks have therefore
been set up within GROWTH to facilitate research collaboration between
the various parties, identify knowledge gaps, and deliver solutions with