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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Cross-disciplinary themes > Collaborative research for a long-lasting sustainable development
Graphic element Collaborative research for a long-lasting sustainable development
    05-12-2002
 

The four years covered by the GROWTH Programme under FP5 were characterised by a rapidly changing background: the development of ERA; the Lisbon strategy; the Barcelona declaration; the Gothenburg Council. In this context, the role of industrial research in achieving socio-economic growth and more in particular, sustainable competitiveness has been strongly emphasised.

Sustainability – ‘meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations’ – has long been a principle underlying European Commission funded research.

United Nations (UN) summits held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Kyoto in 1997 put sustainable development firmly on the global political map, while the 1999 Amsterdam treaty made its implementation a core task for the EU. The need to link sustainability and research was reiterated at the Lisbon Council of March 2000. New proposals were defined in detail at the Stockholm summit in March 2001 – and endorsed at the European Council in Gothenburg in June 2001.

The final conclusions from Gothenburg emphasised that setting clear and stable objectives for sustainable development would present significant economic opportunities, offering the potential to unleash a new wave of technological innovation and investment, as well as generating growth and employment. The Council therefore stressed the importance of decoupling economic growth from resource use and invited industry to take part in the development and wider use of new environment-friendly technologies – an approach already adopted in GROWTH beyond the European arena.

Legal imperatives
 

European research activities provide much support to policy development. The Research and Environment DGs work closely together to ensure complementarities in work already carried out, and being carried out, by European researchers in the research framework programmes and the Environment DG action plan for the development of clean technologies and wastes, nature conservation, the elimination of dangerous substances and risk prevention.

For example, 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, carmakers 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 electronics 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 across-the-board applicability.

 
GROWTH in action
 

“Such an approach means modernising production systems and rethinking the use of products and services, taking into account factors such as end-of-life technology, reuse and recovery and internalisation of external costs,” says Hervé Pero, Head of Unit for products, processes and organisation.

Collaborative research is making important contributions in the drive to decouple economic growth from the consumption of finite resources.

 
…. some examples …
 

GROWTH funded projects have achieved important results in sectors such as pulp and paper to provide some examples.

The ECOTISSUE project covers the treatment of cellulose fibres to improve the bio-compatibility of paper when in contact with the skin, a treatment that also optimises the use of water, energy and chemical products. In most cases, emissions are reduced to zero. PAPER KIDNEY tackles the problem of water recycling with the added aim of improving paper quality, reducing the use of chemical products and cutting waste as energy consumption (50% to 80% reduction is expected). ‘Towards zero liquid effluent’ is a CRAFT project, involving eight SMEs and dealing with a new pulp treatment process to optimise the use of water. A reduction of 50% of water consumption is expected.

Examples are also available related to the chemical industry that forms the EU’s second largest manufacturing sector. Success to date in achieving cleaner production result from both technology developments and from strong cooperation between all actors involved.

The CHEM project is a good example of integration: launched in the framework of the IMS initiative with the USA and Japan, partners from 10 countries and more than € 3.7 million in Community funding, it is aimed at developing methods and analytical software for chemical processes to increase industrial safety.

INTINT is characterise by the participation of a large number of partners from EU candidate countries and is focused on more environmentally-friendly processes which will reduce the number of steps in manufacturing as well as any undesirable products by combining the chemical reaction and product distillation phase.

The SUPERPOL project explores new manufacturing processes that use supercritical carbon dioxide and are a ‘clean’ alternative to the use of harmful and costly solvents.

 
The importance of environmental technologies
 

The European Research Area (ERA) provides an ideal environment within a critical mass can be achieved by integrating collaborative projects and using the individual strengths of Member States to resolve problems that are faced by the EU as a whole.

“Clean technologies and recycling processes will be essential in making progress towards sustainable development,” insists European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “Over the past five years, dozens of projects have made it possible to develop clean processes in nearly all industrial sectors.”

Just to provide a few examples linked with recycling: TOLIZEWA (towards zero liquid waste) concerns liquid discharges from surface treatment plants; “Recycling of polymer materials” is a cluster of 13 RTD projects dealing with sorting and separation technologies, recycling of plastic and rubber, upgrading and use of recycled and bio-degradable polymers; the development of technologies for clean processes with zero waste production through waste prevention and recovery is a specific objective of the newly launched Virtual European Recycling Centre (VERC), while a recently funded thematic network (ILE) will soon make it possible to promote at international level the best technologies for the treatment of liquid industrial effluent in many sectors.

“All this demonstrates the dynamism of a new European industry that is supplying the technologies for depollution and the recycling of waste. Today, this has a turnover of € 180 billion and generates over 500,000 jobs. Its growth rate is estimated at around 10% per annum, not only in Europe, but also and especially in the developing countries.

 
The role of materials research and nanotechnology
 

In the field of materials research, “the challenge is now to create new materials that integrate intelligence, functionalities and autonomy. Such materials will not only provide innovative answers to existing needs, but also accelerate the transition from traditional industry to high-tech products and processes, bringing a more pro-active stance with regard to both environmental and socio-economic sustainability,” says Luisa Prista, head of the Materials Unit.

Making things smaller or longer lasting, eliminating waste and improving process efficiency can achieve savings in materials and resources. Nanotechnology is seen as a great hope for the future but some achievements are already a reality. The CARBEN project is developing an industrial-scale system for the manufacture of carbon nanostructures that have a more controllable porosity and can give a fully active surface area 10 to 100 times greater than that of the current graphite-like material. This will find application in super-capacitors with high energy and power densities for use in trains and other electric vehicles as well as in a unique regenerative fuel cell (RFC) technology for bulk electric storage. Nanocomposites with tailormade electrical, magnetic or chemical properties are being produced in NANOPTT project by filling nanosized holes in polymer membranes with various combinations of metals or other polymers. Such a material can be used as screening to shield microwave ovens and mobiles phones or as the active sensors in ‘artificial noses’ and miniaturised ‘lab-on-chip’ devices for detecting biochemical reactions.

 
The importance of pooling efforts
 

The EU RTD programmes represent a unique platform for networking, joining forces and integrating efforts. Turning to modalities, already under FP5, GROWTH has strongly encouraged the ‘integration’ of disciplines, partners and activities as well as the move towards networking and projects clustering. Such an approach enables participants to exchange experiences and look for possible synergies in the research being undertaken. This avoids duplication of effort, aids development of Europe-wide standards, and promotes widespread adoption of best practices. In addition, it facilitates the broader dissemination of results and communication with a larger potential user base.

As a natural evolution from research within GROWTH, FP6 will increase the socio-economic dimension of its research projects, and include provision for the development of methods to measure sustainability. It will also embrace studies of the technologies and systems for optimal use of resources, as identified by the Stockholm Council in May 2001.

 
Legal imperatives
GROWTH in action
…. some examples …
The importance of environmental technologies
The role of materials research and nanotechnology
The importance of pooling efforts
   
     

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