Despite their undeniable contribution to the progress of our society, technologies can also have environmental impacts, as well as posing a toxicity risk. In this context, clean technologies, also called Cleantech, are a sustainable alternative to traditional technologies, while at the same time, ensuring competitive performance. From renewable energy to green mobility and biomaterials, this discipline encompasses a wide range of sectors involved in the development of a circular economy.
On the occasion of the CleanTech Forum Europe, which will take place for the first time virtually on 18-20 May 2020*, Enrico Benetto, head of the Environmental Sustainability Assessment and Circularity unit, answered our three questions on the topic.
A clean technology is a technology that uses raw materials and energy rationally, while minimizing its environmental impact and its toxicity risk throughout its life cycle. At first glance, a hybrid or electric vehicle could be considered clean, as it does not emit greenhouse emissions during use. However, it is important to look at how the electricity consumed is produced (e.g. is it actually from a renewable source?), whether the vehicle production and supply chains are clean (e.g. has the vehicle been designed ecologically?) and, last but not least, whether the vehicle’s end-of-life has been planned (e.g. how will the batteries be reused/recycled once they no longer perform adequately?).
Within the framework of the circular economy, we want to use the resources sustainably and optimally by closing the materials’ cycles. This can be done by returning renewable resources to their natural environment (biological cycle), or by keeping technical materials in the economy for as long as possible while maintaining or even increasing their value (technological cycle). Consequently, the design, use and end-of-life of a CleanTech can positively impact the circularity of the economy.
By providing innovative and sustainable solutions to manufacturers and policymakers, LIST is proving itself as an emerging CleanTech hub, carrying out projects in a wide range of sectors, such as materials, the environment and IT. For example, LIST researchers recently received European funding to develop a material enabling the production of hydrogen by using renewable energies to split water molecules. Other LIST researchers are working on software solutions in order to optimize mobility and supply chain flows, for example in the field of construction, and thereby reduce CO2emissions. Finally, other research groups are focusing on the design of clean technologies for the production of bioenergies and biomaterials (GreenTech). Another strength of LIST is its experience in sustainability, and the toxicological and regulatory assessment of (clean) technologies. In particular, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology is used to quantify the environmental and health benefits of innovative technologies and products. Since it considers the whole life cycle of a technology, LCA is a powerful tool for designing efficient CleanTech.
The CleanTech Forum Europe event has the great advantage of bringing together all the actors in the field of clean technologies. Innovators, researchers, corporate actors and investors all interact on concrete topics, such as the technical, financial and marketing aspects of CleanTech. With diverse and common topics, such as cities, the discussions aim to provide innovative solutions in the areas of transport, construction, energy and many others.
*In light of the pandemic that has recently hit Europe, event organizers are currently working on the development of a fully virtual forum, during which panels and discussions will be conducted through videoconferences. This first virtual event will be an opportunity to establish connections and topics, as well as to identify participants who could participate at a physical event in December 2020.