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Italy’s ecological transition with Minister Cingolani

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Alongside Roberto Cingolani, Minister for the Ecological Transition, we imagined what the world will be like in 2040 when his youngest son will be 30 years old. Cingolani helps us understand why we need to act now to put all the knowledge we have to good use. Are you ready to do your part to facilitate a transition that, by the very nature of the term, must be gradual?

Cristina: How will we transition from the world we have to the one we want? We came to Genoa to ask the Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani, physicist, researcher and father of 3 children. Good morning Minister. In 2040 we’ll be 10 years away from the 2050 target of zero emissions and your youngest son will be 30 years old – what will the world look like?

Minister Cingolani: If we’ll have done a good job it could be much cleaner than it is now and above all, there should be much less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we’ll probably start to limit and mitigate the effects of global warming. The problem is that we have to start tomorrow and install all the renewable energy we need, we have to reach 72% of renewable electricity by 2030, so 10 years before the date you mentioned and I have to say that it worries me. Paradoxically, the problem today is neither resources nor technology, nor companies that can install these large plants, especially in Italy where we have lots of know-how. Right now, the most limiting factor is the bureaucratic one. The chain of permits for the installation of photovoltaic, wind and renewable energy plants is so slow, we risk that during the 5-year duration of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), these permits will be issued too late. First of all, we need to simplify the regulatory and authorizational aspects because there is such urgency, we can no longer waste any
time.

Cristina: Let’s imagine that world in 2040 for a moment longer.

Minister Cingolani: Smart mobility, cities on a human scale, greener. Hopefully we will have recovered some biodiversity, and above all, a greater awareness of tomorrow’s adults, today’s children.

Cristina: A question about fossil fuel subsidies is inevitable. Where are we and what do you think is the right destination?

Minister Cingolani: It’s a very delicate subject, unfortunately, sustainability is a compromise between different demands, we must mitigate the damage we’ve done to the environment as soon as possible, but at the same time, we must allow people to live and work. Unfortunately this also depends on contingent situations, we are not coming out of a particularly prosperous and happy period. The subsidies must certainly be reduced as soon as possible, and if we can reduce them we can reinvest a part of these reductions in something that will help create new jobs, including the reconditioning of the transportation industry. It’s a balancing act because if we ideologize the problem we harm workers, if we neglect the problem we harm the environment, so we all need to think about how to reorganize our habits and our lifestyles knowing that nothing is free.

Cristina: Thank you Minister.

Minister Cingolani: Thank you and good luck to everyone.

Cristina: Our country’s green transition must fulfill all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. An eye on the present and an eye to the future!

On air June 12th, 2021

Bees – the sentinels of biodiversity

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Having taken sustainable development to heart for a few decades now and focusing on solutions to our biggest challenges, I tend to think that issues which have been brought to our attention have positively evolved. Sadly that’s not the case but I know we have all the information to evolve as a species and co-exist respectfully with the complex ecosystems that we’re a part of. Speaking with Andrea, the beekeeper I always buy honey from, he introduced me to Luca Bosco and Marco Bergero. Thanks to these dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable young men, I found out that bees and pollinators are more threatened than ever. That’s how this interview came about and I learned how much more there is to do. If you know any hazelnut or almond growers please share this story. Christina Grozinger, Director of the Center for Pollination Research at Penn State confirms that exposure to fungicides, neonicotinoids and insecticides is causing great harm to pollinators. Engaging in conversations with the people we buy produce from is critical to understanding the  impact of our choices.

Cristina: Today is World Biodiversity Day, and the UN wants to bring our attention to the complex dynamics that govern life on earth. Biodiversity is our greatest treasure and monitoring its health is complicated. We are in the Cuneo area to meet Luca, a beekeeper. Luca, why are bees the most precious sentinels of biodiversity?

Luca Bosco: Because everything that arrives in the hive collected by bees is the result of a synergy between different forms of life and, therefore, is a result of the environment’s biodiversity.

Cristina: What do your observations tell you?

Luca Bosco: That the bee’s situation, and pollinators in general, is very serious. We often see episodes of die-offs and poisonings in our hives. Unfortunately we find insecticides, fungicides and herbicides in the matrices of the hives. One herbicide in particular, the molecule glyphosate, is very serious because its discovery, especially in the hive’s honey matrix – maturing honey, is a precise clue. The molecule that is sprayed here can end up anywhere, we find it in the water, in the air, it inevitably ends up in the soil because it’s sprayed on the ground and we also find it in plant pollen and nectar. This is a clear indication that the ecosystem’s natural filters are somehow degrading.

Cristina: Luca, which crops are sprayed the most with these substances?

Luca Bosco: Here we find ourselves in an area of viticulture and coriliculture, so grapes and hazelnuts. In recent years, thanks to the work of the beekeepers association, viticulturists have learned to use pesticides wisely, without causing direct and serious harm to pollinators. On the other hand, as far as hazelnuts are concerned, the matter is still open to discussion because it’s a new crop and, at the moment, the agronomic practices in use leave much to be desired. They are a source of direct poisoning, somehow they’re also the cause of those systematic findings in the hive matrices, especially in this area. We want to appeal to those who grow hazelnuts to follow the path already taken by winemakers.

Cristina: Luca you are about to take some samples, what is their frequency and what are they for?

Luca Bosco: They’re monthly and are used to investigate the possible presence of chemical molecules. Experience tells us that we will most likely find them because in past years, their presence has unfortunately been very assiduous. We know that these molecules are harmful to bees, also because of their somewhat unique ability to purify environmental matrices by absorbing chemical molecules into their bodies, to their own detriment of course, but especially preserving the honey. Somehow, the honey always results pure.

Cristina: How phenomenal. Do you cross-reference this data with others?

Luca Bosco: We cross this data with other measurements that are carried out in the area, in particular with those carried out on the Tanaro River, which you can see just nearby, and the two surveys confirm the same thing, the ubiquitous presence of chemical molecules.

Cristina: Thank you Luca. This story touches all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And what can we do? Talk with beekeepers as much as possible, understand the critical issues in our area and protect it in any way we can. It pays off for everyone. Occhio al futuro

On air May 22nd, 2021

Decarbonization by 2050 with Jeff Sachs

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Jeffrey Sachs is a guiding star of sustainable development, which is why I wanted to feature him in my weekly segment Occhio al futuro. He’s an esteemed academic, a dynamic promoter of a necessary transition and is President of the United Nation’s SDSN (Sustainable Development Solutions Network).

We interviewed him to talk about decarbonization and how reaching zero emissions by 2050 is a crucial goal for the entire world.

Cristina: Professor Sachs joins us again from New York, he’s one of the world’s leading experts on sustainable development. Bentornato, thank you for being with us again. 2050, decarbonization, really the end crucial goal. How can you guide us to understanding obligations and solutions, also how relevant and important it is to act now?

Prof. Jeff Sachs: We need to stop emitting greenhouse gases that are warming the planet and most importantly the carbon dioxide coming from fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. In order to do that, we need to change our very energy, from fossil fuels, to wind and solar and hydro and other low carbon energy. We need to change our transport from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles we need to use clean energy to produce clean fuels like hydrogen. Splitting water to make hydrogen that can be used by industry and we need to stop chopping down the forests which emit carbon dioxide as well. These are the basic pillars. This is a dramatic change because the energy system is at the core of a modern economy, it will take us some decades to do. 2050 has been set because if we don’t decarbonize by 2050 we are likely to experience rises of temperatures beyond the 1,5 C warming that could lead to runaway climate disasters. So, 2050 is a really tough timeline to achieve this because of all the time it will take to replace the vehicles, for the new infrastructure, for the new power plants, but it can be accomplished, this is what serious studies are showing. We can do this, and we can do this in an affordable manner and must urgently move now so that by 2050 we are at zero net emissions of greenhouse gases.

Cristina: In the reports that you have been responsible for compiling, the most encouraging aspect to me was the job opportunities. Could you briefly sum up what we’re looking at?

Prof. Jeff Sachs: There’s a lot of new jobs and new clean green industry that will be created from this transformation. And the truth of the matter is the old fossil fuel sector that has to go away, basically over time, was so capital intensive, it didn’t have so many jobs. We’re going to see a net creation of jobs in the new green digital world.

Cristina:  This is the greatest challenge of our time, let’s turn it into an opportunity. Occhio al futuro

On air 4/17/2021

Econyl – regenerated nylon yarn

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We know that the textile industry, as a whole, is among the biggest polluters. However, there are those who are turning the tide: Aquafil, with its regenerated nylon yarn Econyl, produces textile fibers from scraps, waste and new materials. Producing positive actions and changes for the economy, society and the environment, along their entire production chain.

Cristina: We know that the textile industry, as a whole, is among the biggest polluters. However, there are those who are turning the tide by producing textile fibers from scraps, waste and new materials.
In this company, the factories are powered 100% by renewable energies and closed cycle water is used in every phase of production. They’ve implemented environmental protocols throughout the supply chain and educational projects for employees and in schools.
Research is carried out on new biomass materials, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced every year, programs to protect the seas are promoted and life cycle analysis are carried out for all products. Together, these actions fulfill 8 of the 17 SDGs – the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For every 10,000 tons of raw material from the recycling process, 70,000 barrels of oil are avoided and the equivalent of 57,100 tons of CO2 are saved.
This is how fishing nets are transformed, along with other nylon waste. In 2018, 78 tons were recovered from NGOs operating throughout Europe. Once cleaned, the nets are chemically transformed, the liquid becomes polymer and the polymer becomes yarn. The result is that more and more yarn comes from a regeneration process. To become carpets, glasses, bags, clothes, swimwear.
Dr. Bonazzi, can you imagine fulfilling the nylon market demand with only recycled and reclaimed materials?

Giulio Bonazzi: No, unfortunately not, even if all nylon could be recovered, it would never be enough to guarantee future needs. In addition, recycling has its own environmental impact, we try to constantly improve it, but it’s important to understand how we recycle and how to minimize impacts during the process.

Cristina: What does it mean for you to innovate? Both as a citizen and as an entrepreneur?

Giulio Bonazzi: For me, innovating means quitting something that’s outdated to do something new. Before recycling you have to reduce raw materials, reuse and then, recycle.

Cristina: Do you already have a new family of materials ready?

Giulio Bonazzi: Yes, we want to produce nylon from renewable sources or from biomass, actually we’ve already produced the first kilos.

Cristina: Could we notice the difference between yarn derived from oil, recycling or biomass?

Giulio Bonazzi: No, the finished products are perfectly identical but the difference in environmental impact is huge.

Cristina: What a fine example of circular economy. Thanks Dr. Bonazzi. Occhio al futuro!

On air January 18, 2020

The power of trash

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Arthur Huang, architect, engineer and CEO of Miniwiz explains his processes and machines to use the most abundant resource on our planet: trash! Trashpresso, a portable solar-powered recycling machine was in Milan’s Parco Sempione during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2018.

PART I

Cristina: Arthur, what is the power of trash for you?

Arthur Huang: It is the most abundant resource that’s out there right now. It’s in our ocean, it’s in our water, it’s even in the glacier at 4.900m. This trash resource is growing so I think we need to do something about it to power our new way of designing and our lifestyle.

Cristina: You are doing something about it. How many systems have you designed?

Arthur Huang: We actually designed 1.200 new processes and they come with 4 big categories of machinery, which can sort and transform the material from the original raw source of trash that we throw away every day from cups, bottles, packaging, all the way to waste fiber. From these four major categories we can go into lots of different variations of pre-fabricated material for designers and engineers to be able to use in building construction or for products.

Cristina: You’re wearing a number of your new materials. Can you point them out?

Arthur Huang: This is 100% single material, without glue in it, it’s made 100% from plastic bottles. This is also made with 100% plastic bottles but it feels like wool. The shoes are also made from recycled PET. Even the buttons and the sunglasses and the watch strap are made from cigarette butts. This button was made from four butts, that we collected from Switzerland and Italy and we’re turning into a new form of buttons and hardware and sunglasses. These are the sunglasses.

Cristina: And how much energy does it take to actually strip some of these materials from their toxic elements?

Arthur Huang: It is actually much easier than you think, that’s why we designed the portable machine called Trashpresso, to demonstrate how little energy is used. All of the machines are actually powered by the sun, all the water and air is internally recycled, so we want to show people that the transformation process actually requires very little energy, as little energy as possible. You get a 90% savings in energy in the transformation, rather than going out there into the ocean, taking out the oil, producing that and transforming it into raw material.

Cristina: There are no toxins left in the the cigarette button?

Arthur Huang: Actually we did a whole set of safety tests and there isn’t anything left in the cigarette butts after the transformation process, there are some fumes, but they’re captured by the machine. A lot of times during the transformation process the toxins are actually already exposed in terms of fume.

PART II

Cristina: We’re reading on the papers that there’s more recycled materials than the market demands, so this is a critical issue, and people are burning these stocks of transformed trash. How can your strategy and your system have an impact on a global scale?

Arthur Huang: First of all, most of our systems are designed to be portable. I think this is very important, you need to take the transformation technology as close to the trash source as possible. Most of the problem today is that when you recycle, you mix the materials. Once you get contamination, the material has no value, once the material has no value, the transformation process has become very expensive and it also becomes more environmentally damaging. The idea is to bring the machine as close to the source as possible and then you can transform it into a medium that the designers and engineers can work with on site.

Cristina: From your experience where are the missing links to be able to harness all this expertise, intelligence and solutions?

Arthur Huang: The missing link is the recycling process itself, you need to know how to sort the trash. That’s the first question. All the recycled materials out there, no matter how much percentage you collect, in reality only less than 2% is being used to be turned into some sort of recycled substitute material. And then on top of that, after you know how to sort and process the material, you have to know how to form it. And there is the whole transformation process with all the different data that’s needed. You also need application, is it going to go into shoes? Jackets? Is it going into a chair, or a building? These all have different specifications, so right now all that missing link of data is what we are working on. We are opening up a material database with 1.200 new materials in it to open source data from our learning in the last 15 years to give to institutions for education so young designers and engineers can play with the material. So we are trying to fill the missing link with data.

Cristina: What is your moonshot?

Arthur Huang: Our moonshot right now is to build an airplane made out of trash. We actually bought an airplane from Germany and we shipped it to Taiwan and now we’re actually trying to come up with a new process to build an airplane wing made from recycled PET.

Greg Maryniak and the “magic number”

By ecology, sdg 7

Gregg Maryniak, Singularity University’s energy expert, tells us about the “magic number”,  which the United Nations index uses to put the health of the people in relation to the quantity of energy produced by society. The challenge of the future is to provide that amount of energy without destroying the planet. Maryniak depicts possible scenarios of energy storage and how competitions are driving the search for effective solutions to ensure a brighter future.

Cristina: Gregg, how are we going to solve the energy issue globally, do you think?

Gregg Maryniak: Well, the biggest issue with energy is getting enough of it so that people can live well, and there’s a magic number, a magic amount of electricity that, when people have that much electricity, they are prosperous as a society. The challenge is getting that much energy without destroying the earth’s biosphere. For the whole world, the average is about 93% of our usable civilization energy comes from burning stuff. China doubled its electric power capacity between 2005 and 2010. No matter what happens in Europe and the United States, if India and China continue on the path that they’re in— we’re not talking about leveling off; we’re talking about how long will it be until they double the world’s carbon output, and it’s on the order of a dozen years. So I think the most interesting thing in the energy space today is the issue of energy storage. How can we store energy so that when it’s raining energy from the sky, we collect it and save it so we have it at night, so we have it when the wind isn’t blowing. Most people, when they think of energy storage, they think about batteries, but batteries are very expensive. The tiny battery that you have in your toys at home or your little flashlight costs almost a thousand times more for the electricity from that than what you get from the main current in your wall. We need something in between, and there are some interesting possible technologies. Some involve chemistry—electrochemistry, so they look kind of like batteries to most people, but they’re radically different from the batteries that we carry in our devices. We’ve become pretty good at storing heat energy, so we’re starting to see, in places that have a lot of sunshine— like Italy, like Spain— solar plants that collect the thermal energy from the sun—the heat energy. There are new techniques for compressing air when energy is cheap, say in the middle of the night, and then using that compressed air to expand out through turbines during the day. Most people, when they think about energy, they think about how do you— how do you generate the energy, or more properly, convert it, but the hidden part—weak point in the system is the storage. Technology prizes are extremely powerful ways to drive big changes. If smart teams from around the world can demonstrate their technologies to do that, people will be watching, and they will adopt it. And those people would include the current industry and governments that have to make policies. So it’s very possible that it will lead to change, but the thing with these prizes is, you don’t know until you try. So we’ll try.