EU R&I days: Green Deal debates


The European Green Deal, and how research and innovation will support and lead this vital policy priority for the EU, was one of the key themes running through the European Research & Innovation Days 2020 that took place virtually at the end of September. SusChem reflects on the topic and how the  R&I priorities in sustainable chemistry are highly relevant here too.

"We are living in a time of extreme turmoil, but this can also stimulate great creative forces," said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of European Commission. In every crisis there are opportunities to innovate, to find new ways to do things and work towards transformation and new solutions. And research, innovation and education can enable these transitions. There is a need to work beyond the traditional research and innovation boundaries, he felt, address common objectives and bring all stakeholders along, ensuring a ‘Just Transition’.

Horizon 2020 Green Deal call

Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General of DG Research, highlighted that the Green Deal Call is more about using what has already been developed and demonstrating it, than developing new systems. He described the Call as ambitious and it is worth 1 billion €.  He emphasised that the Commission is looking for solutions that can be implemented quickly, based on existing research results. But the process must also be democratic, involving real people and discussions in places around Europe. No one must be left behind.

The call covers 20 topics in 10 areas with 90% of the budget going to eight areas, including climate, energy, and clean industry – all areas of SusChem interest. Climate action is a key area going forward with some 35% of future Horizon Europe budget to be devoted to climate goals, Paquet said.

The deadline for proposals is 26 January 2021 with grant decisions expected around May 2021 and agreements signed off by the end of September.  The competitive nature of the call was emphasized and proposals should build on previous project results. Clear and significant impact potential would be essential and should be quantified if possible. A clear dissemination and deployment plan would also be important for evaluation success.

Clean energy

Amplifying the energy theme, a Green Deal session looked at how R&I can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy sources - a core pillar for matching climate targets. Decarbonising energy through using clean energy everywhere will be crucial to reach both 2030 and 2050 objectives.

Renewables are already competitive in the market today, following a huge global investment. But a big challenge highlighted by Nicola Rossi of Enel Group,  is “to pass from renewable generation to sustainable generation.”

Not all renewable technologies are truly sustainable in the long run and we need to think innovatively about that. For example, the circularity of wind turbine components is an area where sustainable chemistry solutions will be key and feature in the new SusChem SIRA.

“The reality is that it’s not about competition between technologies,” concluded  Lena Kitzing of the Technical University of Denmark. “For this transition, we will need all the renewables and all the enabling technologies in the market. Synergy is just as important as competition.”

Circular and sustainable

Further Green Deal sessions included sessions on the potential of the circular bioeconomy and in particular the biobased industries to deliver on the Green Deal objectives and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Regarding ‘safe and sustainable-by-design’, also a SusChem priority area, Victor Mougel of ETH Zurich stated in one of the sessions: “I believe that chemists are problem solvers rather than problem makers in the context of achieving a more sustainable future.” Jovana Milic of the European Young Chemists Network commented: "‘safe and sustainable-by-design’ clearly presents a critical strategy for long-term sustainability to become an integrated part of our society." Sustainable chemistry plays an instrumental role here including its essential role in materials and processes innovation.

Green Deal sessions also included a workshop on how R&I can support the design and construction of new and renovated buildings in line with the needs of a circular economy, an area in which SusChem has been active since the beginning, and on Clean transport for a green recovery. In the transport session Patrick Child from the Commission session stated that: "Europe is targeting being first to achieve carbon-neutrality. Today, 23% of greenhouse gases in the EU come from transport." The session highlighted that the greening of transport remains a key sector for the EU's Green Deal and promising transformative technologies include electric transport and hydrogen. As a spur to action, Alan McKinnon from Kühne Logistics University commented: "This is no longer a climate crisis. It is a climate emergency. Our 1.5°C budget will be exhausted in just eight more years."