Over the past few years, car manufacturers have been mobilizing to find effective and greener solutions with the aim of replacing combustion engines and achieving the targets on carbon emissions set by the European Union for 2025. In addition, the automotive market has seen the growth and the exponential development of electric battery vehicles to the detriment of those powered by hydrogen, even if the latter technology has the advantage of requiring less time for refueling than that used by electric cars. In order to promote the development of hydrogen batteries, car manufacturers Hyundai and Audi have recently decided to sign an agreement that allows them to freely access the respective technologies – covered by patents – and to share components, such as the new parts developed by Audi, which is responsible for the hydrogen fuel cell technology of the Volkswagen Group, one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. Finally, Hyundai hopes that with this new agreement, the production costs of these vehicles will be reduced, thus increasing the demand for hydrogen cars and seeing this technology profitable.
An innovative technology to limit the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere comes from Iceland, thanks to the CarbFix project. The Reykjavik Energy association, in collaboration with the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of Iceland and the Columbia University, has developed a method for transforming CO2 into rocks efficiently and effectively. This process is in fact capable of capturing the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere, injecting it into the depths of the soil and transforming it into rock, thanks to chemical processes that prevent CO2 from re-entering the atmosphere. Even if the process requires a considerable amount of water, the promoters of the initiative are confident about the future development and increasing sustainability of this technology, even on a global scale. The data recorded last year, in fact, have confirmed the success of this technology, thanks to the 10 thousand tons of CO2, equal to those emitted by 2,000 cars, which were transformed into rock.
In the last few years, the level of attention that Italy pays to sustainability issues has certainly increased and Italians are increasingly adopting measures that have a lower impact on the environment. Much remains to be done, especially with regard to the use of plastic materials in the production of packaging, but even in this context there are signs of improvement: according to the latest Corepla report, in 2017 there are about 7,000 municipalities active in the service of selecting collection of plastic packaging, which recorded a +11% in the quantities transferred to the consortium compared to 2016. 586,786 are the tons of plastic packaging that have been recycled and 324,480 those sent for energy recovery. Furthermore, according to Corepla, the national average per capita of differentiated waste collection rose from 15.8 to 17.7 kg per inhabitant per year, with Sardinia, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto leading the ranking. At the same time, there is an increase in the number of companies and industrial chains that have begun to look for alternative solutions, such as the case of Grom ice cream parlors offering compostable cups. This multi-faceted commitment could help Italy reach the 2020 target of reducing the percentage of plastic packaging going to landfill to zero.
In the last few years, the plastic pollution emergency has led scientists and researchers to find innovative and efficient solutions to increase the process of plastic waste disposal, as well as to seek new technologies to stop the expansion of the famous Plastic Island (GPGP) in the Pacific Ocean. Recently, a study conducted by an international research group – made of experts from the University of Portsmouth (UK), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Kk) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (USA) – discovered, almost accidentally, an enzyme capable of digesting polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The discovery was made during a study to determine the structure of PETase – an enzyme capable of destroying PET- when researchers inadvertently engineered the enzyme into another better enzyme for the purpose. This could therefore be a useful tool for waste disposal and for cleaning up ocean waters. The team is now working on optimizing the structure of this enzyme and allowing it to be used on a large scale.
The results of the three-year study on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) – carried out by 16 international researchers and published by the Journal Scientific Reports – have revealed the true proportions and composition of the plastic island, which is currently floating in the oceans. As a matter of fact, the researchers have confirmed that the GPGP is composed of approximately 80 million kilograms of floating plastic debris of various size and shape, consisting mainly of Polyethylene and Polypropylene, and it covers an area 3 times the size of continental France. Experts have highlighted the urgency of finding a solution to address the situation, especially by analyzing the results regarding the concentration of microplastics in the area –1.8 trillion pieces – which is estimated to further increase by 30 times for a total of about 50 trillion particles. Lastly, researchers have emphasized the necessity to act rapidly, by implementing substantial international measures in the coming decade, with the aim of halting the increasing inflow of plastic waste into the oceans. In addition to that, they have suggested supporting removal initiatives, such as coastal and ocean cleanups, for existing plastics that accumulate in the oceans and threaten the welfare of the marine fauna.