The Ways to the Future

Text and photos by Simone Tramonte
Abridged by Syharn Shen (沈思含)

The Ways to the Future

Text and photos by Simone Tramonte
Abridged by Syharn Shen (沈思含)

The concentrated solar power plant of Gemasolar in Fuentes de Andalucía in the province of Seville, Spain is the first commercial plant in the world able to provide a full day of uninterrupted power supply to the grid.

Gemasolar uses the high temperature tower receiver together with molten salt thermal storage of very long duration. The system stores the excess thermal energy produced during daylight hours and provides the energy required to ensure the plant can remain operational for up to 15 hours without sunlight.

The inability to retreat from the vision of ourselves as the masters of the world around us places our very existence on earth at risk. The challenge ahead must lead us to change our perspective by redesigning a humanity no longer separate from its ecosystem, but one with the planet it inhabits.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats the world is facing. There is still a long way to go to meet the objectives that would enable us to limit the warming of our planet underneath the critical threshold of 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement. At COP 26 held in November 2021, several achievements were committed to paper for the first time. All 197 participating nations signed the Glasgow Climate Pact which sets 2030 as the deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% and build resilience to climate change. More so than its predecessors, the 2021 COP brought into sharp relief the critical role of the private sector in tackling climate change. The net-zero transition is seen as the next industrial revolution and it is where the future of business lies.

The European Union is striving to become the first carbon neutral continent and has adopted a set of policies, the Green Deal, which set targets to cut emissions at least 55% by 2030 and reduce them to net-zero by 2050. Renewable energies, new technologies for food production, and the circular economy are key solutions for achieving the Green Deal goals.

In the global race for energy transition, Iceland is ahead of everyone else. The island lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, straddling the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, a highly active volcanic zone that feeds its geothermal systems. Thanks to geothermal energy, an inexhaustible resource found in its soil, the country has managed in a few decades to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and completed a full transition of its power grid to renewable energy sources. Its electricity, produced 70% by geothermal energy and 30% by hydropower, is 100% renewable.

Elisabet controls barley seedlings at Bioeffect carbon-negative greenhouse, in Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland. The greenhouse is powered by clean geothermal energy and heat supplied by the neighbouring Svartsengi Power Station. This greenhouse holds up to 130,000 barley plants growing in inert volcanic pumice. The scientists of Bioeffect have developed a method to genetically engineer barley and produce Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF). This is a protein that stimulates cell growth and is used in luxury cosmetics to rejuvenate skin.

Iceland's transition to renewable energy can be a source of inspiration for all countries seeking to improve their sustainability. What drove the transition was not ecology, but economics: Iceland could not cope with the fluctuations in oil prices resulting from the crises that shook the world's energy markets. The country needed a domestic energy resource that was stable and economically viable, and the transition toward renewable energy sources has successfully transformed its economy and made Iceland a global leader in technologies that foster green energy and emission reduction.

Feeding the world is one of the major causes of the climate crisis. Around 37% of the earth’s landmass is used for agriculture, according to the World Bank. This causes deforestation, soil erosion, decreasing water reserves, pesticides and excess nutrients that damage flora and fauna. The food system also accounts for 26% of current global greenhouse gas emissions. With a growing world population, increasingly demanding consumers, and a limited amount of agricultural land, there is an urgent need to find alternatives to conventional intensive animal farming.

An aerial view of Nature Urbaine roof farm in Paris, France, which has recently opened the world's largest urban farm on the rooftop of Paris Expo’s Pavillon 6, covering an area of 14,000 square meters. It supplies local residents and neighbour hotels and restaurants with a sustainable vegetable production. Roof farming is a clean, productive and sustainable model of agriculture that can make a real contribution to the social, economic and environmental resilience of the big cities where most Europeans now live.

Insect-based protein is rapidly emerging as an alternative protein source to animal-based protein, both as a more sustainable substitute of feeds in animal production, and to replace traditional meat products for human consumption. The insects, thanks to their exceptional ability to recycle low-value agricultural by-products by concentrating their nutrients, is one of the solutions to guarantee a healthy and sustainable diet for all. Growing insects has a minimal environmental footprint, as it requires no land, fertilizer and pesticides, and uses minimal fresh water and energy for production.

France is earning a reputation in the field of insect production for sustainable feeding. Some of the world’s leading insect producers are emerging from this tech-forward European nation with innovations that could help advance the food industry and tackle tough environmental challenges. The French government has played an important role in driving the change implementing a policy to turn France into a start-up nation. The government has since ramped up its entrepreneurship-boosting efforts in recent years, which helped insect production companies to kickstart their businesses.

Innovafeed is one of these French biotechnological startups that has developed a unique technology to reproduce on a large scale the life cycle of the insect black soldier fly (Hermetia Illucens). Innovafeed has recently opened the world’s largest operating production unit of insect proteins in Nesle, France. The site produces insect proteins and oil for animal and plant nutrition with a capacity of 10,000 tons per year. The company has estimated that each ton of vegetable oil replaced by insect oil can save at least 3800m2 of arable land and 1200kg of CO2. The production unit is co-located with a starch manufacturer which provides wheat waste for insect feeding, and with a biomass plant that powers the site with 100% renewable energy. Innovafeed estimates that this cooperation saves 57,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

An operator in the Innovafeed industrial production site in Nesle, France. Innovafeed has developed a method for large-scale automated production that respects the natural life cycle of insects. Insect farming is one of the possible ways to a more sustainable food supply.

Mediterranean countries are also striving to reverse rising carbon emissions and ramping up their renewable energy program with a focus on solar and wind. Spain generated record amounts of power from wind and solar farms in spring 2022, for the first time producing 40% of its electricity from wind and solar power. The record appears to be both because of increased capacity and good weather conditions. Andalusia, which has over 300 days of sunshine per year and a solar radiation coefficient higher than any other European region, hosts some of the most revolutionary and innovative power plants worldwide. In the field of solar power, Enel is deploying in Italy an ambitious gigafactory project. Enel Green Power’s “sun factory” 3SUN, in Catania, is the only site in Europe that produces bifacial photovoltaic modules with the latest Hetero Junction technology. The Gigafactory is designed and built following sustainable and circular best practices, increasing the use of recycled and environmentally friendly materials and reducing energy and resource consumption. In its first ten years of operation, it can avoid the equivalent of 25 million tonnes of CO2 which would be emitted if the same amount of energy was produced from fossil fuels. This is more than 30% of all the annual greenhouse gas emissions from public electricity and heat production in Italy.

A new way to tackle the great challenge of reverting the environmental destruction that started with the industrial revolution is urgently needed. Science and technology will help find a balanced solution to climatic and social imbalances. The net-zero transition has already started and is set to be the next industrial revolution. These innovative technologies lead the way towards climate neutrality, inspiring a virtuous model that will generate a new sustainable cycle of life.

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