• 14 January 2020


    By Tiziana Monterisi – RiceHouse CEO RiceHouse is a start-up born in 2016 that tackles the problem related to the construction building sector, that in EU is responsible for 40% of energy consumption, 36% of CO2 emissions and it generates 1/3 of all waste. The problem is widely acknowledged, and EU is setting clear guidelines for a resource-efficient and sustainable circular economy, with the vision of a decarbonised building stock by 2050. In addition, the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) objectives for 2030 are focusing on sustainable cities, responsible consumption, renewable energy and action on climate change. The company produces 100% natural building materials and finishing’s, that derive from by-products from rice cultivation and production. RiceHouse uses raw products such as rice straw, husk and bran, introduces them into the construction cycle and at the end of their service life they return in a circular way to the natural cycle. RiceHouse in an innovative way coordinates and controls a short supply chain, creating new economics from the field to the construction site. The company strongly believes that turning organic waste into a source of value is a key feature of the circular economy and from several years promotes the use of rice by-products from short supply chain. All products developed from the company are highly efficient in terms of energy, 100% natural, formaldeide free and made in Italy. Sustainable and green construction trend is growing fast with a prediction to increase 12% by 2026, with a total value of 254 b€ (50% in Europe). It clearly emerges that the value proposition of Ricehouse has all the features to satisfy the needs of the future demand: it proposes an offer in an economic sector in a phase of change that is based on values already incorporated and shared in different sectors...
  • 26 November 2019

    Energy from the Oceans

    By Gianmaria Sannino – Senior Researcher at ENEA Gianmaria Sannino opened his speech during ReThink – Circular Ocean Forum in Genoa, with a brief and current introduction concerning the correlation between climate change and sea-level rise, explaining how the oceans absorb heat and they expand by increasing their volume. In addition to melting glaciers, in fact, the oceans’ temperature increase, is the second reason that causes the raising of the level, which is among the causes of the disaster that took place in November in Venice. The sea can also be exploited as an intelligent energy source, Sannino showed a quote by Joseph Conrad from the book Typhoon, which says “… he had never seen the immeasurable force and excessive anger, the anger that passes and runs out without ever subsiding – the anger and fury of the irritated sea”, which turns out to be a fictionalized definition of what marine renewable energy is. Even Victor Hugo already in 1874, with a quote taken from the novel “Novantatrè”, emphasizes how the sea is a source of energy that the earth should make use of: “Think of the movement of the waves, the ebb and flow, the coming and going of the tides. What is the ocean? a huge lost force. How stupid the earth is, not to use the ocean! “ The global marine energy potential can be a very powerful resource, it is estimated that the amount of marine energy we can extract is equal to 1,200 TWh / year, while the global wave is estimated to be 29,500 TWh / year, these data are surprising if we consider that the current global electricity demand is 25,600 TWh / year. It would be easy to ask why it is not exploited, the first reason is that this energy is not distributed...
  • 20 November 2019

    Plastic offset is here

    Plastic offset is here. Here’s how to do it right by Peter Wang Hjemdahl (Co-Founder, rePurpose Global) A new paradigm is entering the environmental zeitgeist, and that paradigm is plastic offset. So what is it really, and how could it stem the global tide of plastic pollution? Put simply, for every dollar contributed by a polluter, a certain amount of plastic waste would be intercepted from the environment on your behalf as an individual or a company.  All across the developing world, waste management social enterprises have popped up to provide ethical & efficient solutions to our plastic epidemic, yet they are often underfunded and left unable to scale. Inspired by carbon credit, plastic offset is a transformative way of funding these innovations to accelerate our transition towards a circular economy.  Just like carbon, there are as many ways to do plastic offset wrong as ways to do it right. With the complex relationship between consumer responsibility and producer accountability, generating a truly meaningful impact is challenging yet entirely possible. From the landfills and alleyways of Mumbai to corporate headquarters in New York, we spent years understanding both local needs and the global systems that govern our waste. Here are 3 principles we have distilled on how to do plastic offset, right. Principle 1: Hit the problem where it hurts Anywhere in the developing world, if you pay attention to the kinds of plastic that are actually littering our streets, beaches, and landfills, you will notice a trend – it’s dominated by low-value plastic like to-go containers, candy wrappers, and plastic bags.  These materials are classified as low-value plastic because they are extremely difficult to recycle. Shanghai, Cairo, New Delhi, Nairobi, Jakarta – a vibrant informal recycling industry do exists in cities worldwide and employs tens of millions of workers who...
  • 29 October 2019

    Orange Fiber

    By Enrica Arena – Orange Fiber Co-founder Enrica Arena presents Orange Fiber, a company that produces a sustainable fabric similar to silk from citrus fruits. The material was born as an alternative product to classic cellulose, so the production is cut down over 70 million trees all. The developed product can be printed, colored and packaged, so brands don’t have to modify their suppliers and can be woven together with all other materials. The activity was born from the idea of ​​recovering what remains at the end of the industrial pressing of the orange for the production of the juice, which is considered a processing waste and which involves great costs for the companies in the sector and for the environment. In fact, 60% of the original weight of the fruit is considered waste but through a series of research carried out in collaboration with a university professor in the chemistry department of the Politecnico di Milano, it is currently possible to examine and patent an innovative process to transform the by-product of citrus fruits in a new resource capable of revolutionizing fashion in a sustainable and protected way to the resolution of problems related to the disposal. In the fashion field, 60% of the garments are made with materials deriving from the transformation of oil, and this not only causes environmental problems, but also links the value of materials to the oscillation of oil prices, by influencing the possibility that a collection is profitable or not for a brand. Furthermore, 25% of the products in the sector come from the cotton, a material whose production requires high quantities of water and soil, and which is often produced using pesticides. Organic cotton, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of needing more soil because it uses less pesticides but has...
  • 23 October 2019

    The energy of the Circular Economy

    By Giovanni Tula Giovanni Tula started his speech by introducing the focus of his presentation: circular projects linked to the energy world. The goal is to understand the status of renewable energies and their dissemination at the global level, by considering the 4 macro areas: storage, efficiency, the automation, and digitalization. The starting point is the comparison of the estimates regarding the dissemination of the renewable energies developed by the World Energy Agency in 2008 and 2017. As you can see from the image above, the estimates have more than doubled, the reason is that in 2017, with circa 13 years to spare, the estimate of the 2030 has already been reached, now the expectancy is to reach 4.718 GW installed in 2030. Actually, the estimates recently made could be underestimated because the renewable energies are becoming highly competitive thank to a strong reduction of the cost of production. For example, in the solar energy field, there has been an 83% reduction in the costs of the photovoltaic panels starting from 2010 till today. In the previous image it is highlighted the evolution of renewable energy sources compared to the fossil fuel, where it is estimated that the renewable could reach 64% of the overall energy resources. The storage Among the enabling elements of this revolution there is the “storage theme”. The batteries are essential to this evolution per 3 functions: Stabilization of the electricity grid Reduction of the imbalances on the generation side Offer of the energy in time of need on the consumer side The evolution of the lithium batteries in the last years has been important such that it has gone from some MW of power and storage of some minutes to a power of hundreds MW that can last for hours. The one that is impossible...
  • 14 October 2019

    An urgent opportunity

    By Francesco Castellano Francesco Castellano started his speech by explaining the reasons that drove him to create Tondo and ReThink. It all started from a beach, a place where he loved swimming, that place changed dramatically during the years because of the plastic and the waste. Trash created by human beings, which denotes, in part, the failure of the current system, a system that doesn’t take into account the impact of our actions on the environment. ReThink – Circular Economy Forum Without any doubt, we need to rethink our economic system, to reconsider its elements and the path we are following. The necessity to rethink led to the birth of “ReThink – Circular Economy Forum”, with the purpose to question some of the elements of our economic and industrial system and to show concrete applications of some interesting trends in the Circular Economy. Problems To understand the importance of the Circular Economy we need to show firstly the problems that humanity has to face at this moment. One of the most important issues is global warming caused by the CO2 issued for energetic production, for industrial activities and for transports. In particular, Castellano reported, that according to the last IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)’s study, dated October 2018, to avoid the increase of the global temperature over 1.5°C (temperature that is considered the maximum limit to avoid effects that could be catastrophic on the global ecosystem and for the humanity in general), we have circa 12 years to reduce the 50% of the CO2 emissions and circa 30 years to delete them completely. Otherwise, some effects, that are already present, will expand more and more, with a devastating impact of drought, fire and flood. These events have already caused damages for 320 billion dollars in 2017 (https://newclimateeconomy.report/2018/). In addition,...
  • 8 October 2019

    Understand and Regenerate

    By Barbara Pollini Understand Barbara Pollini started her presentation by mentioning the contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton who coined the term “hyperobjects” to explain those interconnected phenomenons which have a wide vastness in time and space and that are incomprehensible for us. Climate change is one of them. In this perspective, designer’s ability to value material is important for the environmental impact of a product, also, in the complex world, the sustainability is not a steady-state, once it is reached you can’t keep it, it is a  dynamic threshold based on the continuous research. Designers, very often, are focused on some aspects of the project, and they ignore the life-cycle of the products and their materials; there aren’t many Italian universities that push the students to think about these issues and not many corporates of materials that explain information about the life-cycle of materials. Some designers adopt a critical approach and they reinvent some materials in order to find solutions that the market is not able to propose or in order to show a walkable path or an unresolved problem. Among these examples there is “Studio Swine” which created a stool made by plastic recovered at sea. It’s not part of a series production, but it wants to stimulate a critical thinking on an environment issue through the story of a material. At NABA, during Pollini’s lessons, there have been a lot of trials on DIY materials, that are organic or “made in waste”. Some of the projects are virtuous, such as “Peel Saver”, packaging for the street food made by potato’s peel, created by the students: Simone Caronni, Paolo Stefano Gentile and Pietro Gaeli. Also at Politecnico di Milano there are a lot of studies on DIY materials, Pollini is a tutor of the Metaprogetto Lab that took part at the...
  • 30 September 2019

    Blockchain, AI and Sharing

    by Lisanne Huizing Due to the urbanization phenomenon, more people are going to move to cities. This will lead to more congestion of traffic, more pollution, and a necessity for more resources in cities among others. We will need more of everything than we have right now, in order to generate food and products. Resources are not endless, and they will become scarce in the future. “Smart Cities” have to solve this problem of rapid movement of goods, people and capital. By integrating technology, both cities’ and citizens’ behaviors can be understood. People can become involved and empowered by giving control over resources to more stakeholders by combining circular and smart technologies. It will give citizens the possibility to more actively govern their own resources at a lower geographical scale. Adaptive systems will be very beneficial for our future needs. Sharing & Circular Economy  With the Sharing Economy, a new phenomenon has arisen and it provides opportunities to redesign urban planning and access to locally shared resources. This will create a shift from possession-based, to a service-based economy. In order to use less resources in a growing and more demanding society, it will become necessary to make better use of the capacity of resources that is already existing.  When you look at a car that you only use in the weekends, for example, by sharing this with other people, it can also be used during the week. Once the car is optimally used and it comes to the end of its lifecycle, you can move towards the next step; circularity.  Although the Sharing Economy and Circular Economy are two different elements, they are connected. Because where the Sharing Economy ends, the Circular Economy begins. Together, they influence the taking shape of practices and optimization of processes. Cities can play a big role...
  • 23 September 2019

    New trends for circular materials

    Marco Cappellini’s speech is focused on three themes: the production of new materials and their end-life management, the transition to “products as services” and the measurement of the circularity. Trends in corporates According to a report by OCSE, it is estimated that the number of used resources will double by 2060. In particular, this fact involves specific sectors, as the packaging and the fashion ones, that are promising the recycling and the creation of biomaterials starting from 2020/2030. However, there are no doubts about the possibilities of recycling, but there could be problems about who carry out the process: some corporates produce recyclable products, but they are not recycled. For this reason, it exists the idea that the circular economy is uneconomic: but this is not the truth because multiple international cases prove the contrary. New business realities are proposing new custom materials. Many of these start from the principle of being “biomaterials”, material that are easily biodegradable and, or, compostable; there are other recyclable materials that are recyclable only through very specific processes and methods. This is very worrying because, it is possible to order recyclable products, but it is very hard for consumers to manage the end-life of the products. We can say that corporates have to play a more important role in managing the recycling of materials, for example, by creating a clause that specifies the end-life of the products in the patents. Matrec’s example is about a material made of recycled rubber by PFU, that is a very useful material, but it is undervalued. The input is to add value to the material: Matrec worked for new solutions that can improve sound and heat insulation performance, but they are also working on three-dimensionality. The aim is to increase the value of the materials on the market...
  • 14 September 2019

    “Old” and “New” Circular Economy

    This article is based on Roberto Zoboli’s speech during “Re-Think Forum”. Roberto Zoboli, during “ReThink Circular Economy Forum”, introduced some key elements to understand the Circular Economy, by distinguishing between “Old” and “New” Circular Economy. Some of the elements described in this article are coming from studies developed by the Inter-University research center called “SEEDS” – Sustainability Environmental Economics and Dynamics Studies – of which Catholic University is a member. Catholic University is also a partner of the European Topic Centre on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy, that develops studies and researches for the European Environment Agency (EEA). In particular, the Catholic University has contributed to the drafting of three reports for the EEA which include both technical and informative aspects: “Circular Economy in Europe, Developing the knowledge base”  “Circular by design, Products in the Circular Economy”  “The Circular Economy and the bioeconomy, Partners in sustainability”  In 2019 the fourth report of the EEA on the Circular Economy will be published. New behavioral patterns The idea of implementing the Circular Economy can force and orient the whole economic system towards new behavioral models. That means to move towards what the community like and what the community wants to prevail, from a sustainable, environmental and social point of view.  The OECD’s conceptual scheme is useful to frame the Circular Economy, it underlines three different levels of possible actions: The closure of the resource flows: best known as the “recovery and recycling process”, where the waste system has an important role, but it also includes the re-use and re-manufacturing of products; The slowdown of the use cycle: the elongation of the lifespan of products and the contrast of the fast aging, compared to what it is logical by the technical point of view and acceptable at the social level; Shrinking...
  • 9 September 2019

    Built environment

    This article is based on Guglielmo Carra’s speech during “Re-Think Forum”. Guglielmo Carra’s speech opened with the comparison of two pictures that portray the city of Shangai, one of them was taken in the mid-1990s and the other one only a few years ago. The difference is clear: the development of the city in the past 20 years was impressive and this trend is common in all urban contexts in Asia, Africa, South, Centre America and also in Europe. It is estimated that by 2050, about 70% of the global population will live inside these cities. It means that every week, a city of 1,6 million people is built. Cities are a place for people, but also a place where resources, coming from outside, are transported to be consumed with a linear approach. This change will impact the construction sector – that, at the current state, consumes 60% of resources and emit 40% of CO2. Improvements are possible since the constructions sector is the least automated ever, so it is also the least efficient, whose productivity of one hour is still equivalent to the one in 1946. Circular Economy can be the solution, in order to enhance the processes and the resources used, not only in the design of the utilization of the building but also by defining what will happen in the future to those materials and resources used for the construction. The 4 areas by Arup Carra presents some projects by Arup that revolve around 4 thematic areas: The regeneration of natural capital, which consists of transforming the city from a place that consumes resources, to a place where resources are produced and regenerated; The creation of open and shared processes by developing and implementing collaborative processes in addition to the promotion of actions and production chain processes....


In the common imagination, technology and environment can be seen as in contrast. On the one hand, the manufacturing industry with its energy-intensive production processes, which consume enormous amounts of resources, introduces toxic substances in exchange for air. On the other hand, the environment is seen as an element to be preserved and defended.

The term technology itself, however, indicates the most efficient and economical use of available goods and tools. This is why it is not an oxymoron to talk about Cleantech, clean technologies, although it can be complex to define its fields of action in an exact manner.

Cleantech: clean technology without borders

The concept of Cleantech is difficult to define. If it is true that in a theoretical level it is a rather simple concept when you go into it, the possibilities become practically endless.

In Cleantech, we can include all the innovations, regarding processes and products, that limit or completely eliminate the negative environmental impact of human action.

We can talk about Cleantech when we are faced with technologies that deal with:

• Collection and recycle of waste

• Production of electricity from renewable sources

• Rationalization of transport

• Optimization of energy consumption

• Reduction of packaging volumes

• Limitation of resources used in the production process

• Cutting emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere.

In a Circular Economy perspective, Cleantech can, therefore, become any technology that limits energy; optimize their production and consumption processes; prevents waste eventually produced.

In our analysis, we will focus on technologies that provide innovative energy production and storage.

Artificial intelligence

Forbes has dedicated to the world of new technologies for the creation of clean energy an article on the possible trends for 2019. Among the 6 trends that could emerge this year, the newspaper cites Artificial Intelligence, now pervasive in different fields.

In particular, the AI ​​helps us to improve the efficiency of the production and the consumption of energy from renewable sources, in a widespread manner. How? With microgrids. This term refers to a system for connecting various active and passive electrical utilities, grouped together in a single connection point with the electrical distribution network. The different units are connected not only electrically, but also with the so-called Microgrid Energy Manager, which manages the communication between the different points of the network, optimizing the production and consumption of electricity.

A comparison with the traditional system of production and distribution of electricity will make the explanation easier. In a common “grid”, there are energy production points (thermoelectric plants, hydroelectric plants, wind farms and so on) and consumption points, typically houses, offices and companies. The network here is limited to distributing the electricity produced from one point to another. When instead we have a microgrid, electricity production is widespread: the consumer, in turn, becomes a producer and can use the current produced energy for his own needs, but also re-inject it into the network. These systems, which are more complex to manage, are generally governed by intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence software, which takes charge of intelligent and optimal energy distribution, intervening in a particular way during emergencies (such as blackouts).

In this context, the machine learning software can intervene to continuously adapt the operation of the network, optimizing the energy production and distribution processes.

This is what some specialized companies are trying to do. One of the most interesting has arisen in San Diego, California. It’s called XENDEE and its goal is to democratize microgrids: in partnership with the WorleyParsons Group, it has in fact launched a solution that cuts the costs of conventional methods by around 90%.

Energy Storage

Solar panels need the sun to produce energy. Wind turbines need wind. Hydroelectric needs water movement. This may seem trivial, but it is not. The sun is not present at night, there are more windy regions than others and water can be a scarce resource.

On the other hand, in some periods of the year, there may be an overabundance of one source of energy over another: we think of the sun in the warm seasons. How to remedy these imbalances? It can be done with systems that store energy when in excess, to release it when there is a decline in production. In a word: a battery is needed, able to store and release energy according to the needs.

There are several solutions offered by the market and those in development. Among the most interesting in Italy, there is the Nessox liquid battery, developed by Bettery, the result of 9 years of research, which has recently earned prestigious awards such as Next Energy and the Marzotto Prize.

Nessox is a liquid lithium-oxygen flow battery. Its peculiarity is that it is capable of storing the highest amount of energy ever recorded (the energy density is 5 times greater than other solutions on the market), thus proposing a duration so far unattainable. Even when recharging, the performance of the Bettery device is higher: just replace the discharged liquid and replace it for an immediate recharge. Another advantage, the cost: 30% lower than the market average.

Renewable energies

In recent years, renewable energy sources have exploded due to a number of favorable conditions: significantly reduction of costs, new investments in the sector (also by public bodies that have encouraged installation), and new possibilities for energy storage. It is a step forward, but it is not enough. This is the situation in 2016 of total energy consumption globally: fossil fuels still dominate the scene.


Growth is estimated to continue to be fairly sustained over the next few years. If in 2016 the renewable energy market reached 1.4 billion dollars, in the world, by 2025 it should reach 2.1, with an aggregate annual growth rate of around 5%.

The market is now dominated by hydroelectric energy production, but the most important growths have occurred (and are expected) mainly from solar and wind power.

Good news, but let us predict that much more could be done. There is indeed space to do two things:

1. Improve existing technologies, making them more efficient and even cleaner, for example by using materials with a lower environmental impact

2. Exploiting alternative sources of renewable energy.

Here are three concrete examples of how the world of renewable energy could change in the coming years.

Recently a particular substance called perovskite was in the spotlight. It is actually a class of substances, oxides with semiconductor properties. Perovskite solar panels are currently in the R&D phase, but they could soon reach the market, thanks to their particular characteristics. The first solar cell with this material was built in 2009. After 9 years, in 2018, the efficiency of these cells went from 3.8 to 23.3%. Other technologies have taken three decades to achieve comparable results. Here is the reason for so much interest. Japanese researchers from the OIST (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology University) have also recently demonstrated the durability of the material used, making it “work” for about 800 hours.

Turning instead to innovative renewable sources of recent use, the waves deserve a mention. According to the EIA, the US energy agency, the potential is very high: every year, the waves crashing on the coasts of the United States could produce 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, 66% of the electricity generated in the country in 2017. To exploit its full potential, large companies are also moving: Enel Green Power has recently launched the CETO 6 program, a generator of energy from sea waves, in collaboration with Carnegie Clean Energy Ltd., Australia. The nominal capacity of the new device will reach 1.5 MW, much more than the predecessor’s 240kW (Ceto 5).

Latest interesting technology under development: the conversion of kinetic energy and heat of the human body into electricity. A wearable is the most obvious technology for capturing and transforming movement and heat into energy, with some research projects already in place. The possibilities, however, are different: for example, the British company Pavegen has developed smart tiles, capable of capturing energy from the steps and transforming it into electricity. The company made itself known in 2012, during the London Olympic Games, after having installed its innovative technology on a pedestrian bridge, illuminating the catwalk trampled over a million times during the Games on demand.


Another trend considered by Forbes for the development of alternative and sustainable technologies is the block chain. The “blockchain” was born as a tool to securely record crypto transactions. The technology consists of a series of nodes, with no centre to manage it, in communication with each other. The blockchain is by nature incorruptible: any data that is loaded here cannot be modified or deleted from the nodes of the network, thus ensuring secure transactions for all.

The idea of ​​the blockchain has recently been associated with the microgrids we discussed earlier. The idea is that a decentralized peer-to-peer system could completely eliminate the need for intermediaries between energy producers and consumers. In a network where everyone can “create” and use the energy introduced into the system, from time to time buying and selling it through the block chain. Moreover, the network could regulate itself, allowing the purchase and sale without the need for human intervention, based only on the actual need of the plants. This would reduce inefficiencies, leading to optimization of electrical systems, with constant performance monitoring.

Brooklyn Microgrid has implemented a similar system. The project consists of a community of people, organized in a microgrid. All people “connect” buy and sell to other users when necessary.

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