We are in a transition, the energy transition to a sustainable economy.
The gradual (but not slow) transition from an economy based exclusively on fossil fuels to one based on minimal use of resources and carbon neutral impact emissions responsible for climate changes that undermine the health of the planet Earth and its inhabitants.
A transition that, experts say, may take ten to thirty years, a speed that may vary based on many factors on a global scale, from political, social to technological. A transition led by young minds that are facing the world of scientific and technological research; and they look at green economy with greater interest.
An example is our Summer School promoted by NextChem - a company of the group focused on Green Chemistry and Energy Transition - and AIDIC - the Italian Chemical Engineering Association and which involved 45 PhD students from different Italian and foreign universities from 22 to 26 July in Tuscany, in Sarteano.
The second edition of the Summer School was named "Making business with Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy"
We spoke with the Professor Gabriele Centi, a scientific coordinator of the Summer School, who has a global vision of the phenomenon: "Now 80% of decisions on investments over a 20-year period focus on more sustainable technologies. Last year China said coal was no longer a priority; Arab countries are investing heavily in solar energy; Asia is moving very fast in research and innovation. The United States on the other hand are lagging behind while South America has still many problems and its priorities are different." And what about Europe? "Europe is pushing: the new presidency aims to make Europe independent from fossil fuels by 2035 with the Scandinavian countries at the forefront of green policies."
So, are these positive signs for a Europe leading this green revolution? "Not exactly. We continue to discuss the problem of raising temperatures and climate impacts to better understand the phenomenon, to acquire knowledge, but today we cannot afford to just investigate the problem: we must urgently start implementing technologies that would solve the problem. Today it is not the economy that determines change; today technology is what we need. If you want to accelerate the transition, you need to invest."
And Italy? "Italy is taking timid steps, while it is among the few countries to have one crucial resource in abundance: sun light. Renewables are accessible to smaller investors; they are local investments requiring not only to overcome the NIMBY syndrome but they enable a community to decide for themselves whether to have the infrastructure."
A great cultural change that makes consumers producers; from consumer to prosumer, speaking in modern economic terms. It seems an attractive prospect for a country like ours consisting of thousands of small municipalities and very heterogeneous territories. But then, why does this process fail to kick off? "Today it is no longer a matter of ingenuity: we must make the system and we as Italians are failing this task. The opportunities for our country are great: every job in the "gray" energy sector is equivalent to 1.5 / 1.7 jobs in the green sector, but they must be studied and included in the industrial policy framework, to decide where to invest. " Perhaps a lab would be needed, a place where to try a model in a physical, concrete way and to focus attention and involvement of all the parties: research, industry, institutions and control bodies, as well as civil society.
"In this transitional phase industry must prove flexible and resilient: those who do not embrace the transition, will lose the market," says Prof. Centi. Observing developments in technological research and then acquiring them is no longer enough for European industry. Europe must invest more in research to maintain its key role, directing resources in a smart way, creating critical mass, stimulating young people".
The young, the "Generation G", where G stands for "Green". "Young people see an active role for them in the future, in the energy transition, on the path towards a sustainable economy," commented Centi. Young people, aware of the challenges facing the planet and the community as well as of the active role they must play to contribute to the change in lifestyles, consumption habits, behaviors, research and economy - that can reverse the trend and get sustainable development back on track.
For those who choose a career in science or technology, this awareness is even more necessary and perceived. The young participants in the Sarteano initiative seem to confirm this claim: the motivation behind their choice be it professional choice, or life choice, is linked to the contribution they feel they can make to a sustainable future.
Gabriele Centi is a full professor of Industrial Chemistry at the University of Messina, Italy and President of the European Research Institute of Catalysis (ERIC). His research interests concern applied heterogeneous catalysis, development of sustainable chemical and energy processes, circular economy and environmental protection.
He was the coordinator of the IDECAT European network of excellence and is currently president of the international association of catalysis companies (IACS) and vice-president of the Interuniversity Consortium of Materials Science and Technology (INSTM). He was coordinator or unit manager on over twenty-five European projects, as well as various national and industrial projects. Recently he won and coordinated an ERC Synergy project dedicated to non-thermal plasma catalysis. He has received numerous awards and is involved in various publishing activities, including the presidency of the editorial board of ChemSusChem and is co-editor of the Journal of Energy Chemistry. He chaired numerous international conferences, including Europacat 2017 in Florence and the 16th International Conference on Zeolites in Sorrento, 2010.
There Sarteano Summer School is supported by the municipality of Sarteano with the collaboration of KT Kinetics Technology, Università Campus Biomedico, ITM-National Research Council, ERIC-European Research Institute of Catalysis, and is promoted within three European research projects: DEMETO Project, Mewlife Project and Pegasus Project. Scientific coordination was provided by Gaetano Iaquaniello, President of NextChem, Gabriele Centi, Professor of the University of Messina, Marcello De Falco, Professor of Biomedical Campus and Angelo Basile from the National Research Council.