Working together for a green, competitive and inclusive Europe

Problem description

Earth's population has doubled over the past 50 years. With the growing population, consumption and demand for food, new materials and energy have also increased. This demand has been covered by fossil resources in recent decades. However, these resources are limited and their use in existing methods causes large production of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for global warming. Humanity also produces an extensive amount of waste, which adds another huge environmental burden. At present, the global annual production of municipal waste alone is 2.1 billion tons and can grow to 3.4 billion tons per year by 20501. Without functioning circular economy, global warming and waste production represent a liquidation threat to life on Earth.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established an international environmental treaty to combat "dangerous human interference with the climate system", in part by stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Based on EU climate policy, EU is committed to a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. This is also the commitment made by the EU, under the Paris Agreement, to the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Climate Change. In addition, the EU’s objective is to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. EU Directive 2018/851 amending Directive 2008/98 / EC on waste sets targets and obligations for EU Member States. According to this Directive, only about 10% of municipal waste can be landfilled by 2035. In Slovakia, more than 60% (66% in 2016) of municipal waste is currently landfilled.

Global demand for energy and new materials, challenges of replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources as well as challenges of waste management, are an impetus for exploring new innovative green technologies and environmental solutions. One of the most promising sources of renewable energy and materials is biomass. Different types of biomass, including waste biomass like food waste, waste from wood processing industry and agricultural or livestock production, can be processed to green raw materials and renewable energy. Other types of waste like MSW, plastic waste, e-waste, and industrial waste are also a huge and yet unused source of raw materials and energy.

Despite the great effort of scientists in recent decades to develop new methods for converting waste and biomass into renewable raw materials and energy, achieving sustainable development goals requires much closer cooperation in the development of new innovative technologies and their implementation in practice. Global environmental problems require global solutions, so cooperation between research and educational institutions in different countries and the transfer of information between them is crucial.

The synergy between research, education, and industrial practice is a key factor in the development and implementation of new innovative green technologies. Involving students in research activities within the educational process can significantly increase the effectiveness and quality of education and, at the same time, increase the potential of new innovations to be implemented in practice as students enter the work environment with much better overview of these technologies.

Interconnection between research, education, and industrial practice needs to be improved. Considering the current study programs at both universities, the most appropriate way to involve students in research activities is through their final theses or semestral projects.

The Institute of Chemical and Environmental Engineering of STU as the implementing body of this project makes great effort in involving students in innovative green research projects and industrial projects. Cooperation with partners from more experienced countries and cooperation with industrial partners are a part of these efforts.