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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article17 March 2021Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Ready to go: 5 LIFE close-to-market innovations

The LIFE programme helps companies to bring their green products, technologies and services to the market

Life14_env_it (1)
LIFE14 ENV/IT/000744

Within the environment and climate spheres, the LIFE programme helps companies to bring their green products, technologies and services to the market. These so-called close-to-market projects tend to focus on waste management, the circular economy, resource efficiency, water, air or climate change mitigation. 

Many of these ideas support the European Green Deal's objective of making the EU the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Some contribute to the EU Circular Economy Action Plan that encourages sustainable consumption and production. And others support the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Waste Framework Directive.  

Here’s a taster of some of the best LIFE close-to-market projects.

It’s time for a green cup of coffee 

Each year discarded coffee capsules cause 70 000 tonnes of waste across Europe – that’s around 6.5 times heavier than the Eiffel Tower. These capsules are made of materials like plastic and aluminium which are extremely difficult and expensive to recycle. The PLA4COFFEE team has come up with an alternative compostable capsule that is made from renewable sources like starch and sugar cane.  

The team has already opened a factory that can produce 400 such capsules per minute. The new capsule is cheap to produce, and 200 patents have been filed to protect this unprecedented innovation. 

Tests show that CO2 emissions per capsule are down by 40%. And producing them could save 15 000 tonnes of crude oil each year. This approach could be used to manufacture other products, which are currently made from plastic and other harmful materials. 

On 24 March, PLA4COFFEE will feature as a successful project example in the joint SMEunited/LIFE webinar on: ‘How to finance the greening of your food chain’. The project will also be showcased in this month’s high level EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste

Freshwater by the sea 

Many islands in the Mediterranean basin have limited freshwater resources. The Greek island of Tinos is no exception. To overcome this, authorities built a desalination unit to provide residents with a safe water supply. But desalination releases a lot of salty wastewater called brine into the sea, causing pollution and threatening marine life, especially sea grasses. 

The SOL-BRINE project team set out to make seawater desalination more environmentally friendly. Their technology is solar-powered and recovers demineralised water and salt from the brine.  During the project, they treated 200 tonnes of brine, producing 180 tonnes of water and 12 tonnes of salt. The approach increased the rate of water recovery from sea water from 30 to 90%. Their innovation could be used by other islands facing water shortages. It also has the potential to reduce utility bills for people living in coastal areas. 

The technology has been transferred to the LIFE BRINE-MINING project which aims to eliminate coal mine brine.  Also, the SOL-BRINE findings are currently being scaled-up by Dutch company SEALEAU under two Horizon 2020 projects: The first, ZERO BRINE, is taking place in Rotterdam Port and the second WATER-MINING  is happening on Italy’s Lampedusa island. Both projects are coordinated by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). 

The SOL-BRINE team is currently pitching their upscaled solution to potential investors. 

Bin lorries go green 

Heavy-duty vehicles like waste collection lorries normally use diesel. But these vehicles are responsible for around 5% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And they make a lot of noise, which is a nuisance, especially in built-up areas. 

Belgium’s LIFE ‘N GRAB HY! project team showed that hydrogen is a green alternative to power these heavy-duty vehicles. The team built two fully homologated 26-tonne hydrogen-fuelled waste collection lorries, which were deployed in the Eindhoven greater region as well as in Cologne’s Hürth area. 

The vehicles were a resounding success, reducing noise, air pollution and emissions significantly.  

Demand for the project’s lorry manufacturer has grown substantially because of the project – it now produces 50 such vehicles per year. 

The project’s final conference will take place as a webinar on 30 March. 

Never charge your device again 

An average mobile phone generates 315 kg of CO2 each year through usage and charging. The Dyemond Solar project team invented a new conducting material for use in their patented printable solar cell technology. They demonstrated its seamless integration into consumer products like tablets and wireless headphones. This means that these devices can recharge with ambient light.  

Exeger, the company behind the project, showed the scalability and economics of screen printing their solar cell technology. Their approach also eliminated toxic emissions. They built the world largest factory for dye-sensitised solar cells in Stockholm. The aim is to provide the global consumer electronics industry with a new and endless energy source for portable products. They have already partnered with several of the world’s leading consumer and wearable electronics manufacturers.  A second, mass-scale facility will be completed by 2023 and will provide this revolutionary light-harvesting material globally.   

The team has shown that these solar cells are economically viable to power consumer goods, paving the way for their production on an unprecedented scale. They will also cut greenhouse gas emissions from such devices.

A new life for polystyrene 

Europe’s construction sector discards some 200 000 tonnes of polystyrene foam each year.  To counter this, the PolyStyreneLoop project is collecting polystyrene waste that contains the brominated flame-retardant chemical called Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) from demolition sites. They transform this waste into recycled polystyrene, which is subsequently used to produce insulation material, thereby closing the loop.  

The team is building a demonstration plant that will recycle 3 000 tonnes of this polystyrene each year. They have also developed a plan to regularly obtain polystyrene waste from members of the project’s cooperative. 

The work could help halt polystyrene incineration in the EU altogether. It will certainly cut emissions, while saving on energy and petrochemicals, enabling polystyrene and the chemical bromine to become truly circular.  

The team expects to open 10 recycling plants across the EU and to cut CO2 emissions from polystyrene incineration by up to 47%.

Image 1 & 2: LIFE14 ENV/IT/000744
Image 3: LIFE09 ENV/GR/000299
Image 4: LIFE14 ENV/BE/000415
Image 5: LIFE09 ENV/SE/000355
Image 6: LIFE16 ENV/NL/000271. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.


Publication date
17 March 2021
Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
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