The EnAct-SDGs project, funded by EIT RawMaterials (EIT RM), of which the Uni- Trento CLab is a partner, is based on many themes: UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, new business models for modernization in raw materials, innovation and circular economy. The Project aims to promote knowledge transfer and Knowledge Triangle Integration (KTI) building in order to enhance the innovation capacity of future Raw Materials Professionals in the East and South East (ESEE) countries and the incorporation of the Sustainable Development principles in the educational programmes of the Beneficiary Universities.
What is EnAct SDGs?
A two-year EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS), which aims to build a dynamic network between industry, academia, researchers and Raw Materials (RM) professionals. EnAct-SDGs has succeeded in creating a consortium composed by: beneficiary universities (belonging to the ESEE countries) such as AGH (University of Science and Technology) in Poland; NTUA (National Technical University of Athens) in Greece and TUKE (Technical University of Košice) in Slovakia; innovative academic and research institutions such as MUL (Technical University of Loeben) in Austria, TUBAF (Technology University of Freiberg) in Germany, UNITrento (University of Trento) in Italy and HIT (Hub Innovazione Trentino) in Italy; and, finally, an industrial partner: Mytilineos SA, a Greek company in the fields of metallurgy, energy and EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction). The consortium so created has the objective to develop a plan of actions and interventions that can be inspiring to the improvement of the Curricula of the ESEE RM Universities on the theme of raw materials and sustainability.
The EnAct SDGs 1st Pilot School conducted on 28-30 September 2020, was the test bench. It was, in fact, the first occasion in which all partners defined a common goal and actively collaborated to achieve it. An intense experience full of food for thought. Thanks to teachers, experts in ecology, sustainable business models and raw materials (RM), it was possible to create a dynamic setting in which to learn and develop projects aimed at a green model.
"It’s essential to raise awareness of the RM industry and key stakeholders about the importance of designing new materials and products with an extended life cycle to reduce the ever-increasing demand for RM and generally improve the sustainability of the industry.”
These are Katerina Adams’s words, associate professor at the School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering (NTUA) in Athens and coordinator of the EnacAct SDGs project. She also emphasizes the importance of international collaboration in particular between countries in the EU area.
The Pilot School involved 30 students and Lecturers from 6 European countries Austria, Germany, Poland, Greece, Italy and Slovakia. The academic backgrounds and competencies were different too: engineering, computer science, economics, geoengineering and mining engineering. The heterogeneity from an academic, experiential and cultural perspective represents the added value of this Pilot School, as it allowed to develop multifaceted projects, resulting from an intense work of confrontation and collaboration.
The School should have taken place in Slovakia and the participants should have confronted each other in person to create a project. Due to the international health emergency, the Pilot School was held online with some of the students in Poland in Slovakia participating physically from their Universities.
We asked Matteo Cevese, Business Developer of Hub Innovazione Trentino, for an opinion on this teaching method:
“We designed a program that allowed a good balance between frontal lessons and working groups, we had the opportunity to have many speakers on specific topics from different locations in Europe. Students had the opportunity to learn and practice teamwork online, using new tools and maximizing time and resources. However, the online mode strongly limits informal interaction: human contact, in my opinion, allows brainstorming and being more creative.
The objective of the teams was to propose economically sustainable solutions to a real problem posed by Mytilineos S.A, industrial partner of EnAct SDGs: the reduction of environmental impact in the management of Aluminium waste materials.
Of the seven groups of participants, two distinguished themselves for the most original and ecological proposals, as well as for the highly innovative character of their project. We interviewed representatives of both groups: Elisa Reginato, UniTrento student and collaborator of a Dutch technology consulting company and Stavros Tomazinakis, Mining and Metallurgical Engineering School student of the National Technical University of Athens.
"I learned more about the economic cycle than I did during my academic studies. I understood the strategies adopted by professionals in the raw materials sector to reduce the environmental impact generated during the company's production phase. This experience will allow me to approach my work in a different way. I will think not only about how to do things but also how to reduce the impact on the environment".
Elisa continues to tell us about her experience describing the suggested project.
"My team proposed the creation of a new branch of the company using hybrid technologies for the production of aluminium using a new business model to reduce the carbon footprint. The central feature of the model was the creation of a reverse supply chain for the collection of waste materials from our customers in order to reduce the amount of quality incompatible waste and thus the total amount of waste that the company would produce when processing the waste itself".
Different, but equally relevant, is the experience of Stavros Tomazinakis:
“When I first saw the call for participation in the EnAct SDGs 1st pilot school, I immediately knew, that this would be a great experience that truly fitted, both my personality and the needs that I had at the time, to learn and understand the broader picture of the economical, sustainability and entrepreneurship aspects of the Raw Materials Industry.”
Stavros continues telling us about their solution:
"The problem that my team and I decided to face, was the amount of CO2 emissions due to the production of aluminium, mainly caused by the consumption of carbon anodes, during electrolysis. The solution we proposed was to change the CO2 producing anodes with the inert ones. The inert anodes in alloys, cermets or ceramics produce O2, instead of CO2, and have the additional advantage of being able to be subsequently recycled if treated correctly".
The feedback from students is therefore positive. Will the organizers have been satisfied with the results achieved? Matteo Cevese answered us:
"Students have acquired new skills, learned to use new tools and developed a new mindset that will help them build their careers as innovation specialists".
Thanks to this first edition of EnAct SDGs we have been able to understand that we can and must talk about environmental and economic sustainability and we have learned new knowledge and skills useful for the next edition of the school.