Sustainable development is more topical than ever. Climate change, impacts on biodiversity and depletion of natural resources are mankind’s major challenges. Sustainable development needs cleaner and resource efficient environmental technologies which can decrease material inputs, reduce energy consumption and emissions, recover valuable by-products, minimize waste disposal problems or some combination of these.
Environmental technologies are not just individual technologies, but total systems which include know-how, procedures, goods and services, and equipment as well as organizational and societal processes and procedures.
Societal impact and strategic research objectives
Environmental technology contributes to sustainable development by protecting the environment and maintaining welfare. The key issue in environmental technology development is to identify promising technologies while taking into account all life cycle stages of the product or service, from raw material extraction to disposal. Due to the holistic nature of environmental technology, concepts such as eco-efficiency, life cycle assessment (LCA) and eco-design are all needed in the successful creation of environmental technologies. A strategic research objective is to develop these concepts and make them operational in, for example, integrated assessment of technological scenarios.
Political and administrative frame
The environmental technology research issues can be linked to several European initiatives like the European Commission’s Environmental Action Plan (ETAP) and Integrated Product Policy (IPP). ETAP sets the groundwork to stimulate the development and uptake of environmental technologies whereas IPP seeks to minimise the environmental impacts of products by looking at all phases of a products' life-cycle and taking action where it is most effective. To reach the goals stated in ETAP and IPP there are serious research needs on many different levels throughout Europe. For this reason, the development and applications of environmental technologies play important roles in the FP7 programs.
Environmental technologies in the context of pollution are process and product technologies related to waste and the three main pollution media (air, soil, water). Thus, the development of environmental technologies are linked to EU pollution regulations.
Main sub-fields and areas
The PEER environmental technology activities fall into three main categories:
- general methods and tools (sustainability assessment and indicators, rules to carry out LCA on biofuels, testing, etc.) that are applicable to all technologies in order to make them more environmentally friendly.
- specific technology development to reduce harmful environmental effects (solid waste management, environmental restoration/remediation, technologies for landscape management and sustainable agriculture etc.)
- technologies for environmental monitoring and analysis (e.g. online sampling and monitoring devices within integrated water resource management, sensors for groundwater condition and flows, remote sensing)
As an integrated methodological research area, a main objective of this research topic is to create permanent exchange between the research projects carried out in PEER institutes. This will enable the sharing of knowledge and the design of common approaches thus progressively creating synergies and critical mass and avoiding redundant work. Thereby the area can contribute to a dynamic integration of the PEER institutes.
So far most of the PEER centres’ work in environmental technology has been national and funded by agencies for technology development, research councils and Ministries. A major priority will be to make the national work internationally visible by publishing results in international journals and by creating international research teams in internationally funded projects.