As Glaciers Melt & Plastic Waste Mounts, European Inventor Awards Honour Scientists Who Lead The Way

Amidst reports of alarming rates of world’s glacier melting and unmanageable plastic waste around the globe, scientists show some promise for the future with “technological optimism” at the European Inventor Award in Vienna this week, writes Eli Hadzhieva for EU Today.

The Austrian winners of the award in the category of industry Klaus Feichtinger und Manfred Hackl have thrived to address these pressing environmental issues by making plastic recycling simpler and more widespread. Their high-performance plastic recycling technology turns plastic waste into pellets that can be used to make new products.

“The recycling industry is quite new and we have to invent new technologies to solve the existing problems and ensure circular economy in the waste industry”, said Manfred Hackly at the award ceremony organised by the European Patent Office (EPO) at the Wiener Stadthalle on 20 June.

"I am a technological optimist”, commented American entrepreneur Gavin McIntyre, who was a nominee for this year’s award.  “I am confident that in the next 100 years, we will totally eliminate plastic and replace it by a mixture of different sustainable and bio-based products, such as mushroom, wood, bacteria and algae”.

Together with his partner Eben Bayer, he set up Ecovative to “grow” a 100 percent biodegradable product based on mycelia fungi, which is then used for protective packaging, textile, insulation and acoustic foams, cosmetics and food production.

“We use agricultural waste, such as corn stalks, to grow our mushrooms - a process which takes only 9 days.  Our product results in 20 percent less energy use and 12 percent of less greenhouse emissions when compared to plastic”, explains McIntyre.

“Consumers are increasingly conscious and are demanding environment-friendly products and this can be seen by the favourable legislation in the EU, Canada and India.  The US will slowly come around after realising the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans in addition to the burden that plastic puts on municipal landfills and recycling facilities,” he adds.

The Founder of the Dutch company Finsulate Rik Breur is determined to save the oceans. The occasional sailor, who received the sail-shaped award in the category of Small and Medium Enterprises, was inspired by sea urchins when he invented a biocide-free fibre wrap to replace toxic chemicals used to protect boats from algae, muscles, barnacles and similar fouling.  “Chemical paint contributes to 20 percent of the weight of the plastic soup, which is polluting our seas,” notes Breur. “Thanks to our cost-effective and green product sea organisms slide off its prickly surface, which results in boats saving up to 40 percent on their fuel consumption”.

Highlighting that companies can better comply with the Green Shipping Indexes if they use Finsulate, “Pleasure crafts tend to be more environment-friendly but the big vessels are not interested in our product. This is the real challenge”, he adds.

For Dutch inventors Alexander van der Lely and Karel van den Berg, who came up with the idea of Lely Astronaut milking robot, it was important to ease the hard work of farmers with “cow-friendly” automation and to achieve higher labour productivity. “It is not only about animal welfare”, says van den Berg. “Due to the circular nature of this innovation green gas emissions are reduced, hence the carbon footprint of automised farms are around 8 percent less than traditional farms.

"Thanks to this technology, now used by 30 percent of the Dutch farms, the next generation farmers will be more willing to do the work and ensure that the dairy sector lives on,” he underlines.

Besides their achievements in green technologies, scientists were awarded for their inventions in cancer diagnostics, rechargeable battery technology and DNA testing during the 14th edition of the ceremony.  Notably, Spanish scientist Margarita Salas Falgueras received the "Lifetime achievement" award and the Popular prize. Jérôme Galon (France) and Akira Yoshino (Japan) were other awardees in the research and non-EPO countries categories, respectively.

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​Eli Hadzhieva

​Eli Hadzhieva

Eli Hadzhieva studied economics and political science at the Middle East Technical University, the University of Manchester, King’s College London, Sciences Po Paris and the École Nationale d’Administration.  

After joining the OECD as a consultant and serving at the AFET, DROI, LIBE and INTA Committees of the European Parliament as a parliamentary attaché, she founded EURELIZ EU consultancy company and Dialogue for Europe ASBL in 2012-2014.  

She elaborated expert studies on the role of the EU in international organisations, digital economy and European elections while writing articles in multiple languages for the Parliament Magazine, Euronews, Le Soir, l’OBS, Revue Études Européennes, Euractiv, EUobserver, New Europe etc. in various topics, including the European Neighbourhood policy, human rights, security and defence, radicalisation, immigration, trade and climate change.

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