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The Nobel Prize of Energy

 By Sara Sangermani

Inventing a better use of energy sources, promoting scientific research and innovation, and encouraging a new generation of researchers – this is what drives the Eni Awards, which have been assigned every year since 2007. The Eni Award is considered as the Nobel Prize of Energy and has attracted as many as 7990 candidate projects over the last ten years. Which research projects will succeed in this latest edition and what will their contribution be to the energy sector and to the achievement of greater sustainability?

Double interview of the winners of the Young Researchers of the Year prize: Michele De Bastiani and Gianluca Longoni

The 2018 Eni Awards featured numerous winners and outstanding research projects. The awards were presented by the President of the Italian Republic, after careful evaluation carried out by a Scientific Commission, made up of world-renowned researchers and scientists including major Nobel Prize winners, in a solemn ceremony held on 22 October at the Palazzo del Quirinale.

The Energy Transition Award

The award for this category went to Omar Yaghi, professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research focused on the so-called reticular chemistry.
Assuming that to solve the problems and challenges of world energy transition it is necessary to manipulate matter at the atomic level, Professor Yaghi succeeded in demonstrating how, thanks to the creation of metal-organic and covalent-organic frameworks, it is possible to efficiently store methane and improve the capture and conversion of carbon dioxide and water from moisture in the air. On a practical level, the creation of these structures made from molecular blocks will makes possible to triple the range of vehicles powered by methane or to capture moisture from desert air.

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Omar Yaghi, professor of Chemistry at the University of California

The Advanced Environmental Solutions Award

This prestigious award went to Sang Yup Lee, who is professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), as well as  contributor of numerous articles on international scientific journals and an honorary professor in many world-renowned universities.
Professor Lee is a pioneer of systems metabolic engineering and his fundamental research into the metabolic engineering of microorganisms is the basis for a more sustainable production of various natural products, chemicals, solvents, fuels and materials from renewable resources, thanks to the development of microorganisms and dedicated bioprocesses.
This is a hugely important discovery given the need for products with a very low environmental impact for their entire life cycle in the near future.

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Sang Yup Lee, professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

The Energy Frontiers Award

Zhong Lin Wang, a leader in the field of nanotechnologies and nanosciences and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, won this award for the invention of triboelectric nanogenerators, more simply known by the abbreviation TENG, which allow for the development of marginal energy produced by minuscule movements or vibrations.
Triboelectrics have many applications in the field of energy collection from everyday activities, such as from a rotating tyre or the micro-movements of mobile or wearable electronic devices.
As a result of this research, we now have a sufficient knowledge in energy technology to further develop IoT, Artificial Intelligence and robotics.

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Zhong Lin Wang, a leader in the field of nanotechnologies and nanosciences and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology

The awards for Young Researchers of the Year

This ambitious award is given every year to two young Italian researchers who, as a result of their studies and work, have distinguished themselves from their peers.
The winners at the 2018 Eni Awards were Gianluca Longoni, from the University of Milan Bicocca and Michele De Bastiani from the University of Padova – Italian Institute of Technology.
Longoni has been carrying out research at the University of Milan Bicocca, which could lay the groundwork for what is to become the next generation of batteries. Working on the mechanisms that allow energy storage of oxide and non-oxide inorganic compounds, he has succeeded in developing synthesis processes with a low environmental impact for the preparation of materials capable of reliably accumulating Sodium and therefore creating Sodium rechargeable batteries from completely renewable sources.
The activity of the other best young researcher was, in this instance, focused on the stability of thirdgeneration solar cells. Polymeric and perovskite solar cells degrade quite rapidly as a result of several environmental factors, which over time reduce the electrical stability of devices and decreases their performance. This happens at a much slower rate for those based on Silicon. Michele’s research proposes the engineering of perovskite interfacial layers, which optimise the composition of the extractor layers. This solution would allow research to lead the way to the replacement of Silicon solar cells which, as we know, have a greater environmental impact in both their production and disposal.

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Gianluca Longoni, from the University of Milan Bicocca
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Michele De Bastiani, from the University of Padova - Italian Institute of Technology

Awards for debut research – the two Young Talents from Africa

Emerance Jessica Claire D’Assise Goma-Tchimbakala from Marien NGouabi University and Elvis Tinashe Ganda from the Durban University of Technology are the two winners of two awards, which promote the development of research on the African continent.
Goma-Tchimbakala’s research looked at finding a solution for global pollution, especially the one caused by hydrocarbons. This is a serious problem in the young researcher’s home country, the Republic of the Congo. She developed a technology called bioremediation which exploits the natural ability of microorganisms to degrade pollutants in the environment. The use of these bacteria allows environments contaminated by hydrocarbons to be decontaminated and returned to agricultural uses.
Ganda’s research, on the other hand, focused on the catalytic conversion of waste vegetable oil mixtures to create alternatives to traditional fuels. This has not only made it possible to recycle a waste product of difficult reuse but also produces a biofuel with a much lower impact on the environment than those of fossil origins. This is an interesting and useful research that would allow a truly sustainable economy to be achieved and progressively reduce the negative impact of carbon on our planet.

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Emerance Jessica Claire D'Assise Goma-Tchimbakala, from Marien NGouabi University
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Elvis Tinashe Ganda, from the Durban University of Technology

READ MORE: Eni Award by Paola Arpino

about the author
Sara Sangermani