IMDEA Energy. Communicating science to drive citizen engagement in the transition to a Circular Economy model

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IMDEA Energy is a research center created by the Community of Madrid in Spain, whose objectives are to promote and carry out R&D activities related to energy, especially for the promotion of renewable energies and clean energy technologies that allow progress towards a sustainable energy system. 

In this post, we interview two researchers from IMDEA Energy, Félix Marín and Patricia Pizarro, who tell us how IMDEA Energy is working to involve citizens in the basic and applied research processes they carry out through scientific communication, dissemination and diffusion initiatives. Their voices allow us to know what is the approach that these high performance research organizations, involved in the development of basic technologies that drive the circular economy, have on the role of citizenship in scientific processes and in motivating the change of economic model. 

Félix Marín is responsible for tecnhology development and transfer at IMDEA Energy. His job is focused on seeking new development projects in collaboration with companies and other research centers and transferring the technology to society, usually through companies that bring the new products and processes to the market. 

Patricia Pizarro is a senior researcher associated with the Thermochemical Processes Unit at IMDEA Energy. Within the different lines of research in which she works, she is responsible for projects of valorization or conversion of organic solid wastes such as plastics, tires, biomass into commercial products and chemical products of interest, alternative liquid fuels to fossil fuels trough pyrolysis, a technology that decomposes waste at high temperatures by a catalyst to obtain, among other elements, a liquid product from with chemical products of interest are extracted. 

Manuel Gértrudix: What role do you think that citizen science should play in connecting society with scientific research?

F.M.: In my opinion, it is essential for citizens to know what is being done in research centers. They should know, that what is done in these centers, can have a practical application and, in some way, demand from the authorities and the rest of society that improvements capable of developing science can be introduced.

M.G.: What are the main challenges we face, in the short and medium term, to develop the transition to a circular economy model?

F.M.: The essential challenge is to develop new processes. The circular economy is not only about valorizing residues. It is, above all, about developing a whole series, of new physical and chemical processes, with which to make all the assets and tools that we use in our daily lives. And, also, to make them last longer. To make sure that these assets do not age quickly and become residues. And, to achieve this, it is vital that citizens, society, science and business work hand in hand.

P.P.: Basically, the key to success in all of these initiatives, to achieve the circular economy objectives, is to make citizens aware of the need to make proper use of energy resources, and also of the products. And, of course, once these products have been consumed, residues must be properly managed. Here, the effort put in by the family in the domestic setting to  correctly classify waste is key. This is because we will not be able to succeed, or that success, will be hindered if waste is not properly classified or separated. It is essential to raise citizens awareness of these types of activities.

Basically, the key to success in all of these initiatives, to achieve the circular economy objectives, is to make citizens aware of the need to make proper use of energy resources, and also of the products.

M.G.: Do you think that promoting citizen science can help drive the transition to a circular economy model?

F.M.: Of course, citizens must be directly involved in the research process. Moreover, they are financing it. Let’s consider that a large part of research funding comes from public funds, that is, it is supported by citizens through their taxes. Therefore, it is essential to articulate activities so that this knowledge reaches them, and citizen participation and involvement is encouraged. For example, an interesting intitiative to encourage this participation are the citizen laboratories, such as one about energy and sustainability, in which IMDEA Energy is involved. [In this Laboratory, teachers and students are directly involved to participate in the development of innovative models that allow generating new solutions to reduce consumption, recycle and reuse existing products].

P.P.: At a social level, it is the awareness, as I said, of good waste product management once a product or energy resource has been consumed, to classify them correctly. Iat the level of business, it is also important to raise awareness of being involved in all of these tasks and objectives of the circular economy. Collaborating hand in hand with research centers. And at the global level, a greater involvement, of course, a real involvement by governments in waste product management policies.

M.G.: How can this process be encouraged in schools?

F.M.: Well, we are doing a lot of activies to bring all this scientific knowledge to children and then, also to young people. Trying to make them aware of the basics of science, of advances in technology and also that they can be interested in developing their career in the future in this industry. We participate in activities such as Science Week, researchers’night, fairs such as “A un lado Madrid de Ciencia”. And, I believe that it is worthwile to continue strenghtening and deepening these kinds of activities.

P.P.: Yes, citizen involvement is a key objective and is essential. So that, at a business or research level, all waste management initiatives can be successful. Avoiding their incineration or landfill disposal, it is essential that waste be separated and sorted at the household level. Families should be aware of the importance of separating waste correctly. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness and education in schools and institutes, but of course, also at the family level. It is not only in schools, but also in the family environment where we should try to raise awareness of these aspects.

It is vital that citizens, society, science and business work hand in hand.

M.G.: What role do you think scientific communication and dissemination should play in order to improve the interest and commitment of citizens to the transition to a circular economy?

F.M.: I think that this dissemination has to be enhanced and, above all, it has to be made understandable, so that what is being developed in the laboratories is explained in a clear and entertaining way, so that it can be understood by anyone, and is attractive to children and young people. And let’s make it a challenge to continue advancing in future generations, benefiting from thescientific advances that we will have in a few years’ time.

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