Ravenna, a model for energy transition

Eni's energy transition passes through Italy's main energy district with projects aimed at achieving decarbonisation targets.

by Davide Perillo
11 November 2021
11 min read
by Davide Perillo
11 November 2021
11 min read

What hits you first are the solar panels: a sweeping tapestry spread out over the area to the southwest where the roads run alongside the installations. Slightly further on is the bioremediation platform, a facility designed to clear industrial waste from the land, another core element of the project.

An ongoing transformation

And while the changes are still in progress, rendering and images already convey a clear sense of what the Ponticelle site in Ravenna will look like. They show how this 26-hectare area, a key part of Eni’s local activities, is steadily being transformed – just like the world of energy.

The sector is undergoing a profound transformation. And it was in Ravenna, at the OMC (Med Energy Conference and Exhibition) at the end of September, that Giuseppe Ricci, Eni’s Energy Evolution Chief Operating Officer, as President of Confindustria Energia noted that “increasingly challenging climate goals” and “the urgency of profoundly transforming our economic activity” require “an inclusive vision”, where “we make use of all the solutions available to us”. This needs total commitment, underpinned by a great deal of work and a clear vision. Ravenna is an example of this in action – and has been for many years.

In Ravenna, Eni has been building the main Italian energy district, developing a model that has gone on to be replicated across the world. First came the extraction of methane in the 1950s. This was followed by the development of upstream activities and, over time, other elements, including: thermal energy and electricity (the Enipower plant has an installed capacity of 973 MW); chemistry (through Versalis) and land reclamation, a field in which Eni Rewind is at the cutting edge, not forgetting photovoltaics and the circular economy.

A long journey requires a proper equipment

Now, however, this energy district, is taking on another form. Ravenna is becoming a cutting-edge model of what the 2020 Local Sustainability Report terms a “just transition”. In other words, a socially fair energy transition – which translates into actions that support the achievement of Eni's 2050 objectives: the elimination of net greenhouse gas emissions, the increased capacity to generate energy from renewable sources and the growth of natural gas to provide more than 90% of total hydrocarbons produced by Eni globally. Energy transition is achieved through actions and, while the destination is key, so is the route we take.

Alberto Manzati, Head of Eni’s Central Northern District (DICS), explains: “It’s like a journey. When you set out, you need to be ready and well equipped. You need enough time as well as take the right tools with you. A ‘just transition’ adheres to the principle that energy affects us all: it has consequences on the environment, but also on jobs, livelihoods and future generations. But especially to provide continuity of supply during transformation”.

Just like any transformation, success hinges on a range of conditions being met at the right time: “Incentive-based regulation, clearly set out and implemented within a definite timeframe; first-class know-how and infrastructure, with skilled workers; and involvement from all internal and external stakeholders,” lists Manzati. “We also need passionate leadership teams driven by a vision for the future and clear communication to help everyone organise themselves as efficiently as possible.”

Manzati’s words point towards the example of Ponticelle, where targeted management of reclamation and redevelopment activity has added value to the entire local area. The former industrial area owned by Eni Rewind was declared a “permanently secure” site last spring. Over the coming months the installation of a photovoltaic plant from Eni New Energy and a bio-recovery platform are planned (the latter is capable of cleaning 80,000 tonnes of earth a year using native micro-organisms, so the soil can be used for other purposes). Also on the cards is an industrial waste management platform; built by Eni Rewind and Herambiente, through the joint venture HEA it will process 60,000 tonnes of special waste a year, disposing of what cannot be recycled and recovering elements that can be used as energy or materials. The platform will mark another step forward for a strategy that is already starting to show results: 39,000 tonnes of waste were processed in the area in 2020, 10% less  than in 2019. Overall, 92% of waste that can be recovered is recycled.

The Ponticelle project in the industrial area of Ravenna

Many projects aimed at achieving set goals

Other plans for Ravenna include a CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage) project. This will see the creation of a carbon dioxide storage hub which will initially house with a pilot demonstration stage up to 100,000 tonnes of CO2  and that for the industrial step will have an envisaged capacity of up to 500 million tonnes. "This is an opportunity to take concrete action to reduce emissions in some of the most difficult-to-decarbonize sectors (such as the iron and steel, the cement factories or chemical industries) while creating a highly advanced national supply chain for decarbonization," says Manzati “In an upstream context, Ravenna is a test case for much of what needs to take place to achieve decarbonization and a just transition. "We are looking into renewable energy generated by waves with the ISWEC (Inertial Sea Wave Energy Converter) project, launched in its pilot phase right here in 2019, and now in a scale-up phase across other sites in Italy".

The first solar-powered offshore platforms (BEAF) have also been designed for the area and are effectively operational. Another renewable energy project, which DICS is already working on, is the installation of photovoltaic systems that will supply its sites’ energy consumption, starting from the Marina di Ravenna management centre, where in these last days, the installation of more of 650kW-plus panels have been completed. Similar plants will also be replicated in other Eni’s sites such as the Casalborsetti and Falconara power plants.

"We’re also carrying out a number of efficiency projects that reduce emissions," Manzati continues. An example of this is the electrification of the compression system at the Rubicone plant in Gatteo Mare, implemented in 2020, which has led to a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 23,000 tonnes per year. “Our new projects also encompass sustainable mobility: we’re installing electric charging points powered by photovoltaic systems and purchasing a new fleet of electric, hybrid and natural gas-fuelled cars. During the transition phase, the energy mix will be crucial. Of course, there’s a lot still to learn and a great deal of work ahead,  but the results are clear.”

Walking together to achieve a single objective

And these results are also evident elsewhere, in the “third pillar” of Eni’s sustainability strategy, alongside carbon neutrality and operational excellence – collaborations for development. More specifically, this means partnerships with local organisations. “These are crucial in enhancing the value of the area’s resources and strengthening the longstanding relationships we want to keep investing in,” says Manzati. “We follow the principle of long-term partnerships to create shared, long-lasting value. We call this the “dual flag approach”, Eni standing alongside the local areas we work in.”

And, in this respect, Ravenna is another example of best practice. From 2000 to 2020, Eni made more than 65 million euros available for education, environmental and energy efficiency projects in Emilia-Romagna. But it is the area around Ravenna that has drawn particular benefit from Eni’s commitment. Over the past three years, the company has supported a range of training, cultural, sporting and educational initiatives, including events such as the Ravenna Festival and a month-long tree planting event. And since the onset of the pandemic, Eni has been active in supporting hospitals and voluntary associations’ efforts in fighting Covid.

This has come on top of the funding granted to Ravenna’s local council to enhance nature, protect the coastline and make local schools more energy efficient. Eni has also backed the restoration of buildings in beautiful locations such as the houses in the pine forests of Classe and San Vitale, which were at grave risk of decay. Other initiatives include a collaboration between the local council and Eni’s Fondazione Mattei to create the Ravenna Chemistry Observatory, which opened in 2018; and, in 2020, the coLABoRA project, which has been backing ideas and start-ups linked to the local area for six years, which has also seen Joule, Eni’s business school, take the field.

Eni is also getting involved in some completely new activities and taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities. “Romagna is a very enterprising, naturally business-minded region,” notes Manzati. “It is great at quickly capitalising on opportunities.” One example of this is local mussel farming. “Over time we realised that offshore platforms are a natural habitat for mussels.” That gave rise to the idea of employing two local fishing cooperatives based in Marina di Ravenna, for underwater cleaning, following all the necessary safety protocols. The result? 32 divers and eight boats working full time to harvest the mussels, which are sold under the “Marina di Ravenna Wild Mussel” brand. “Industry working alongside tourism, fishing and food,” as Manzati puts it. “It’s a great example of the extent to which we form part of an integrated environment.” And not just that. It’s also a model for how a clear vision “can give assets used for a specific function a second life, in support of the environment.” A just transition, in other words.

The author: Davide Perillo

Journalist, he currently deals with sustainability, social issues and Third Sector. He was director of Tracce magazine for 13 years. He is a member of the editorial staff of the Rimini Meeting (an international event for which he has managed numerous meetings), he was editor-in-chief of Sette, a magazine of Corriere della Sera newspaper and covered the economy section for L'Europeo. He has a degree in Philosophy and a master's degree in Journalism.