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Research centre for renewable energy and the environment in Novara

Where we are developing latest-generation technologies for latest-generation renewables and environmental protection.

Research programmes

This is our research centre for renewable energies and environmental protection. The structure is linked to a cutting-edge industrial estate, allowing us to enjoy exciting synergies in both research and production. Using skills in various fields, we are developing technology ranging from latest-generation solar to biofuel, storage of surplus electricity and thermal energy to electrical production from waves, all the way to qualitative and quantitative assessments of potential pollutants in ground water. Here we have developed unique technologies for using solar and thermal energy, like organic photovoltaics (OPV), luminescent solar concentrators (LSC) and concentrated solar power (CSP). Our Waste-to-Fuel (W2F) and Biomass-To-Fuel (B2F) technologies were also born in Novara. The first, already in place at a pilot plant in Gela, turns the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) in biofuel, while the second, developed by Eni-Versalis at the plant in Crescentino, uses the oleaginous micro-organisms from farm and forest cuttings to make biofuel.

Network of skills

The research centre in Novara is carrying on the scientific work of the Donegani Institute, one of the first industrial chemical research centres in Europe and for more than 70 years one of the most prestigious in applied chemistry for industry. Alongside other disciplines like physics, engineering, mathematics and IT, chemistry and industrial chemistry are today the two biggest specialist areas at the centre. Thanks to their strong skills in this field, our researchers have managed to put in place Waste-to-Fuel and Biomass-to-Fuel processes, which can produce advanced bio-oil from organic waste  or synthesise special photoactive polymers that can be printed on film thinner than a micrometre to create organic photovoltaics (OPV). Other molecules, added at the production phase to sheets of transparent plastic, can capture and concentrate light to generate electricity. We have applied this system to the luminescent solar concentrators (LSC) at the basis of Eni Ray Plus®. The Sun also feeds the parabolic mirror at the heart of the Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) pilot and heats a thermovector fluid that can provide heat for heating systems or homes. The Centre also works on energy storage. The excess electricity produced by renewable technologies powers an innovative pilot plant with a flow battery that converts it into chemical bond energy, ready to be converted back into electricity. The heat produced by the CSP can be stored by a wafer-based thermal storage tank, made of a material similar to concrete, in which oil flows. Again, when heat is needed at night, we simply reverse the direction of the oil flow. A photobioreactor is also in operation here for biofixing carbon dioxide using microalgae illuminated by artificial light powered by the flow battery. The solid scientific and technological foundations developed in Novara are further strengthened by a system of collaboration with other Eni research centres and the most important universities and research centres in Italy and the wider world, among them MIT in Boston, CNRS in France and the polytechnics of Milan and Turin.

Science to improve industry

All the technologies developed in Novara are designed to be applied in industry by integrating them in our businesses or marketing them, ultimately in order to improve efficiency and sustainability. Solar technologies like organic photovoltaics (OPV) and luminescent solar concentrators (LSC), for example, are sent straight to the building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) sector, a new concept of construction in which every building is electrically independent and self-sufficient, and linked to others to better balance local electricity networks. In these buildings, electricity is generated not only through silicon panels on the roofs of buildings, but also devices placed right within structural elements, like bricks, slates and windows. LSC and OPV can be installed in sound barriers, too. The concentrated solar power (CSP) still designed and developed in Novara makes this technology efficient because it replaces heavy panels of laminated glass with very light, reflective polymer films. Thanks to its simplified design, this system can be easily installed even in less technologically developed areas, because it does not take a specialist to set it up and it requires little material. Equally integrated in our operations is biofixation of carbon dioxide produced at industrial plants from microalgae, while the Eni Hydrocarbon Recovery (e-hyrec) system selectively recovers hydrocarbons (gasoline, diesel and even crude oil), without using surfactants, found in polluted ground water. Finally, Novara also develops passive samples which we can use to identify and define organic pollutants in earth and sediment, allowing for more accurate analysis of specific risks at sites, based on the presence of pollutants. Aware of its utility in the environmental field, we decided not to patent this technology, so that it could be available for all and shared with regulatory bodies for approval.


ENI'S FACES#2-Nanometric energy

I work to make the most of solar energy, using material you can't see with the naked eye. I find it fascinating studying something that produces energy but that you can't see. Every day, while looking for flexible, light solar solutions, I improve myself.

Alessandra Cominetti, research technician at the research centre in Novara

PEOPLE#2-Meet Angelo

From the linear to the circular

The principles of the circular economy are ever more fundamental to the research work in our laboratories in Novara. The Waste-to-Fuel system reuses vegetable and animal waste and transforms them into bio-oil for producing electrical energy or biofuel. Through the same approach, technology based on Fitorimedio uses plants to reclaim land polluted by heavy metals and hydrocarbons, returning them to their natural state. Research into photovoltaic technology, meanwhile, helps produce and store solar energy, limiting the use of fossil fuels and helping decarbonize the planet.