Eni Award: our energy science award

2008 saw the first edition of the Eni Award. Since then, 87 researchers from five continents have received awards. And now, the story goes on with the opening of the calls for applications for 2022.

14 October 2021
9 min read
14 October 2021
9 min read

An international event for applied research in energy

The story of the Eni Award spans five continents and the careers of dozens of researchers and scientists. Since it was established as a company award in 2008, it has grown to become an internationally recognised accolade for applied research and technological innovation in energy. Each year, the prize-winning work involves discoveries which make a big impact, bringing radical breakthroughs closer – in energy efficiency, in renewables, in decarbonization and in safeguarding the environment. What’s more, in 2017, the Eni Award was opened to scientific talent in Africa, a continent with enormous human potential. In order to provide an even more complete overview of current knowledge, in recent years topics related to sustainability and energy access have been included. These in turn are linked to achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable development Goals (SDGs). As always, the Award features a section devoted to the most inspiring doctoral theses and recognition of the most significant technological innovations developed by Eni researchers and technical experts.

The 2020 winners

Now in their 12th edition, the Eni Awards 2020 will be presented on 14 October, during an official ceremony held at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, attended by the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella.

The Energy Transition award, one of the three major awards honouring the best hydrocarbon innovations for decarbonizing the energy system, was presented to David T. Allen of the University of Texas, Austin. The Energy Frontiers award for research into renewable energy sources and energy storage was awarded to Chintamani Nages Ramachandra Rao, of the International Centre for Materials Science, Bangalore. Finally, the Advanced Environmental Solutions award dedicated to research into the protection of air, water and land and the remediation of industrial sites went to Jürgen Caro and Jörg Kärger, from the Universities of Hanover and Leipzig respectively.

The award for Young Talent from Africa, introduced in 2017 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Eni Awards and dedicated to young talents from the African continent, went to Alaa Abbas and Ahmed Mohamed Ismail Tarek from the American University in Cairo and Djalila Ben-Bouchta from Cairo University.

The Young Researcher of the Year award is presented every year to two researchers under the age of 30 who have received a research doctorate in an Italian university. It was won this year by Matteo Morciano and Francesca De Falco.

In the Recognition at Innovation Eni section, which recognises the most revolutionary projects developed by Eni's researchers and technical experts, awards were given to:

  • Roberto Millini, Michela Bellettato and Giuseppe Bellussi for patenting a process of CO2 mineralisation with natural mineral phases and the use of the products obtained during the making of cement.
  • Giovanna Carpani, Ilaria Pietrini for the E-Limina (Trademark) technology, linking isotopic and microbial investigations to aid the analysis of the biodegradation of contaminated sites (natural attenuation).
  • Filomena Castaldo, Orazio Lo Chiano, Alessandro Riva for the ultra-intensified CO2 bio-fixation technology, which is based on the bio-fixation of CO2 by microalgae in photobioreactors lit by an artificial light adapted specifically for their optimal photosynthesis.

Furthermore, the special mention "Eni Joule for Entrepreneurship" was given to the teams:

  • Bi-rex, an early stage start-up (TRL 4) that has developed a green process for biopolymer production (tree-free cellulose and chitin). A significant example of female entrepreneurship, Bi-rex was founded by two researchers from the Politecnico di Milano and is in the process of industrial development thanks to the support of a business angel. Recognised by Joule at the 2020 “StartCup Lombardia”, it has benefitted since January 2021 from a customised incubation scheme led by Polihub, with the methodological support of Joule.
  • ResourSEAs, an intermediate start-up (TRL 6), operates in services for the circular exploitation of saline solutions, including mineral recovery and energy production. Founded as a spin-off of the University of Palermo (UniPa), with a patent already filed, it then joined the Joule acceleration scheme and is carrying out experiments with the support of Eni R&D. The team is made up of professors and researchers who are highly specialised in STEM disciplines (chemistry, physics and engineering).
  • RESET (Renewable Energy Solutions Environmental Technology), which has a very high level of maturity (TRL 9), is now an SME based in Rieti and deals with combined heat and power generation through biomass gasification. Started in 2015 by four founders, it now has around 70 employees. Selected by Joule in Elis's Open Italy 2020 programme, it has just completed a trial run with Eni.

The energy of the future starts here

Since 2008, the Eni Awards have become an international benchmark for energy innovation. Its story begins in 2007, when it became part of Eni's technological master plan, replacing the Eni-Italgas award for improving use of energy sources, promoting science and technology with environmental applications, and making the most of the new generations of researchers.

Over the years, the award has evolved to embrace areas environmental remediation, hydrocarbons and renewable energy, with one eye on developing countries and the ideas of young students and Eni people. The Eni Awards are bestowed every year and now involve some of the most important scientific institutions in the world, along with Eni's research centres.

In 2008 applications numbered 167 and rose to 1,253 in 2014. For the main prize categories, the average is more than 600 applications per year, although it was decided to tighten the eligibility parameters due to the high number of applications and to raise the standard.

Overall, 8,506 researchers have applied in the three main categories over the past decade: 2,056 of them in the hydrocarbon sector, 3,301 in renewables and 3,149 in environmental protection.

Including the young researchers' awards, there have been 10,644 applications since 2008, an average of 819 per year.

This remarkable number includes the cream of the research world, showing their enthusiasm for innovative research and attention to the crucial issues of energy and the environment.

Awards: a few case studies

The Eni Awards have recognised some outstanding figures: in 2013, for example, the Renewable Energy award went to American Frances H. Arnold who was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2018. In 2012, meanwhile, Canadian Barbara Sherwood Lollar, who became famous for her studies on the presence of water on Mars, published in 2019, was chosen for her work on the application of stable isotope geochemistry in the protection of groundwater resources and the environment. Among other things, the Eni Awards are noteworthy for the significant female presence among award-winners, with 7 in 20 being women.

In 2013, Italian researcher Roberto Danovaro was recognised for his studies on the marine environment and its role in the CO2 cycle. And, in the same year, shortly after receiving his award, professor Danovaro, who had become famous around the world, was made President of the Anton Dohrn geological station in Naples, a national institute of international importance. In December 2020, Danovaro was recognised by Expertscape as the world’s leading scientific authority in the seas and oceans category.

Overall, from their creation to the present day, the Eni Awards have involved various distinguished scientists, from John Craig Venter, known for the sequencing of the human genome, to Gérard Férey, a researcher into nanoporous hybrid and inorganic solids who died in 2017, and even Emiliano Mutti, one of the fathers of modern Italian geology.