Paris Agreement, what now?

Few hours ago we heard about the US decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. This means the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases will exit the international effort to address  global warming, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not taking part to it.

As the reactions are coming in, Europe vows to keep the commitment to limit warming below 2oC and strive to keep temperatures at 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. However, many are concerned that other countries could follow US´s decision.

Obviously, the American scientific community is worried to loose vital funding for investments in basic science, research and development of low-carbon energy technologies.

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“Careful observation is the first thing to do in science”

This is the wise recommendation of Sumio Iijima, with which I am lucky to share the floor during the NTAI conference in Israel these days! Everything sta2017-05-09 15.35.52rted with two letters from Kroto and Smalley sent to Sumio Iijima in 1987 asking for help. Two year before, in 1985, Kroto, Smalley and Curl saw a strange spike in the time-of-flight mass spectrum, after vaporising a graphite disk under laser pulses.Screenshot 2017-05-17 12.36.45


At that time, it was known that carbon appears in nature in the form of graphite and diamond. The strange pattern in the spectrum was a hint of the formation of unknown carbon clusters of 60 carbon atoms: the fullerenes were born. However, after Kroto et al. published their discovery in Nature, not many believed the existence of these carbon structures. Some more evidence was needed!

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Materials needs for our energy future

The need for action is pressing. If we want to limit the global warming to well below 2°C, as a goal identified at the COP21 Paris Agreement, the world needs to embark on one of the most profound transformations in its history: a transition from carbon-based energy sources to a low-emissions future. The challenges ahead are many, including new energy carriers, a major transformation of the energy infrastructure, and significant materials advances over the coming decades.

To talk about this and much more, next week I will moderate a panel of discussion during the MRS Spring meeting in Phoenix: Materials Needs for Energy Sustainability by 2050. Together with top experts we will discuss how we can achieve an energy-efficient, low-carbon future and what scientists, policy makers and the society as a whole can do to realise this vision.

If you are in Phoenix, please join us!

New era of a hydrogen energy society – the Japanese perspective on transportation

Two countries, Japan and Norway apparently so different but with a lot in common. For instance, the bet on hydrogen for their energy future.

I am back to Tokyo, at a Japan-Norway Hydrogen seminar organised at the Norwegian embassy, where the new hydrogen-powered Clarity fuel cell car from Honda is waiting for us at the entrance. We are here to discuss the energetic future of these two nations, building bridges towards a common hydrogen society.

IMG_6809 IMG_6805In view of the Olympic games in 2020, Japan is working hard to show the world its status of green country, for instance with large investments on hydrogen-based transportation.

One of the key elements for a hydrogen highway is to build an extensive hydrogen filling station network. In this matter Japan is the most advanced country in the world, with 80 commercial hydrogen stations already opened and 12 more under development. The plan is compelling for the next few years: 160 stations available in 2020 for 40 000 hydrogen cars, with the goal of reaching a fleet of 200 000 cars in 2025!

Norway has also big ambitions to be recognised as one of the greenest nation in the world. For the moment, the country has 6 hydrogen refuelling stations, mainly concentrated in the Oslo area, but the goal is to reach 20 stations by 2020.

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A walk over a river

One does not need to go far away from Oslo to see how to harness the power of water to produce electricity. As part of the course on Renewable Energy: Science and Technology, with the students we visited the power plant in Rånåsfoss, owned by Akershus Energi.


Our host explained to us that if the total annual power production from the company were to be produced by fossil fuels, almost two million tons of CO2 would have been emitted into the atmosphere each year!

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World class facilities are springing up

Something is boiling in the Nordic countries. It is the excitement for the birth of two world class research facilities, just few minutes from the city center of the beautiful Lund, in Sweden!

They are called ESS (European Spallation Source) and MAXIV. Here researchers from around the world will perform great experiments in the most diverse areas: biology, physics, chemistry, geology, engineering, pharmacology and cultural heritage.

Today I visited the area during the annual meeting of the Interreg project MAX4ESSFUN. The project encourages scientists from the Nordic countries to collaborate in experiments with neutrons and synchrotron rays, thus growing the next generation of young scientists.

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New year, new class

As every autumn, the course on Renewable Energy: Science and Technology has finally started! It is a pleasure to teach a class full of talended and curious students from Norway and abroad. They keep me busy by asking a lot of good questions!screenshot-2016-11-23-15-41-26

We had already the opportunity to visit the Solar Cell Laboratory of the Institute for Energy Technology, where the students learned some of the ”hot” reaserch topics related to the photovoltaic technology and saw a state-of-the-art facility for the fabrication and characterization of Si solar cells.

One of the best places to see a renewable energy system “in action” is Akershus EnergiPark, just 25 km from Oslo. We drove there to visit the plant which delivers district heating and cooling to the Lillestrøm area by using local, renewable energy sources and technology.  Continue reading New year, new class

Propelling innovation

You had an idea. You worked hard in the lab and published exciting results. You are ready with a prototype – a new component for turbines, a thin-film transistor, a biomaterial for tissue engineering. Can this be a commercial success?

Today, at the MRS in Phoenix, we had an interesting panel discussion on the unique relationship between advanced materials and their engineering applications.


In addition to myself (second from right in the picture), the other participants to the panel discussion were: Anke Weidenkaff (University of Stuttgart), Stephen Forrest (University of Michigan), Cathy Fleischer (BigSky Technologies LLC), W. Jud Ready (Georgia Institute of Technology), James W. Stasiak (Hewlett Packard), M. Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University, The State University of New York).

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Fukushima: the long road to recovery

One month in Japan has given me a new perspective on the situation after the Fukushima disaster. Almost daily I read articles in the morning newspapers about the level of radiations at Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, or about the reconstruction projects at the affected areas, or the issues surrounding the restart of commercial nuclear power plants.

Five years after the powerful earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, and the subsequent nuclear disaster, it is clear that the reconstruction will take longer than expected in some of the cities and villages around Fukushima prefecture. Many of the tens thousands of people forced to evacuate in 2011, will likely never return because their new homes and jobs are now somewhere else. However, I believe that for the present and future residents it is imperative to be informed about the work going on to decontaminate the areas polluted with radiation. For this I hope that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) will keep the promise reported by Jiji Press to launch soon a forum of direct dialogue between residents in Fukushima Prefecture and members of the reactor decommissioning division.

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Looking at the future, thinking to the past – the Manhattan Project

Oak Ridge – in East Tennesse – is a pleasant place. Forests, broad valleys, the Appalachian Mountains at easy reach. However, this sleepy setting had a well hidden secret during the last years of World War II: the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). It was here that for the first time mankind handled radioactivity on a massive scale. Built in 1943 with an unprecedented concentration of funds and talented minds, the facility was a key component of the Manhattan Project to build atomic weapons before the German scientists could do the same.

With a certain excitement I think to the scientists who came here: Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Eugene Wigner, to name only a few. Their effort made possible to separate the less-common uranium-235 from the more common uranium-238, and to produce plutonium by bombarding uranium-238 with neutrons – in a nuclear pile or reactor.

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A powerful research reactor

After a long trip, I finally arrive at Chalk River, in Ontario, to perform a week of experiments at the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering.

For an Italian used to a crowded nation, this is in the middle of nowhere. A beautiful nowhere though, with limitless forests and a rich wild life. The laboratories are impressive, covering a square kilometer and employing 2,000 people.

The star of the facility is the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor. With its 100 megawatts it is one of the most powerful research reactors in the world. To have an idea of its power, a megawatt is comparable to ten thousand regular light bulbs.

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