While the early months of 2021 were supposed to see the closure of the DECISIVE project with the Final Conference in Brussels, the pandemic which has been around for the last year changed everyone’s plans and extended the project’s duration by 8 months.
The confirmation for this extension came from the European Commission as the project’s sponsor through its Horizon 2020 support scheme after an official request was handed in by the project’s coordinator – the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, INRAE. This recent development called for an interview with Anne Tremier, the project’s coordinator on behalf of INRAE. This article brings you the interview in its entirety.
DECISIVE: It has been more than one year now that the first demonstration site was launched in Lyon in November 2019. Not taking the pandemic into account, were you happy with the instant attention it drew from different local and national audience during the first few months of its operation? Did that attention show some possibilities and opportunities of uptake or replication of the DECISIVE solution?
AT: The attention the demonstration site is getting from a diversity of stakeholders is going beyond what we are able to demonstrate as performance. Indeed, we received demands for information from very different stakeholders: communities’ representatives, research teams, SMEs working on short cycle waste management concepts, industrials working with restauration sectors, etc. It clearly shows an interest and a curiosity for the project concept. However, the demonstration still needs to be reinforced in order to lead to replications.
DECISIVE: We can’t look back at the last year without bringing the pandemic into picture. Many activities, including the launch of the Italian demonstration site in Dolina, were put on standby. What about the research activities, lab work and other activities?
AT: The pandemic dramatically delayed all demonstrations activities. The demonstration site in Lyon, France was suspended for several months because of a national lockdown and still isn’t in optimal operation because many restaurants are closed in France. The Dolina demonstration site in Italy had delays in the installation delivery and shall begin operations within a few weeks. In Rennes, France, the development of a 100-l pilot of a new microAD technology was delayed by 6 months because of the lockdown and led to further delays in pilot parts delivery. All this impacted the assessment activities as experimental data were not obtained from the demonstrations
DECISIVE: Overall, what part of the project suffered the most, what were the major concerns project-wise?
AT: The implementation of demonstration sites was clearly the most affected. As a consequence, and even with the extension of the project, we won’t benefit of as much time of operations in normal circumstances as we expected. We will mainly have results of operations in crisis situations. These results are instructive but they are not a good basis to establish a relevant assessment of the concept implementation, especially concerning the waste prevention impact of the solution. Beyond that, the work synergy between partners also suffered a bit, because, even with modern communication patterns, there were less contacts.
DECISIVE: How much did the consortium had to adapt to the new reality, what were the steps taken to keep the project running, even at its minimum?
AT: First months of this pandemic were a bit strange as no one was really thinking it will last so long. At the end of spring 2020 after the first big lockdown in Europe, the consortium made the first assessment of the impact on the project and we began to discuss extending the project with the European Commission at the beginning of summer. However, at the beginning of autumn it clearly appeared that the impact would be bigger than the one we estimated a few months before because the pandemic lasted and continued to impact biowaste availability, exchange between partners, etc. Nevertheless, the consortium met on line in July 2020 and in November 2020 in order to keep contact and project dynamic. In parallel, the work on the Decision Support Tool (DST) test, and on the economic and social assessment continued based on data gathered from cities, stakeholders and literature.
DECISIVE: Now that the project is officially extended for 8 months, what should we expect to see in such a short time, considering the overall duration of the project of 4 years?
AT: We really hope to monitor both the demonstration sites in the best condition as possible for a few months in order to feed the assessment work with real data and not only with performance hypothesis. This is what is missing today from getting the most benefits of the project.
DECISIVE: Could you make any conclusions from what we’ve been through, in terms of how to set up decentralised waste management in such periods of increased uncertainties, how to make it resilient to various sanitary conditions and external factors?
AT: The crisis showed us that a small-scale valorisation site can easily stop and restart in case of such crisis, from a technical point of view. From the sanitary point of view, it probably reinforced the idea that biowaste has to be hygienised, even in case of a small-scale treatment. But we don’t have virus analysis to support that. Finally, it also showed that the source of biowaste has to be mixed (households, restaurants, canteens, etc.) to ensure the continuity of activity of such valorisation sites.
DECISIVE: Once the project ends, in 8 months, what would be the way forward, can we expect further improvements, adaptations? What would be the message to the DECISIVE project’s audience? Did we prove anything?
AT: Technical improvements, especially about biogas valorisation and assessment of the best way to use the produced energy, should be further worked out. Complementarity of decentralised solutions and centralised ones should be further explored to better plan relevant local urban management scheme for biowaste. So, the DECISIVE project will clearly show that the decentralised concept makes sense and that solutions exists and can be implemented both from a technical and a regulatory point of view. It gives the way that can be further developed.