Signature Grants of 750,000 for groundbreaking, unique and bold projects at UU

Utrecht University is funding five Signature Project Grants of 150,000 to five interdisciplinary project teams working on societal challenges for a greener, more sustainable future. Can Ecocide become a crime? Who will stand up for the ocean? How can the financial sector -through their role in the commodity marketcontribute to a just energy transition? Is there a holistic view on hydrogen production in the North Sea? And how do we ensure the quality of energy communities? The project teams will tackle these questions and show how UU contributes to a sustainable future and an equitable transition. The Signature Project Grant is part of the strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability.

Pathways to Sustainability

The five projects have broad, interdisciplinary expertise and academic passion to promote a greener, more sustainable future for all. This makes them distinctive examples of projects that Pathways to Sustainability aims to initiate. Within the Pathways to Sustainability strategic theme, scientists with different areas of expertise find each other and work together on socially important and recognisable sustainability issues. The central question is what is needed for the transition to a sustainable society. To this end, Utrecht University contributes through groundbreaking, unique, daring and visionary research and education from multiple fields of expertise and in collaboration with societal stakeholders.

Can Ecocide become a crime?

In the current era of unprecedented threats to the environment, pressure is mounting to make Ecocide an international crime. Ecocide refers to acts that (can) lead to serious, widespread and/or long-term damage to the environment. The ’Ecocide’ project team is exploring how the concept of Ecocide can create breakthroughs in biodiversity protection, with a keen eye on the rights of original inhabitants. Among other things, the team plans to use ’mock trials’. This involves using real-life examples to mimic a court case, as a kind of experimental and creative testing environment.

Who is standing up for the ocean?

To whom does the ocean belong? Does the ocean belong to anyone? And who stands up for its sake? The UN talks explicitly about "our ocean", but it is completely unclear to whom "our" refers. As a result, the ocean’s interests have little or no place in laws and policies. And yet the ocean is crucial for life on earth and the climate. The "Whose Ocean?" project team will bring together various stakeholders and draft a charter to give the ocean a meaningful voice in international and national discussions.

How can the financial sector contribute to a just energy transition through their role in the resource market?

The energy transition is causing a sharp increase in the extraction of ’critical minerals’, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt. This is necessary to achieve sustainable solutions to the energy challenge. However, it can have negative consequences for mineral-rich countries, such as exploitation, environmental degradation and expropriation. The financial sector is a crucial force within commodity markets and can exert significant influence on extractive activities ’on the ground’. The ’resourcefulness’ project team is therefore addressing the question: how can financial institutions contribute to a just energy transition through their role in the resource market?

A living lab for a holistic view of hydrogen production in the North Sea

Green hydrogen plays an important factor for an emission-free future and energy self-sufficiency in Europe. The North Sea is seen as a hotspot for green hydrogen production. At the same time, much is still unknown about green hydrogen production. Offshore production takes place only in relatively small pilot installations with many technical and scientific challenges. Furthermore, the development of the North Sea into an energy valley is not uncontroversial. The ’Rethink Hydrogen’ team therefore takes up the challenge of developing a holistic view of hydrogen production in the North Sea. The project will create a prototype Living Lab, in which relationships can be visualised, such as for example between energy efficiency (materials research), space requirements (spatial planning) and temperature effects of waste heat (environmental impacts). This helps to foster interrelationships between research disciplines, close knowledge gaps and create connections between complex academic knowledge and the societal debate on the future role of green hydrogen.

How do we ensure the quality of energy communities?

The European Union and its member states want energy communities to play an important role in Europe’s energy transition. Dutch climate policy also explicitly aims for this, especially with a view to local ownership of new energy systems. In practice, this is still difficult to get off the ground. Despite clear goals, energy communities usually lose out locally to commercial parties such as project developers and investors. A key concern here is that currently the quality and legitimacy of energy communities cannot be sufficiently guaranteed. Together with civil society partners, the ’Shared qualities of renewable energy communities’ project team is investigating how establishing norms and standards could help strengthen this sector, what is needed to ensure a legitimate and fair standardisation process, and how this can give energy communities a stronger voice. The project aims to dissect a technocratic process, visualise it and thus make it understandable to the societal stakeholders involved. Ultimately, this project aims to support energy communities in accelerating an equitable and sustainable energy transition.

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