2019 02 19

Creating the Cities of the Future

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The cities of the future are smart and sustainable. This is an area that Lithuanian scientists actively contribute to. Researchers are collaborating with business, municipal governments and international partners on projects focused on developing transportation and waste management systems, rational resource management, innovations such as friction and wear-resistant coatings that prolong the life of devices and sound-absorbing panels made of recycled tires.

Zero Waste

The latest models estimate that by 2050, about 70% of the global population will be living in cities. Urban population density is also growing in Lithuania. As Professor Žaneta Stasiškienė, director of the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Institute of Environmental Engineering, explains, two concepts for solving problems associated with urban expansion dominate the European and global discussion on the topic. These are the zero waste paradigm and the circular model, in which the waste from one branch of industry becomes the raw material or energy source of another.

Kaunas is now involved in an EU-funded project focused on this concept of the circular city. It is represented by a team of researchers from the KTU Institute of Environmental Engineering.

“It is important to identify the principal streams of raw material coming into the city and their movement between various industrial enterprises. To assess how we could suitably ensure the reuse or recycling of primary raw material as well as the efficient use of resources within industry enterprises with the aim of reducing pollution and waste,” emphasises Professor Stasiškienė.

This is exactly what the KTU Institute of Environmental Engineering can contribute – an assessment of what can be done at the level of the individual company and at the level of the city. According to the director of the institute, technological innovation provides a vast array of possibilities, but public support is also important. Changes made by individual citizens contribute to the development of a sustainable city.

KTU scientists and their partners from Sweden, Italy, Finland, the UK, Belgium, Greece and China as well as the international organisation UN Habitat seek to create a platform for managing information about current projects, their impact and the potential of business and science, in order to combine financial and human resources and address these issues. In order to avoid making decisions of little value, projects would reflect the needs of the urban community and the business sector.

“Over 20 years ago, we began with pollution produced by industry. Now we have partnered up with many Lithuanian companies, drawing up and analysing their material and energy balance sheets, assessing the impact of their processes and products on the environment,” says Professor Stasiškienė.

Managing Traffic Flow

Scientists at the Department of Urban Planning of the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Faculty of Architecture are working on a sustainable mobility initiative in partnership with UAB Prime Leasing, which manages CityBee, a car-sharing service.

“In the modern city, pedestrians and cars are rather unequal participants of urban traffic, and we must apply measures that would limit the presence of cars in the city centre and promote pedestrian traffic and cycling,” explains Professor Gintaras Stauskis.

As a performance analysis of CityBee revealed, many people want to use car-sharing services in the morning to come to the city centre or old town from the new residential districts. However, the cars stay there until evening, and other people can no longer use them because there is simply a shortage of such cars in the new residential districts. The same applies to weekends: people use CityBee cars to travel to the old town or city centre to have a good time and then return by cab. A surplus of cars forms in one area and a shortage of cars forms in another.

“We are collaborating with colleagues from the VGTU Faculty of Environmental Engineering to create a smart transportation management model that will help CityBee automatise the flow of its vehicles, encourage people to not leave the vehicles in one place and distribute their fleet more evenly throughout the city,” says Professor Stauskis.

For example, a more flexible pricing policy from seven to nine in the morning would reduce the price of their services three or four times for users taking CityBee cars from the old town or city centre to the new residential districts. There is also a proposal on the table that suggests closing transit roads through the old town, reducing the number of parking spaces and applying smart solutions which allow more car-sharing vehicles to enter the old town because they do not stay there long.

This would mean a remodelling of the city’s public space. Not only would they serve a representational and recreational function, they would also serve as parking for city dwellers’ bicycles, scooters and car-sharing vehicles. There would be more space for charging stations for two or three electric cars and temporary parking for shared cars.

The municipality of Vilnius is not the only local authority that scientists are teaming up with. For example, the Municipal Government of Birštonas, which has developed its own sustainable mobility plan, is consulting with VGTU scientists on how the plan could be implemented. Once recreational service infrastructure was remodelled in the city, many new spas cropped up and pedestrian flows increased. However, traffic ebbs and flows. On Fridays the city is inundated with cars, and on Sundays some of them leave.

At the moment, a multi-functional service and entertainment complex is being built at the entryway to the city and this, suggest VGTU researchers, could be a place where incoming visitors could leave their cars and use bicycles, free of charge, to get around the town on the weekend. Cars would not block up the city and there would be more space for people to enjoy.

Alive and Functioning

“The smart city philosophy is very important because the decisions we make now will have a great impact for many years to come on an individual city and its residents. This is why we need to apply the very newest and most modern technologies so that the city flourishes for many years instead of the usual plugging of holes and putting out fires,” asserts Dr. Ramūnas Gatautis, a researcher at the Laboratory of Energy Systems Research at the Lithuanian Energy Institute (LEI).

LEI researchers advise local authorities as they develop strategies on how to provide central heating to cities sustainably. This includes the renovation of public buildings, apartment buildings and central heating networks as well as the replacement of heating equipment with more energy-efficient infrastructure. They advise authorities on what work is most needed, when and what infrastructure to install so that the final result could provide maximum benefit to the municipal government and local residents.

For the third year in a row, LEI researchers have participated in Resource Efficient Cities Implementing Advanced Smart City Solutions(READY), a project for the development of smart cities funded as part of the European Commission’s 7th general programme. As Dr. Gatautis explains, two of the project’s main participants are the city of Växjö in Sweden and Aarhus in Denmark. In each of these cities, a block of apartment buildings is being renovated in parallel with the application of many new energy supply and efficient consumption technologies. Businesses are involved in the project as well. For example, Ikea wants to try out how a new kitchen concept could contribute to energy saving solutions.

“What we want to do with the project is to assess the possibilities of innovative technology,” emphasises Dr. Gatautis, “Businesses, researchers and the European Commission are interested in more than just creating new technology – we want to apply them in practice, improve energy supply systems so that they are alive and functioning”.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly

The Tribology Laboratory at the Centre for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC) is headed by Dr. Svajus Asadauskas and currently working on two projects dedicated to the topic of smart cities. The coatings developed by FTMC researchers for anodized aluminium bodies and sensors can improve a device’s resistance to wear by a factor of several thousand.

Anodized aluminium structures are very popular, frequently used for various devices and computers. For example, the body of an iPhone is made of anodized aluminium.

FTMC researchers teamed up with the Lithuanian Speed Car Federation to apply a wear-resistant anodized aluminium coating to car engines. This technology was applied in the field of athletic equipment by UAB Avago. The possibilities of applying the wear-resistant anodized aluminium coatings in the laser industry are currently being studied by UAB Alanodas.

Another project Dr. Asadauskas’ team is working on is sound-absorbing panels. They are made of rubber from recycled tires.

“Rubber waste is elastic, so it is hard to cut it into smaller parts. The method we have created uses environmentally-friendly chemicals to break it down into millimetre-sized pieces or smaller and devulcanise it, i.e. bring it back to their natural rubber state,” reveals the scientist.

Devulcanised rubber powder is incredibly well-suited to making acoustic panels. These panels absorb low frequencies, something that regular panels cannot do. This makes them the perfect measure to protect residents from street or factory noise. In developing the acoustic panels, FTMC researchers collaborated with the companies Devulco and Gumos Technologijos.

“The products and technology we have created can contribute to the development of smart cities in the area of eco-friendliness and sustainability. The wear-resistant anodized aluminium coatings will prolong the life of devices. The acoustic panels made of recycled tires will allow us to use up waste and, at the same time, improve quality of life in the city by absorbing noise. We are currently looking for more commercial applications,” points out Dr. Asadauskas.

If the goal is to produce a surge in innovation, a potential idea or innovative product needs to find its investor – either in Lithuania or abroad – with as much ease as possible. This exact goal was set by OPEN R&D Lithuania, an open-access network for research and development that has brought together the country’s universities, national research institutes, science and technology parks as well as open access centres. Curated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology, OPEN R&D Lithuania is the largest innovation infrastructure, service and competence network in the Baltic states and helps create partnerships between Lithuanian researchers developing advanced technologies and entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond, encouraging their cooperation.

In order to make it easier for businesses to find the scientific partnerships they need and find out about available service, MITA set up the OPEN R&D Lithuania Contact Centre. An emailed enquiry is enough to solicit an answer as to where a business should refer to next. The Contact Centre will help businesses get in touch with the right people and, if necessary, arouse their interest and convince them to become partners.

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