BASIC RESEARCH: The research activity of the Ecodynamics group is developed in the disciplinary sectors of physical chemistry, environmental chemistry, and cultural heritage, and aims to define criteria for sustainable development on scientific basis and to develop increasingly accurate tools for knowledge of real physical systems and processes. This research functions on two levels:
  • Formalization of the epistemological bases of sustainable development: empirical observations in the field of oscillating chemical reactions and complex systems, allow for the investigation of general behavior in open dissipative structures and living systems. The scope is to improve our knowledge of natural and anthropic systems and to understand self-organization processes through investigating relations between constitutive elements within a system ad its exchanges with the external environment.
  • Development of environmental models: techniques for the study and representation of systems through relationship schemes (energy systems theory) and methodologies for environmental monitoring and assessment are utilized for calculating sustainability indicators and providing synthetic information with applications to transformation processes, ecosystems, territorial and economic systems, urban systems, and cultural heritage.
APPLIED RESEARCH: The research of the Ecodynamics group is applied to real processes and systems whose level of sustainability we intend to evaluate relative to the direct and indirect use of resources, the emission of greenhouse gases, the impact on the environment, the degree of complexity and organization, and the level of economic well-being. The activity is mainly geared towards the study of the relations among environmental systems and anthropic systems in various fields of application. Study subjects include:
  • regional systems: vast urban and territorial systems (settlement, production and environmental systems);
  • natural and anthropic systems: ecosystems, forest, agricultural and industrial systems;
  • sectors of activity: systems for the production of electric energy (thermoelectric from fossil fuels, biofuels, geothermal science, waste, hydroelectric, photovoltaic, aeolic); integrated systems for waste management; management systems for water resources, mobility systems, industrial systems;
  • transformation processes: production of goods and services;
  • cultural heritage: procedures for the construction and maintenance of historical buildings; reorganization and use of historical centers and urban systems; procedures for the conservation and restoration of historical heritage; territorial plans and programs and their environmental effects (SEA Strategic Environmental Aseessment – Directive 2001/42EC)
METHODS AND TOOLS: The activity of the Ecodynamics group includes the experimentation of methodologies for the evaluation of environmental sustainability and synthetic indicators based on thermodynamics. Specific skills in the field of methodologies of environmental accounting and for the monitoring of social dynamics integrate procedures of environmental certification, series ISO 14000 and Emas.
The investigative methodologies developed by researchers of the Ecodynamics group are:
  • Greenhouse gas inventory and emissions certification ISO 14064: accounting method for greenhouse gas emissions revealed throughout a region for various sectors of activity with respect to the absorbency of these by the local ecosystems. This study is based on the methodology of the standard IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories) and is part of the certification procedures of the state of greenhouse gas emissions (edited by RINA) according to the ISO 14064 standard.
  • EE – eMergy evaluation: thermodynamics based environmental accounting method (created by H.T. Odum at the Florida University). It accounts for the intensity of environmental resource use by a community in a given region relative to population, physical dimension, settlements, activity, consumption, production, soil use. The calculation of emergy based indicators provides synthetic information about the state of a territorial system and allows for evaluating its level of sustainability/unsustainability. The elaboration of maps of emergy density (empower) through spatial patterns makes it possible to represent different concentration of resource flows in different areas relative to different land uses and to make specific choices for the future sustainable development.
  • EF – ecological footprint: environmental accounting method (created by W.E. Rees e M. Wackernagel – Ecological Footprint Network, Oackland, CA) that expresses the anthropic pressure on the environment in terms of the area necessary for producing goods and services used and for absorbing emissions; the endowment of natural capital in terms of the surface of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of a region is called biocapacity; the comparison between Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity allows for the evaluation of the ecological deficit or surplus of a region. The “footprints” can be also linked to specific sectors of activity or transformation processes such as tourism, agriculture, water and waste management, manufacturing industry. The World Forum on the Ecological Footprint took place in Siena in 2006 (Siena and Colle Val d’Elsa, Italy – June 14-17) and again in 2010 (Siena and Colle Val d’Elsa, Italy – June 7-11).
  • ISEW – index of sustainable economic welfare: economic-environmental accounting method that measures local wealth in an alternative manner to the GDP and to traditional economic accounting systems, estimating economic, social, and environmental elements and their incidence, starting from private consumption, on the conditions of well-being of citizens. In recent years, the Ecodynamics group has produced the calculation and the analysis in time series of the ISEW for the Provinces of Modena, Rimini, Pescara, and Siena, for the Region of Abruzzo and the Region of Tuscany; the project relative to the calculation of the ISEW of the Province of Ravenna is underway.
  • LCA – life cycle analysis: analytical method of evaluation of the potential environmental impacts (i.e. global warming, acidification, etc.) associated with a productive process (industrial, hand-crafted, food, etc.). It makes possible to outline an environmental profile of a given product through the evaluation of the potential environmental damages or effects caused by the emissions (solid, liquid, and/or gas) of the various processes during the entire productive chain “from the cradle to the grave”, that is from the withdrawal of raw materials to the disposal of the product as waste. Case studies: wine production in Tuscany, production of crystal glass in Colle Val d’Elsa, production/use of new-generation photovoltaic panels.
  • Urban systems dynamics monitoring: technique for monitoring dynamics of urban and territorial systems based on telecommunication technologies. The elaboration of sequences of maps allows for the visualization of the variations in population density in real time in a given region (the presence of cellular phones refers to the presence of people) over a 24-hour period in different days and seasons. This project was born from the collaboration with the SENSEable City Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston (USA).
  • Biomass to liquid – feasibility analysis for the use of biomasses: series of chemical-physical analyses on a wide range of residual biomasses (agricultural-forest, organic waste, algae) in order to estimate the potential yield of the production of liquid biofuels (bioethanol, biodiesel). Case study: project for the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies on the possible use of wood biomass for the production of diesel in the Province of Siena.
The last lines of research conducted by Ecodynamics Group are:
• Sustainability on the Table. Sustainability analysis of both conventional and biological food production chains (eg. meat, cheese, pastries, fruit, vegetables, honey, olive oil and wine) through environmental accounting methods such as LCA, Emergy and Ecological Footprint. EG has developed the solar pyramid of food based on the Emergy analysis, i.e. the solar energy needed to produce foods consumed in different diets (Italian, Mediterranean, vegetarian and carnivorous).
• Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). EG took part in the consultation phase to identify the most appropriate indicators for the achievement of the framework of the global development targets, coordinated by the “Sustainable Development Solution Network” of the United Nations (UN-SDSN). On behalf of the University of Siena, EG has coordinated a study aimed at developing an assessment tool addressed to the SDGs, which can be applied in research projects realized in the initiative promoted by the European Commission, known as the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), focused on the sustainable food production and water resource management.
• Ecosystem services. Implementation of the epistemological basis of the concept of Ecosystem Services and development of synthetic indicators for their evaluation (eg. Emergy, Ecological Footprint and greenhouse gas emissions). The study of the ecosystem services of the Natural Park “Costa Otranto – S.M. di Leuca and Bosco di Tricase” (Province of Lecce, Region of Puglia, Italy) was realized, quantifying an economic estimate of the service provided by the CO2 sequestration in forestland and olive groves, by the supply of fresh forage for grazing animals and water, and the potential production of extra-virgin olive oil and biomass.
• Input-State-Output (I-S-O) framework for the representation of human system sustainability. Development of a 3-axis diagram in which the national economic systems are investigated based on three different indicators that consider resources, social organization and the production of goods and services. This diagram is based on an input-state-output scheme (representing environment-society-economy), referring to a physical and thermodynamic order between the “three dimensions of sustainability”. This approach is useful to highlight what are the most common input-state-output relationships in the performance of the analyzed national systems.
• Emission Responsibility. Greenhouse gas emissions due to the production of goods/services were calculated considering that the producer countries are not the only ones responsible for the emissions released to the atmosphere because such goods/services can be exported to other consumer countries. Specifically, the case study of the GHG emissions from the production and consumption of beef, pork and poultry meat was developed, demonstrating that the emissions may be higher in consumer countries than in those where the meat is really produced.