Space-based solutions to ICT and electronics sustainability challenges

The European Space Agency is offering up to €200k per project for feasibility studies to improve recycling and reduce environmental impact of e-waste.

Opportunity Details


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ESA will co-fund 80% of the acceptable cost, up to €200K, per awarded study. ESA also offers technical & commercial guidance, access to network and partners, use of the ESA brand, and zero-equity funding.



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ESA, the European Space Agency, has identified three challenges related to ICT and electronic devices’ sustainability. These are:

  • structural integrity, disposal and recycling of batteries
  • export and management of electronic waste (e-waste)
  • environmental effects of data centres and blockchain-powered solutions

This competition aims to support solutions which address any of the sustainability challenges relating to:

  • e-mobility
  • batteries
  • electrical products
  • electronic waste
  • the ICT sector

The intended solution can target any part of a product’s lifecycle – from improving the sustainable sourcing of materials, to helping recover useful components as products reach the end of their lifecycle.

  • The increased usage of lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries raises some sustainability concerns:

    • they cannot be recycled yet
    • they are sensitive to fire hazards if charged too quickly or subject to a severe impact
    • when they catch fire or explode, they release pollutants into the environment and jeopardise the health and safety of anyone in close proximity to the battery

    As a consequence, there is an urgent need for new, appropriately scaled storing and recycling processes for discarded li-ion battery packs as well as integrity monitoring solutions for operational batteries.

    Examples of potential services:

    • local emergency response services in the case of a severe physical impact – indicating an accident – or in case of a detected leak of toxic materials or above-tolerance internal temperatures
    • law enforcement agencies in the case of unauthorised attempted disassembly of the battery pack
    • tools transmitting battery anomaly/failure reports and other performance data which are returned to the manufacturers to help them better understand the conditions in which these events occur. As a result, the lifespan and thus sustainability of the batteries could be improved.
    • a tracking application to follow the battery pack’s route once it re-enters the recycling supply chain. This would prevent falsified reports and mean that deviations from the planned routes would be reported to authorities instantaneously and automatically.
    • an efficient tool to identify suitable sites for battery storage and processing facilities. This would ensure that the selected location is one that is unlikely to be impacted by a natural disaster which might cause a safety breach, and minimise any potential environmental impact in the case of a toxic leak.
  • A second issue concerns any e-waste which is being unsustainably managed. On average, 54.6-67.6 percent of global e-waste ends up being dealt with by the unregulated sector, where unlicensed companies or individuals use techniques such as cable burning. As a result of the low recycling rate, most of the raw materials tied up in e-waste remain untapped, whilst simultaneously causing health and environmental problems.

    Examples of potential services:

    • a service to detect illegal and environmentally hazardous e-waste processing facilities
    • recovery of e-waste, rich in valuable metals, which is often mixed with other waste. Satellite Earth observation, especially optical data, can help identify landfill contents and detect toxic metals. Satcom and satellite positioning enhance in-situ recovery operations.
  • The ICT sector generates increasing emissions related to data centres and blockchain. This is due to the large quantity of heat which must be eliminated to avoid equipment damage.  In 2017, data centres were responsible for two percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.  On top of the significant amount of electricity that blockchain consumes, as on average block-mining hardware becomes obsolete within 18 months, they also contribute to the e-waste problem.

    Examples of potential services:

    • a service that reduces the electricity consumption of blockchain centres or aims to minimise the amount of e-waste they produce. This can be done by exploiting satellite EO data to detect heat signatures and possible local emissions from data processing facilities.
    • tools for governmental and non-governmental organisations which can help them review how well data centre operators and AI researchers abide by their promises of continuously reduced carbon emissions
    • satellite-enabled edge computing is an emerging technology that reduces the workload and thus the energy consumption of data centres
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are essential in the development of applications which aim to track mid to large-size battery packs throughout their life cycle and monitor cross-border shipments of disused electrical equipment which may contain illegal e-waste. GNSS also allows terrestrial vehicles and operators, who investigate and counteract unsustainable operations, to plan and optimise their routes or search patterns. Furthermore, GNSS-based positioning can also enable the geo-tagging of in-situ pollution or emissions measurements associated with e-waste storage and processing, and data centres.

    Satellite Telecommunications (Satcom) enables the design of reliable data link and early warning applications which can operate independently of the coverage of terrestrial networks. Battery packs equipped with a satcom transmitter would have the ability to automatically warn emergency responder services if the pack is breached during an accident or is leaking or disassembled without authorisation. Error messages and reports could also be transmitted to the pack’s manufacturer in the event of malfunctions. Such applications could also be integrated with Internet of Things (IoT) networks enabled by emerging 5G coverage. In addition, satcom would also function as a key enabler of satellite-based edge computing solutions.

    Satellite Earth Observation (EO) allows the comprehensive monitoring of sites where environmentally hazardous operations, regardless of their legality, occur and enables government agencies to detect and report facility safety or rule breaches, or ongoing natural disasters (e.g., forest fires or flooding) in the vicinity which threaten the safety of a facility. Moreover, in combination with appropriate machine learning algorithms, satellite EO imagery can be used to detect illicit battery or e-waste storage and processing facilities, smuggling operations and data processing centres with significant heat or local greenhouse gas emissions.

  • This opportunity is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled services and products related, but not restricted, to the topics of relevance outlined above.

    To be eligible for funding, your team must be based in one of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Teams can involve non-European entities, but their contribution to the activity cannot be funded by ESA. Authorisation of Funding letters from the corresponding National Delegations are required as part of the application.


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