Dame Ellen MacArthur awarded prestigious Albert I Great Medal

On Friday October 12, 2018, Dame Ellen MacArthur was awarded the Albert I Great Medal for her commitment and work towards keeping plastics out of the ocean. The medal was awarded at a ceremony in Monaco by Prince Albert II – son of Prince Albert I, who started his own Foundation in 2006 to address marine issues.

Dame Ellen Mac Arthur is the fourth from the left

Each year, through the Oceanographic Institute, founded by Albert I, Prince of Monaco, the Great Medal is awarded to great names within the marine world, who by their commitment and personal contribution, have made significant steps in protecting the world’s oceans – an award previously gifted to Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2015.

The Oceanographic Institute is committed to raising awareness of the richness and fragility of the oceans and promotes management and science-based protection. At a time when the health of the oceans is threatened, initiatives like the New Plastics Economy allows us greater clarity over the issues faced, and offers solutions to a growing issue – looking at the system as a whole.

Albert I Great Medal is the most prestigious prize awarded by the Oceanographic Institute and is identifiable as a gilt bronze medal embossing the profile of Prince Albert I, a pioneer of modern oceanography.

While receiving the honour in Monaco, Dame Ellen was also pleased to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Founded by HSH Prince Albert II in 2006, the Foundation seeks to address the planets alarming environmental situation – dedicated to the protection of the environment and promotion of sustainable development on a global scale.

It is hoped the memorandum of understanding will encourage greater collaboration amongst organisations and individuals around the world, and encourage innovation to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.


Swiss Aerosol Award 2018 for Empa Researcher Maria Muñoz

Great honour for research on vehicle emissions

This year’s Swiss Aerosol Award goes to Maria Muñoz. The Empa researcher investigated the emission behaviour of so-called GDI engines (gasoline-direct injection). Her results are alarming: GDI vehicles emit up to 17 times more carcinogenic substances than modern diesel vehicles.

Gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines are sold in growing numbers worldwide. In Europe around 50 million GDI cars are expected to be on the road by 2020. The technology owes its success to a significant increase in engine power, even in small engines. This year’s winner of the Swiss Aerosol Award, Maria Muñoz from Empa, has investigated the emissions of GDI engines together with a team of scientists and engineers from industry and research as part of the GASOMEP project, led by Empa researcher Norbert Heeb. For comparison, a diesel vehicle with state-of-the-art particle filter technology was also tested. The results of the study are alarming: All tested GDI vehicles – they were built between 2001 and 2016 – produced genotoxic exhaust gases. The carcinogenic potential of these exhaust gases was up to 17 times higher than that of the investigated diesel vehicle.

Norbert Heeb, Maria Munoz,with a probe of the Soxhlet -Extractor

A Trojan horse that affects your health

The health hazards by GDI engines are, therefore, significantly higher than the ones posed by modern diesel cars, all of which are already equipped with particle filters. The health risks are increased by the interaction of soot particles with carcinogenic exhaust components: The unfiltered GDI exhaust gases contained up to 1,000 times more particles and 20 times more genotoxic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) than exhausts of a Euro 5 diesel vehicle equipped with a standard filter. Similar to a Trojan horse, the soot particles then transport their cargo inside the body: When inhaled, the particles transport the carcinogenic substances directly into the alveoli of the human lung, from where they can easily enter the bloodstream.

Since 2004, an EU directive has limited the concentration of carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene in ambient air to 1 ng/m3. In GDI exhaust gases, benzo(a)pyrene concentrations in the new regulatory cycle (WLTC) were between 8 and 2600 ng/m3. One cubic meter of exhaust gas must thus be diluted up to 2600 times in order to maintain the ambient air limit value.

Retrofitting GDI engines would solve the problem

Due to the chemical composition of the exhaust gases and the high particle emissions, GDI engines are a health risk comparable to unfiltered diesel engines, and the WHO has classified unfiltered diesel exhausts as a class 1 carcinogen, which can cause lung cancer. Particle filters in GDI engines could reduce the hazards of these exhaust gases. In the meantime, the legislator has reacted: Since September 2018, newly registered GDI vehicles have to comply with the same particle limits as diesel engines. This is virtually impossible without filters. What remains problematic, however, is that all vehicles purchased before that time may continue to be driven without filters. Retrofitting is not (yet) mandatory although retrofitting of older vehicles with particle filters could drastically improve their emission behaviour.

There are also significant differences in the filters themselves: The work of Maria Muñoz shows that choosing the “right” filter technology is crucial. By using the best available filter technology tt would be technically possible to reduce the current particle limit value by 90 %.


M Muñoz, R Haag, K Zeyer, J Mohn, P Comte, J Czerwinski, N Heeb; Effects of Four Prototype Gasoline Particle Filters (GPFs) on Nanoparticle and Genotoxic PAH Emissions of a Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) Vehicle. Environmental Science & Technology (2018); DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b03125.

M Muñoz, R Haag, P Honegger, K Zeyer, J Mohn, P Comte, J Czerwinski, N Heeb, Co-formation and co-release of genotoxic PAHs, alkyl-PAHs and soot nanoparticles from gasoline direct in-jection vehicles. Atmospheric Environment,(2018); DOI:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2018.01.050.