Since 2008, the Loccioni Company (a world leader in mechatronics and automated robotic systems) has transformed its industrial and residential buildings into the 'Leaf Community', the first eco-sustainable community in Italy, with a net-zero carbon footprint.

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The hidden valley of Valle dell'Esino, near Ancona, is an area rich in history and natural resources, and is the perfect location for Loccioni and the local government to work together in order to create jobs whilst protecting and enhancing the valley's heritage.

Loccioni has become a business and technology hub in the area, as well as a great example of how technology can be used to create sustainable living. Here, people live in carbon-neutral housing, move about in electric cars, and go to work in facilities powered by renewable energy sources.

The Leaf Community is also a laboratory, focussing on the agriculture of the future such as digitally monitored bee hives, prototypes for measuring the health of agricultural land or systems of intelligent irrigation for crops.

The electricity necessary for industrial activities is generated through a mix of resources that work in harmony: the photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the offices, the hydroelectric micro-power stations along the nearby Esino river, and biomass pyro gasification (heating waste to produce biogas) to provide heating for the whole community.

The power systems form what is called a 'smart grid', where surplus energy in one area (such as solar) can offset a deficiency in another. Excess power can be stored in batteries that are no longer efficient enough for electric vehicles, meaning that nothing is going to waste.

These interlinking systems could be the blueprint for many other communities around the world, as engineers look for new ways to combat the climate crisis and transfer to a carbon-neutral society.

Valle di San Clemente

Italian countryside on a warm day
Valle di San Clemente, Italy, is the headquarters of the Smart Land project, a public-private initiative to enhance the historical, cultural and agricultural heritage of the valley. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Energy Islands

Solar powered lab buildings
These 'nomadic' labs are energy islands, composed of photovoltaic panels and interconnected storage containers. Thanks to an intelligent management of energy flows and power peaks, almost all consumption is regenerated and transferred back to the electricity grid. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Medical robots

Robot arm in factory
A test phase of the Apoteca Chemo medical robot; an automated system for the preparation of intravenous chemotherapy drugs at Loccioni laboratories, Ancona, Italy. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

A natural power source

A hydroelectric power station on the Esino river at Angeli di Rosora, Ancona, Italy. Built in 2013, two hydraulic screws inside the building exploit the water current to produce electricity for the Leaf Community. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Abbey restoration

View of the Abbey of Sant'Urbano, Apiro, Macerata, Italy. Recently restored as the result of a local initiative to preserve and enhance the Valle di San Clemente, the abbey is now seen as the heart of the valley's tourism. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

High-tech beehives

Colourful bee hives in a field
In this image, a weather station and a digital sensor system in the San Clemente Valley monitor bee hives, another element of the Smart Land project. The sensors allow the beekeeper to view the parameters of the hive without moving, monitor the weight of the hive, analyse the weather conditions, productivity and quality of life of bees. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

The factory floor

Workers in industrial building
The test and production laboratories at the Loccioni laboratory. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

More images from Science Focus:

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Power to burn

Industrial facilities from outside
Inside this pyrogasifier, waste is burnt at a high temperature. This process creates biogas which is used to heat all of the buildings in the community. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Solar sunset

Solar panels at sunset
View of the Leaf Park solar facility in the San Clemente Valley, Macerata, Italy. The energy produced by these solar panels supply the scientific projects at the Loccioni site. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Watching the soil closely

Solar panels in Italian countryside
The prototype of a soil erosion analysis system in an agricultural field in the San Clemente Valley, Italy. The prototype consists of a mobile device that can be used on different terrains and in different geomorphological situations. Photo by Luigi Avantaggiato

Authors

James CutmorePicture Editor, BBC Science Focus

James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs

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