Closing the Loop for High-Added-Value MaterialsEffective reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of non-renewable material resources are of crucial importance for a climate-neutral and resource-scarce society. In Circular Economy (CE) closing the material loops starts from the material design and detailed analysis of the materials and products during the whole material life cycle. High-added-value materials needed for e.g. ICT, transportation and renewable energy applications are typically complex hybrid materials primarily designed for high performance, rather than for easy recovery. In the CloseLoop research project we take a multi-disciplinary approach towards closing the loops of high-added-value materials in the secondary circle of the materials flow. The project combines social studies on consumer behaviour, public acceptance and effective policy measures with high-level material design and life cycle design.
The consortium partners from Aalto University, VTT and the University of Helsinki bring in expertise on technical innovations, business models and societal behavior. In addition to the scientific findings and key enabling technologies to be developed, we will transfer the new knowledge gained to the relevant current and potential industrial actors as well as turn it into easily usable information for decision makers and the general public in order speed up the transition to circular economy.
The project is part of the programme ‘A Climate-Neutral and Resource-Scarce Finland’. The CloseLoop consortium is funded 3.6 Me during 2016-19 by the Strategic Research Council.
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Finnish companies make a shift to the circular economy with innovative business models
Circular economy (CE) is an industrial economy that aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. It can be a practical solution to resource problems. In CE products are designed to last long and to be recycled, waste is used as a raw material and businesses concentrate on selling services instead of products. The transition towards CE requires a fundamental redesign of businesses and end-to-end value chains. In CE closing the material loops starts from the material design and a detailed analysis of the materials and products during the whole material life cycle. In the CloseLoop project we focus on closing the loop of valuable materials, such as rare earth metals.
The CloseLoop project concentrates on closing the loop of valuable materials, such as rare earth metals that are crucial in modern societies and especially needed for e.g. ICT, transportation and renewable energy applications. EU Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) imported from outside of Europe, mostly from China, but also from Russia, Congo and Brazil, are commonly needed for high-tech devices. Hence new sustainable concepts for the use or substitution of CRMs and other non-recyclable materials are urgently needed. It is often challenging to substitute these raw materials, which include e.g. lithium, beryllium, germanium, indium, antimony, cobalt, platinum-group metals, rare earth metals, tantalum and wolfram. To secure the availability of these materials in, for example, times of political crises might be difficult. In the CloseLoop project we are studying substitutes of these raw materials as well as more efficient ways to use them.
Scientific research is looking for new technologies that enable the effective recovery of valuable materials from dilute secondary sources that are currently uneconomic to reuse. As an alternative, rare materials are substituted by more abundant ones, and closed material cycles are designed for these substituents from the very beginning. This approach is demonstrated for a few representative zero-waste materials to be used in frontier energy applications. Another alternative approach is hybrid materials with interfaces tailored for an easy disintegration of the valuable components. CloseLoop will also develop metallurgical technologies for the secondary resources, e.g. engineered Li-ion batteries and CRM-free thermoelectrics.
A circular economy will create demand for new services, such as those that enable collection and reverse logistics, and secondary markets for products and sales platforms facilitating longer lives or higher utilisation of products. In CE novel business models will emerge related to circular supplies, resource recovery, product life extension, and the sharing of platforms and products as a service model. Closing loops often means increased product complexity and a longer value circle. In CloseLoop we will evaluate new challenges related to business model innovation and explore new innovative business models in the context of different business scenarios.
The key objective in CE design is to maximize recycled material use and to use secondary raw materials, substitute the materials that cannot rotate in the loop and to use renewable materials if possible. High-added-value materials needed for e.g. ICT, transportation and renewable energy applications are typically complex hybrid materials primarily designed for high performance, rather than for easy recovery. We will tackle the design-for-performance and design-for-recycling of products, alongside the related economic, environmental and societal aspects by optimizing material loops with lowest possible energy and material consumption, emissions and waste, as well as rate the value of the material origin.
In CloseLoop we will create scenarios about possible outlooks on the future. In CE the distribution of information while arranging circulation of products and materials is crucial. Networking as well as technological and political changes can easily affect evolution. In the scenarios possible outlooks on the future are examined through central concepts. When one factor changes, other variables need to react. For example, changes in consumption patterns, new services and products and technological breakthroughs can have decisive impacts on the future.