An Introduction to the Circular Economy

For decades, mankind has been wasting finite resources by extracting them for products and goods (e.g. plastics, construction materials, food etc.) and then disposing of them once they reach their ‘end-of-life’. In much of modern society, the end-of-life stage of a material is seen as an almost inevitable aspect of consumption. However, resources are unable to replenish at the current rate of extraction, and the disposal of waste is wreaking havoc on environmental and social systems. .

The repercussions of our inefficient management of resources are already visible in the rising CO2 emissions and resultant temperature increase, plastic interfering with aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, damage to human health and an increase in the frequency and scale of natural disasters. The environment will be affected in widespread and varying ways, from melting glaciers, reduced land fertility (effecting growth of consumer favorites e.g. coffee and chocolate), increased flooding, human displacement and the severity of natural disasters. 

According to a study from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “Earth’s population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate”.  The global concern about this situation has brought together 185 states and the EU to fight climate change under The Paris Agreement. With vulnerable human populations and animal biodiversity likely to be affected first – we all must play our part in being part of the solution.

 

Introducing the Circular Economy

The increasing awareness of the need for reduced resource consumption and production of waste has paved the way for the creation of innovative concepts like Circular Economy that focus on decoupling economic growth from the use of natural resources. Circular Economy promotes a new way of designing, making and using our products and services that regenerates and optimises natural systems. Circular economy is simply common sense.

Source: National Geographic Photo

In a circular approach, ‘waste’ is no longer described as such, instead seen as a valuable resource which can be used to produce a variety of other useful materials. This system is based on that which naturally appears in the world’s existing ecosystems, re-using waste products in a ‘closed-loop’ system. For example, leaves falling from a tree are used as an input material for processes on the ground and the nutrients are recycled.

How can this be achieved? How does it work?

By shifting our preconceptions and by being creative, we can reinvent the economy to ensure the materials and processes within it work in circles and loops. The products that are now designed in the conventional ‘take-make-use-dispose’ model, can be designed instead for reuse, repair, refurbishing, re-manufacturing or recycling, allowing us to keep valuable resources in productive cycles and out of landfills at all times. Many businesses are increasingly observing the financial, social, environmental and reputational benefits that the Circular Economy is revealing. Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that only in Europe, the adoption of circular-economy principles could generate a net economic benefit of €1.8 trillion by 2030.

What role does Exergy play?

Fundamentally, everything we do is circular. Taking this approach is logical considering the circumstances of our planet and the Exergy team, conformed by highly-specialised scientists, engineers and professionals, share the dream of a low carbon and sustainable future.

 

We collaborate with recognised research centres, universities and industry stakeholders around the world in Research and Innovation projects that are testing circular economy strategies for construction, food, waste management and manufacturing applications. So far, we have achieved outstanding results that are ready, in most cases, to be implemented at commercial scale.

Circularity as depicted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation

In our projects, we are testing and demonstrating design for circularity concepts, circular materials and business models, and developing digital systems supporting the transition towards the Circular Economy.  

We create designs to overcome widespread issues caused by the traditional linear model of ‘take-make-use-dispose’ and are involved in the development, modelling, scaling up, and plant design for novel bioprocesses that use waste as feedstock to produce other high-value products such as bioplastics, animal feed, intermediate chemicals, etc. Check our innovation projects.

 

Get Involved

We welcome you to join the circular economy movement. You can participate the ideas it encompasses and get involved in innovation with us.

 

Contact us today!

An Exergy workshop – A Sustainable Transition: From a Linear to Circular Economy

At Warwick University, On October 9th, 2019, Exergy hosted a 3-hour afternoon workshop titled, ‘A Sustainable Transition: From a Linear to Circular Economy’.

By gathering circular economy innovators and pioneers, the aim of the event was to encourage sustainable attitudes amongst consumers and current initiatives that promote circular business models within the UK. The event proved to be very successful, with around 60 people in attendance. A total of 8 speakers (Oakdene Hollins, Microcab, Chip[S]board, Recono.me, Aldstone, Rype, Circular Economy Research Network, and Exergy) discussed the ways in which they have refined and implemented the concept of circular economy. These entrepreneurs and circular economy experts demonstrated their way of revolutionizing the traditional linear, unsustainable economic model within the UK.

Recono.me presents their circular processes of electrical waste
Recono.me presents their circular processes of electrical waste refurbishment.

Rethinking the current economy model

A key theme throughout the event was the increasing popularity and public acceptance of circular economy products and processes. For example, student-formed Chip[S]board presented their creative method of turning potato waste into a viable alternative to plastic and discussed growing product interest, particularly from the fashion industry. Following speakers then discussed topics surrounding the re-design of offices to reduce furniture waste, remodeling of electronics business models and the opportunity for zero-emission transport through an innovative hydrogen vehicle. Fernando Centeno, of Exergy, discussed our innovative approach to circular engineering, including the successful AgriMax project: A Horizon 2020 success story demonstrating the commercial feasibility of extracting high value compounds from agricultural waste. Additionally, using our Aiana Verde project as an example, Exergy demonstrated the need for (and practicalities of) embedding circularity into all aspects of everyday life. 

The presentations provided an exciting glimpse into the possible future of circular economy within UK business, yet underlined challenges surrounding the scale-up of technologies, maintaining cost-effectiveness and technology integration into common consumer behaviour. Despite this, discussions were incredibly positive and highlighted the need for consistent collaboration amongst circular innovators. The audience had the opportunity to gain inspiration through sharing their own ideas, businesses and technical challenges – both during the presentations and in the post-event networking opportunity.

Rype presents their solutions for circular offices
Rype presents their solutions for circular offices.

Exergy would like to thank all partners involved for an all-round successful event – for sharing their passion and motivation and for making this initiative possible. Collaborative events are vital in the drive towards the revitilisation of current, linear business models within the UK.

Sustainable Places 2019: THERMOSS, Optimising with heat pumps and solar energy

The 7th edition of Sustainable Places (SP2019) will be held during the 5th-7th of June in Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy). Organized by R2M Solution, CEA, Comune di Cagliari, and University of Cagliari, Sustainable Places has become an excellent platform that helps to disseminate the research of European Projects, promotes the collaboration, networking and the creation of market opportunities between stakeholders of all types. SP2019 contributes significantly to European Commission Societal Challenges, bringing together topics related to building sustainability, smart cities and circularity.

This year, our company will be attending and talking about the THERMOSS Project in two workshops:

The first workshop, “District and Building Energy Systems: A collaborative exchange of results on optimal system operation for energy efficiency”, will be held on June 5th and it will be organised by INDIGO. Our Project Coordinator, Federica Fuligni, will be presenting “Optimising with heat pumps: from centralised systems to district heating networks”, where she will explain the overall concept of THERMOSS, what has been done in terms of “optimisation” and what we aim to achieve at the end of the project.

The second workshop, “Solar and Thermal energy: Europe’s precious energy sources for efficient industries and buildings” is scheduled for the 6th of June. In it, Exergy together with some project partners (Schneider Electric and STAM) will introduce the THERMOSS project and will attempt to reply to some important questions like technological challenges encountered, promotion of the technologies, the role of digitalisation, social acceptance and other non-technical barriers, among which cost-reduction.

“…the scope of Sustainable Places is captured directly in the name. It involves designing, building and retrofitting the places we live and work in a more sustainable way”.

 

Green Instruct M30 meeting in Portugal

Project Update Month 30

The Green Instruct consortium meeting was an oportunity to share the latest projects advancements and discuss the rest of the project’s roadmap. The venue was held in the city of Coimbra, Portugal on the 27-28th of March 2019.

The Green Instruct project is a Horizon 2020 funded project that focuses on researching new structure panels for energy efficient buildings. The prototype will provide acoustic and thermal insulation and it will contribute to on site grey and stormwater management, through the integration of a vertical Green Wall technology, providing additional functionalities.

During the meeting, the partners had a chance to visit the Cool Haven demo site and get a better understanding of one of the designs developed as part of the project.

Currently, as part of WP3, we are leading Module and Building Design. Exergy is modeling the construction plans through Revit (BIM). The information gathered by End of Life analysis (circularity of the materials and the treatment of these after their lifeuse) can be included in a BIM platform, where professionals in the construction sector like architects, builders, stakeholders, etc. would be able to know beforehand all the particularities of the panel (amount of material required, how this material can be processed afterwards, which design techniques are applied,…). This project is one of the examples of Circular Economy applied in the construction sector.

In the next stage, the consortium will be working on developing two additional demo sites based in Spain and Italy.

RELATED LINKS

Galileo’s Eye at the "Think Exergy, not Energy" Science Europe workshop in Brussels

Fernando Centeno presented Galileo’s Eye project and crowdfunding campaign during the “Think Exergy not Energy” European workshop in Brussels last June 16th. “Energy is not just Energy, it also has an inherent quality: Exergy

Energy experts, policy-makers, stakeholders and citizens were invited to this workshop, where energy and natural resources are considered on the basis of exergy. On the same occasion, a publication on these issues was released by Science Europe and its Scientific Advisors. Click here to download it!