Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials and Resources 3 End Notes
At the conclusion of both days of the conference, participants were asked to provide comments on the overarching themes and consistent threads of the sessions held that day. The purpose was to synthesize ideas of how to better view the concepts related to a circular economy in the context of mining and extractive industry issues and those of other facets of raw materials supply. The facilitated discussion drew out a number of key thoughts which are detailed below and captured in the session introductions.
Through this exercise, several foundational components of circular economy and the role of various sectors were highlighted. These can serve as a springboard for future discussions and as a key summary of what the participants learned as a part of this conference.
Themes and Takeaways – Day 1
Session 1: Sustainable Development and the Circular Economy
- Circular economy is fundamentally a strong sustainable activity
- To achieve an efficient Circular Economy among others the “Modified Central Paradigm of Materials Science and Engineering” must be applied as defined by Canul and Kongoli (2012): Processing -> Structure-> Property -> Performance-> Reutilization/Recyclability and this starting from laboratory to industry
- The role of science and technology has to be better valued by the society as one of the most important pillars of sustainability and circular economy
- Scientist and engineers have to be properly acknowledged in the society level for the contribution
- The RESOLVE framework
- Sometimes stockpiling vs. recycling is needed
- There is inventory within the system
- Reduction of waste is key
- Design and manufacture for disassembly and/or recycling
- Policy matters
- Decouple growth from consumption of finite resources
- Indicator of well-being as equilibrium
- Dynamic tension between what society wants vs. what will get us to a circular economy
- How do we reconcile?
- Social learning importance
- How do we change consumption?
- What are system boundaries? To enable trust.
- How many dimensions are there? Matrix.
- Consumption vs. use – can we influence
- The Car2Go sells mobility vs. vehicles
- Mineral resources have by-products that should be captured
- Waste could be a product
- Shift from primary to secondary resources to move from linear to circular
Session 2: Case Studies: Challenges & Successful Business Models
- Produced water is regulated as waste but could be a product – use everything you create
- Leverage your employees as spokespeople
- Mining fills gap between demand and recycling
- Leadership commitment, clear business strategy and transparent dialogue with stakeholders are key
- Many companies have adopted contractual items that become the framework of how they work
- There is still a strong need for technology development
- For companies to take the initiative on circular economy there has to be a pro-business concept. There is a business case to be made for circular economy.
- Where are extractive industries in the circular economy?
- Consider leasing, e.g. Alcoa’s aluminum to Boeing
- We need more case studies to make this tangible!
- The power of words – Copper Producing Company vs Copper Mining Company
- What is the real cost/benefit?
- Need to maintain the infrastructure, e.g. recycling operations
- Consumers need to engage
- Stewardship is key to current and future generations
- Technology, education, policy, standards, and regulations are key
Session 3: Educating the Future Engineer
- There are multiple approaches to introducing sustainability concepts depending on the student interests and institutional/program constraints.
- A graduate program in sustainable engineering has been developed with a focus on water, energy and sustainable systems. Aspects of the program include multidisciplinary research, internships, socio-economic and professional skills training. The program has been successful, leading to numerous publications, theses and graduates who are employed in good jobs.
- Engineers are well taught and well prepared to think about the environmental dimensions of their work, including their role in promoting a circular economy. Yet environmental challenges and opportunities have social implications that should also be considered during the process of design and implementation. By training engineers to see their work as sociotechnical (in other words, both social and technical), educators can train the next generation of engineers to think more broadly and deeply about their contribution to circular economies.
- Interdisciplinary perspective is necessary
- Sociotechnical education (non-siloed)
- Need contextualized education – expose students to situations where technology is used
- Re-envision technical sub-disciplines – need methodologies/tools to share with working professionals
- Integrate students across majors
- Get involved in ABET
- Corporate SR and Societal SR
Session 4: Water
- There is a shortage of fresh water and water for crops
- Water isn’t always where it is needed
- Out of sight isn’t out of mind (groundwater importance)
- LCA to do waterfootprinting
- Innovation contests in engineering education?
- UN SDG’s are key (overlay)
- Purple (reclaimed water pipe) is the new green
- Acid mine drainage and abandoned mines are a possible supply for other uses
- Water often has cultural, religious, social value
- Landfill mining
- Materials criticality
- Water should be a human right
Themes and Takeaways – Day 2
Session 6: Building Blocks for the Circular Economy
- Innovation is needed to advance the principles of sustainability
- Innovation could be stifled by standards and regulations
- i.e. regulators need to be engaged
- Verify what we are going after is going to be achieved
- Stakeholder engagement is long and complicated but necessary and valuable
- Regulators and industry need to partner
- Be holistic in your regulatory approach
- Friction against innovation
- How do you develop your business case
- The way we approach the circular economy is contextual – be adaptive!
- Incorporate adaptive management into the circular economy
- Pilot things
- Define the problem and solve with diversity of thought, experiences, professions
- Do the right projects and do them right, e.g. outcome focused
Session 7: System Implementation
- Everybody plays a role - each of us has an opportunity to improve the industrial system that is our "footprint"
- Manage footprint as a system of materials & energy that changes over time
- A new view of resource and reserve for small-scale mining
- Electronic products are trending toward “circular” with declining amounts of attractive (precious) commodities; keeping the recycling circle from becoming a spiral is the trick
- Geotechnical foundation design needs to shift from business-as-usual approach towards sustainability
- Case studies show value in using circular economy concept
- Business as usual will not get us to where we want to be
- Use of sustainability in design is critical to innovation
- Keep the message simple so everyone knows how they fi
Session 8: Environmental/Waste
- Governments can use a range of policy instruments to achieve their goals such as economic incentives (e.g., taxes, subsidies), information sharing and education, and technical assistance.
- In EPA’s pursuit of Sustainable Materials Management, we are using a number of different policy instruments, including applied research, encouraging innovative business models, convening stakeholders, and regulations.
- Looking to the future, EPA will continue to implement our SMM Strategic Plan and the focus areas identified therein, including a focus on the Built Environment (buildings, roads, bridges, other infrastructure).
- Waste should be a design consideration from the beginning (potential use of outputs as inputs to another process)
- End of life needs to be considered
- Reconsider the language being used in discussions, e.g. “raw material provision” vs “mining”
- LCA may not always be the right tool to use
- How can we help get companies from operational to transformational
- Talk to the EPA to help (not just financially)
Session 9: Future Visions for the Circular Economy
- There is need for new structures, markets and governance to address the challenges associated with the interconnected food-energy-water system
- There is need for new methodologies of analysis that integrates technical, societal, and environmental dimensions and includes the context of a circular economy
- It is important for the engineering community to have a voice
- Cross-industry material reuse, as a key component of the circular economy, is taking off with companies, governments and funders.
- Governments are aligned with the values and goals of sustainable materials management.
- Advanced software capabilities make a multi-sided platform like the Materials Marketplace a low friction way for companies and solution providers to connect and do business.
- Technologies abound for converting materials into useful products.
- Connecting/Bridging is part of the challenge
- Call to action for societies and regulators
- Always keep thinking outside of the box – don’t be afraid to throw the spaghetti on the wall
- Engage multi-disciplinary, multi-sectorally, across generations and cultures