What other innovations could support the circular economy?
Technological innovations offer wide-ranging potential support for circular economy goals. Examples include cyber-physical production systems, which are networks of interconnected devices and systems that use advanced computing and communication technologies to monitor, control, and optimise physical processes are the bedrock for smart factories, where machines, systems, and humans work together in a highly connected and collaborative environment. Darktrace and SparkCognition build advanced AI platforms focusing on autonomous decision-making and cybersecurity. SparkCognition's AI predictive analytics have been used to increase energy production, minimise costs, and improve operational efficiency. These AI solutions can be integrated with Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) control systems. Other innovations including responsive CAD with additive manufacturing, component pre-fabrication, eco-packaging design, efficient de-alloying technologies, arcology and smart urbanisation, non-binary neuromorphic computing and chemical recycling are all technologies that could support the switch to a circular economy.
How could 3D printing support circular economy goals?
3D printing of plastic and metal parts allow mass product customisation and fast, sustainable on-site component production and replacements. Customers can reduce their spare part inventories and manufacture frequently needed parts in their own workshops. Siemens Mobility has 3D printed and sold more than 7,000 plastic and metal parts based on CAD designs using Easy Sparovation Part software. GE Transportation and Wabtec have 3D printed diesel engines for battery-diesel hybrid trains.
How could eco-packaging design support the drive towards a circular economy?
A good way to reduce waste is to replace non-recyclable materials with more sustainable alternatives. Midea, a Chinese electrical appliance manufacturer, improved its packaging design by upgrading the foam material process, reducing use of packaging materials, and using recyclable eco-friendly materials. Whirlpool began replacing expanded polystyrene packaging with more sustainable options, such as recycled foam, across its portfolio.
Can technology improve recycling of metals?
Current estimates are that only about 1 percent of rare-earth elements in old products, such as mobile phones, are recycled in the US. More efficient de-alloying technologies could reduce metals wastage. New approaches can recover elements such as rhenium, hafnium, titanium, nickel from alloys during machining operations. Furthermore, reprocessing technologies can be improved to refine these recovered elements back into high-quality raw materials. Rolls-Royce's Revert recycling programme allows for the recovery of 90-100% of titanium and nickel alloys from unserviceable engine parts.