Submit RFP

X Close
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Circular economy innovation

New technologies can help more firms meet their circular economy goals

Companies already investing in
this opportunity

Qflow ● BAM Construct ● Volkswagen ● Siemens Gamesea ● Siemens Mobility ● Sensicon ● Renault

growth opportunities in circular economy to 2030

Innovations in business models, technologies, components, and materials are required to support the transition to circular economy. A lack of innovation in circular economy initiatives is leading to low long-term effectiveness, profitability losses, and/or resource depletion. But progress is being made in the form of emerging technologies, new managerial practices, and more investment in product-service systems.

Five promising use cases in

Circular economy innovation

What innovations will support the circular economy?

Circular economy innovations should increase the value for the company, customers, and the planet. Indeed, successful circular economy initiatives can be value-creating and are already helping companies reduce carbon emissions by thousands of tonnes every year.

The transition to a circular economy system requires huge innovations in business models, strategies, technologies, materials, components, and managerial practices. Companies must switch their focus from products to solutions, making profits from sufficiency and waste prevention, and creating value by making products last. Firms must also examine all areas of their footprint and supply chain to determine the best way to reduce their impacts. Closed-loop supply chain management involves designing supply chains that minimise waste and maximise the reuse of materials. For example, a company might design a product so that it can be easily disassembled, and its components reused or recycled.

Use Case

How can recycling support the circular economy transition?

When many firms think of circular economy, they may think about recycling and in particular, plastic recycling. Recycling plastic still faces huge challenges to separate out plastics effectively and, in a way that doesn’t require huge amounts of energy.

To adopt a circular system, firms must attempt to “close the recovery loop”, which requires new technologies to de-polymerise, de-alloy, and de-coat materials. The ability to separate will be key. Chemical recycling (or molecular recycling) is a technically proven way to use waste plastics as a feedstock for new plastics, taking the place of virgin materials and offering a circular solution. Progress in molecular recycling has been made recently. Recent developments allow for processing wastes that have traditionally been challenging to recycle with mechanical methods, including layered plastics. Two firms, chemicals and specialty plastics company Eastman Chemicals and oil refining firm Neste, announced innovations in chemical recycling that enable plastic recycling. Eastman’s technical report is available here.


Estimated value of the global metal recycling market by 2030


Projected value of the global filtration and separation market by 2030


of growth opportunities to 2050

What is the construction industry doing in terms of circular economy?

The construction industry is one of the most polluting industries on Earth. According to the European Commission, the sector is responsible for 35% of the bloc’s total waste generation. Emissions from material extraction, manufacturing of construction products, as well as construction and renovation of buildings are estimated at 5-12% of total national GHG emissions, according to the Commission. As a result, new investments have flowed towards recycled construction materials. Fine and coarse aggregates produced from construction and demolition waste (CDW) or from wastes and subproducts from other industries, such as waste glass. These materials may also be “mineralised” by injecting carbon dioxide into them for permanent storage, further reducing emissions.

How could blockchain and IoT impact circular economy initiatives?

IT technologies offer the key to supply chain transparency, which is critical for circular economy. Blockchain technology, which offers a decentralised, distributed, and public digital ledger, could enable decentralised real-time transaction tracking, for example. This could reduce delays, extra expenses, and human error, accelerating supply chain digitisation. Internet of Things (IoT), which describes the network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies, can be used to track and monitor products throughout their lifecycle, enabling better management of resources and waste reductions.

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.

Explore more case studies
No items found.