5 Circular economy examples in the manufacturing industry
Manufacturers across sectors are investing in circularity for several reasons besides saving the environment. Learn 5 circular economy examples in this article.
There are various economic benefits to circularity, such as cost savings by reducing virgin resource extraction and increasing market share by attracting consumers interested in sustainable goods.
Moreover, circular manufacturing makes Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) compliance easier. Therefore, several industry leaders have adopted similar circular economy examples described in this article in their corporate strategy.
Circular economy examples in manufacturing
Manufacturers have an essential role in ushering in a circular economy by redesigning and using secondary materials produced from waste to prolong material life.
Waste diverted from landfills or burning in favour of reuse can close biological or technological cycles. But the method by which a manufacturer achieves circularity can be industry-specific.
Below are circular economy examples from the manufacturing sector.
1. Pulp-based refinery plant — Stora Enso Sunila Mill
Stora Enso Sunila Mill in Finland was the first in the world to extract lignin in a pulp-based refinery plant. The pulp and paper industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the world. It uses 12-15 per cent of the wood from forests, which could double by 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
To make the most of the wood they use, Stora Enso Sunila Mill, which owns one of the largest private forests in the world, has adopted the circular economy by reusing, recycling, and recovering materials at the mill.
Stora Enso Sunila Mill sources their pulp production from new wood and sustainably managed private forests to make paper and packaging to replace plastic. They also produce circular industrial products that are alternatives to fossil fuel-based non-renewable products:
- Stora Enso extracts lignin from black liquor, the byproduct of kraft pulping. The company sells lignin and also makes several products from lignin, like carbon materials for electric automotive batteries and alternatives for fossil fuel-based phenols used in plywood glue and polyols in foams.
- The company recycles wood fibre from pulp waste at least 5-7 times and sometimes as much as 20 times.
- When no more fibre can be extracted, the pulp is used for energy recovery. Moreover, residual fly ash is used for making construction products.
The pulp industry is the fourth largest energy consumer and has a huge negative environmental impact. Stora Enso has primarily replaced heavy fossil fuel oil with lignin, sawdust powder, bark, renewable black liquor, and tree pitch oil. As a result, Stora Enso Sunila Mill hopes to reduce 50% of emissions from their operations by 2030.
2. Dutch startup — COCO Automotive
COCO Automotive was named one of the top 101 automotive startups in the Netherlands for trying to extend the lives of vehicles. They redesign and rebuild cars, replacing combustion engines in existing cars to turn them into electric vehicles.
When refurbishing a car, COCO Automotive reuses materials using the old car frame and other existing components. The refurbished car uses far fewer new materials and little energy when compared to manufacturing a brand-new car. This creates a low-impact alternative vehicle that eschews fossil fuels.
The high cost of new electric cars, which are more expensive than combustion cars, has been a significant barrier to mass adoption. COCO Automotive is providing a way for people to get an electric vehicle for less, speeding up the abilities of societies and countries to meet their climate goals.
3. Recycling plastics — Porsche and Circularise
Whole supply chain involvement in the circular economy is still infrequent, and it’s hard to ascertain claims of sustainability of material sources. Porsche has several suppliers and is interested in reducing plastics from raw materials during the final production phases to improve sustainability.
Circularise, a blockchain provider, teamed up with Porsche and its suppliers to develop another great circular economy example in the industry. The “Startup Autobahn innovation program” is intended to digitalise materials and create a thread through the supply chain. As part of this program, Circularise developed patented blockchain technology for the automotive sector, where each batch of material carries information on its origin and sustainability.
This makes it possible to track materials and provide transparency of their sustainability metrics like carbon footprint and water savings.
Porsche has been able to show that they use circular plastics, sourced from leading recyclers like Covestro, Borealis, and Domo Chemicals:
- Borealis recycles post-consumer plastic waste using chemcycling to produce circular plastic that is food-grade and virgin quality, useful for demanding applications.
- Domo Chemicals has a line of eco-friendly polyamides produced from recycling, which meet all the automotive sector’s technical requirements.
- Covestro has developed polycarbonate grades from post-consumer plastic waste like automotive lighting, water bottles, and CDs.
The partnership between Porsche and Circularise made collaboration in the supply chain transparent and showed that Porsche could produce demonstrably sustainable cars to satisfy stakeholders.
Moreover, tracking materials and parts helped the car producer make informed choices, enhancing the performance of future generations of production, supporting end-of-life recycling, and deepening participation in the circular economy.
4. Circularity in the tire manufacturing ecosystem
The number of end-of-life tires (ELTs) is increasing as more vehicles hit the roads each year.
Synthetic rubber, a major component in tires, is made of plastic polymers that don’t decompose quickly. ELTs are a growing global problem leading to pollution, carbon emissions, and health hazards.
The EU introduced a series of directives to reduce the negative environmental impact of the automotive sector. Some of its stipulations were adopting a circular economy, recycling/reusing a minimum of 85 per cent by weight per vehicle, and recovering at least 95 per cent by weight per vehicle.
Several leading tire manufacturers have responded by setting up individual initiatives, many of which focus on replacing fossil-fuel-based virgin Carbon Black (vCB), which constitutes about 21-22 per cent of tires. Tire manufacturers can use up to 20 per cent of rCB instead of vCB without loss functions, limiting carbon emissions and ensuring less use of fossil fuels.
Four such collaborations and initiatives that engage supply chains are discussed below:
- Michelin and Bridgestone presented their shared vision in November 2021 to make tires 100 per cent carbon neutral and sustainable by 2050. In the vision, the two companies focused on promoting the use of recovered Carbon Black (rCB) in the tire industry. The initiative addressed challenges like the absence of a global method to standardize rCB, new technologies, fragmented market, and recycling capacity.
- Orion, a global supplier of vCB, wants to replace fossil fuel feedstock with 100 per cent renewable material and has set a schedule of milestones to be achieved between 2025 to 2050. They have already released a high-reinforcing rCB.
- Nokian tires aim to make tires with 50 per cent of recycled or renewable raw materials by 2030. Their new concept green tire unveiled in 2022 has 93 per cent sustainable materials, including rCB, recycled steel belts and wires from ELTs, and natural rubber.
- Goodyear wants to source its raw materials sustainably. As part of the strategy, they’re increasing the amount of sustainably grown soybean oil sourced to substitute petroleum-derived oil to keep tires pliable. Goodyear wants to replace petroleum-derived oil completely from its tires by 2040.
5. Circular products recovered from ELTs — Contec S.A.
Contec is a circularity in manufacturing champion, another great circular economy example that can offer tire manufacturers sustainable raw materials. Based in Poland, we’re within a manufacturing centre providing materials and products for many industries like automotive, machines, and equipment.
Because of this, the country produces waste above the European average. According to a Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative report, Poland recycles only 10.2 per cent of waste back into production, so the manufacturing sector relies on virgin material for nearly 90 per cent of its production. The same report says Poland could double its circularity and reduce material consumption by 40 per cent and carbon emissions by half.
Using chemcycling, Contec transforms end-of-life tires (ELTs) into various reusable commodities like recovered Carbon Black, tire pyrolysis oil, and recovered steel.
Contec uses pyrolysis, a chemcycling method, for material recovery from ELTs. Pyrolysis involves heating shredded tire rubber at high temperatures in an oxygen-free inert environment. Instead of burning, the chemical bonds that hold the polymers in synthetic rubber break down into component chemicals.
This process can recover about 85 per cent of materials in ELTs in the form of Carbon Black (ConBlack), oil (ConPyro), and steel (ConWire). The remaining 15 per cent is recovered as gas that Contec uses as a renewable and circular energy source for 100 per cent operation of its two lines in the plant at Szczecin.
- ConBlack is a sustainable alternative to medium-grade virgin Carbon Blacks produced from fossil fuels. The tire industry, which uses 70 per cent of the material, is expected to be the primary consumer of the recovered Carbon Black. Other sectors that can use this circular product are rubber, paints, pigments, geomembranes, and plastic.
- ConPyro, rich in aromatic hydrocarbons, can be a circular fuel for ships or feedstock for producing fine-grade Carbon Black and plastics.
- ConWire, a high-quality steel, can be used for tires or any other industry that needs steel.
Contec strives not only to produce circular products but also to make its process as sustainable as possible.
Pyrolysis can recover 85 per cent of materials in ELTs and produces little toxic waste or emissions, making it the most environmentally friendly way of recycling tires. Contec has further improved the process by developing a patented process, which incorporates molten salts as a heat transfer system, to make the process safe for the environment and staff and produce consistently good quality products.
By using waste materials and avoiding fossil fuels as energy, Contec has managed to reduce the carbon footprint of its products drastically. The carbon footprint of recovered Carbon Black is only 439.17 kg CO2e/1t and is 80 per cent less than that of virgin Carbon Black. The carbon footprint for recovered pyrolysis oil is 399.75 kg CO2e/1t.
Contec is leading the movement towards a more circular economy in manufacturing and its process, energy generation, and innovative products. Contec can close the loop in tire production through its tire-to-tire model and help circular solutions in the automotive sector.
Get in touch to learn more about how our sustainable recycled solutions can help you join the circular economy manufacturing movement.
If you liked reading this article, we recommend the following content: