Switch to a circular economy is vital, also for the energy transition

Wednesday August 24, 2016 12:11

In the past century, the global demand for raw materials has grown explosively. This trend is expected to continue, and if nothing changes the prognosis is that the future demand for a large number of raw materials will far exceed the supply. This goes hand in hand with resource depletion, heavy pressure on the environment, geopolitical tensions and threats to regional and national economies. The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable because its economy, which is intensively dependent on energy and materials and focused on export, will continue to be dependent on primary raw materials for a long time to come.

It is vital that we change the nature of the Dutch economy, so that it becomes a circular economy. Many initiatives have been developed under the umbrella term 'circular economy', such as: ‘100% recycling’, ‘100% sustainable’ or ‘totally carbon neutral’. However, in many cases these initiatives only address part of the problem. Recycling is not by definition sustainable and can lead to higher energy costs, to shifting the problems to a different product chain or environmental compartment, or it may merely lead to a delay in reaching the critical threshold of raw material availability.

The use of raw materials cannot be viewed separately from the energy transition. Energy use related to raw materials makes up a significant proportion of our energy economy and so the circular economy has great potential for the energy transition. This is explained further in our animated film:

Integrated approach from ECN
ECN is working on integrated solutions aimed at a minimum use of totally sustainable energy and sustainable carbon energy, and limited loss of minerals and non-organic components (see figure).

Coupling integrated analysis to sustainable solutions enables the right solutions to be effectively created to achieve maximum sustainability. This may be through energy and resource efficiency, an improved design of (new) materials (see figure), use of sustainable raw materials, exchanging residual materials between industries, introducing new technology for upgrading residual waste into new raw materials and the electrification of the industry.

Would you like to learn more about our approach to the circular economy? Feel free to get in touch with us, or take a look at our expertise page.

Category: Corporate, Solar Energy, Wind Energy, Policy Studies, Biomass, Energy efficiency, Environment, Engineering & materials