In Depth: Circular Economy – The Need to Reuse Resources

There is a popular game to play during team building – try to get a bucket full of water across an obstacle course without spilling any drops. In a way, it is the same with the circular economy. This idea promotes greater resource productivity. Cirkellab, a company from Dordrecht that promotes the circular economy, is looking at the maritime industry with the idea to change the production process with the goal to keep the bucket as full as possible.

“We cannot exploit Earth anymore by pulling out resources and throwing them away when we do not need them anymore. This system has to change,” Jan-Willem Kanters from Cirkellab says. Kanters is an econometrist who specialises in sustainable economics, predictive analytics and transitions.

Metals getting scarce

He explains that it is not just an environmental issue. “We are used to the fact that there is an unlimited supply of raw materials that we can use for our economy. That is not true, there is a limit. Some rare metals are becoming scarce.”

To keep the production processes running in the future, we need to reuse resources. “Are we waiting till it hurts, or are we going to act now?”

Kanters emphasises that the scarcity of raw materials also has to do with the current geopolitical situation. “In Europe, we import the resources we need. Most of them come from China or Africa. This makes us vulnerable when we are cut off from that supply.”

Switching from a linear economy, that works with the principle ‘take, make, dispose of’, to a circular one, also creates a lot of jobs, Kanters says.

Materials in the loop

Cirkellab looks at all kind of sectors but recently focused on the maritime cluster in the region of Dordrecht. “We are looking for possibilities for maritime companies to keep materials in the loop.”

Their findings will end up in a report, but more important, the company wants to initiate concrete projects. The circular economy is about the big picture but change starts with little steps.

“We want to realise initiatives that can start tomorrow and have quick results. The last thing we want to do is to produce an elaborate manual on how to move to a circular economy that ends up on a shelf because it is too ambitious.”

Re-BOOT

One of the projects, in which Cirkellab is a partner, is called re-BOOT. “The idea is to find a solution, on a small scale, for a growing problem in our country,” Kanters explains.

The Netherlands is a country with a lot of water that attracts small sailing boats and other recreational vessels. Sometimes these vessels are abandoned and because there is no registration, owners of those boats cannot be held accountable for the cleaning costs.

“We are talking about thousands and thousands of boats that are left behind. We want to do something about it in the region of Dordrecht.”

The project re-BOOT wants to fix up those vessels and if this is not possible, reuse working parts or materials. “We are even looking for better ways to recycle polyester, a material has little value at the moment.” The vessels have to be removed anyway and now there is a way reduce the cleaning costs by selling boats and parts.

Remanufacturing 

This is not the only project that takes shape. Cirkellab is supporting almost a dozen of other initiatives that run by the principles of the circular economy.

One of them is a knowledge centre that concentrates on remanufacturing. It promotes a new way in thinking about products and materials.

“It is about the second life of products. Using second-hand products has a somewhat smudgy image. But this view is outdated.”

“In America, there is more business in used goods.”

As an example Kanters mentions Caterpillar. “They have a serious business model when it comes to remanufacturing. The company believes in a second life for their products.”

Caterpillar keeps resources in the value chain. Rebuild programs increase the lifespan of equipment. “The remanufactured parts and components provide same-as-new performance and reliability at fraction-of-new costs—while reducing the impact on the environment.”

Disassembly process 

There are also more general ideas about the circular economy that Cirkellab tries to promote in the maritime industry. One of them is ‘Design for Disassembly’. It is a principle that stresses the need that in the design phase the disassembly is already taken into account.

“For a vessel, this means that, when possible, parts can be, for instance, screwed together instead of welded. Welding is permanent,” Kanters says. This would make the disassembly process of those vessels much easier.

Another idea is ‘Design for Service’. It promotes modular shipbuilding, where parts are standardised.

When the use of vessel changes, the purpose of a ship can easily be converted. By using modular parts the conversion process gets more flexible, faster and cheaper. When a ship has to be repaired, these advantages also apply.

Decommissioning

Also in the decommissioning phase in the offshore industry, there is a lot to be won.

“Offshore platforms that are not useful anymore have a lot of parts that can be reused. Instead of bringing the parts to the scrap heap, try to find another purpose for them. Companies can make money by doing so.”

Kanters believes that a change from the linear economy to the circular economy is possible.

“We see that at the moment the majority of companies are aware of their environmental impact on society and they want to act in a responsible way. In the past, this was not the case and that makes me hopeful that things can change.”

Jaap Proost

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #2 – 2017.

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