The circular economy offers significant opportunities, across all sectors, to reshape many of our established, often linear, practices, enabling the world’s diverse societies and economies to prosper in new ways. The theory and practice of circular economy is still evolving and there is a need for rigorous scientific and social scientific research to to evaluate the claims of circular economy and support the design of effective solutions to implement a transition to a circular economy. This will breed confidence amongst leaders and decision-makers, address the criticism and scepticism that accompanies new ideas and challenge conventional thinking.
Our activities currently focus on key sectors such as farming and food, building and construction, wasteful flows of industrial materials, such as plastics and regional approaches to circular economic regeneration.
REBUILD is a 3 year Engineering and Physical Science Research Council Project to address the potential to create circular value from remanufacturing products of buildings at end of service life (EoSL) into high value durable products for new builds, which themselves should be designed for future deconstruction and product re-use.
The project has four interlinked elements.
- Quantifying the stocks of brick, steel, concrete and masonry within current buildings and understanding the barriers to reclaim and stocks and barriers to re-use
- New demolition, separation, repair and remanufacture techniques(e.g 3D printing) that lead to the maximum amount of reusable components at the highest value (WP2);
- Quantify the re-use potential, material and environmental impact, cost avoidance and value creation potential for each category of re-usable product
- Define and optimise circular systems (building design techniques, product choices, fabrication centres, upcycling facilities, logistics, resource bank storage, market-places) to maximise the reclaim and re-use of product
Food and drink has been identified as one of the three key sectors offering most opportunity and scope for circular economy opportunity (EMF 2017) Food and circular economy – is a two year EPSRC funded project to optimise circular supply chains in the food and drink sector with a focus on SMEs in the south west of the UK. The overall aim is to understand how such firms can capitalise on the opportunities from circular economy and make the value shift from a linear -take-make—dispose approach to regenerative circular systems. An interdisciplinary research team of sustainable supply chain experts, mathematical modellers, social scientists and engineers is working closely with businesses ranging from micro to 200+ emloyees, exploring and testing new technologies, processes, tools and product designs.
The project has four key elements:
- Value stream mapping (VSM) techniques will be adapted to create an initial current state of the firm in terms of identifying process flow, key stakeholder involvement and the existence of any specific waste or good practice e.g. closed loop activity.
- Modelling tools such as Qualitative Systems Dynamics (QSD) and Discrete Event Simulation (DES) will be used to reveal specific issues in the water-materials-energy nexus both within and between firms.
- Exploring the concept of a Capability Maturity Model (CMM) specifically for the CE and what this means in terms of the ‘trajectory of skills’ required for firms seeking to raise their level of involvement from improver, to regional leader in CE.
- Developing a framework of CE indicators to measure how far firms and their partners in the supply chain have embraced CE thinking, where gaps may exist in terms of current practice, and how these can be closed.
Regenerative agriculture is a key component of a circular economy. The theory and practice of regenerative agriculture is developing rapidly. Staff at ECCE are involved in Diverfarming a major a 5-year EU-funded project, started in 2017. The project aims to develop and test different diversified cropping systems (rotations, multiple cropping and intercrops for food, feed and industrial products) under low-input practices, for conventional and organic systems for field case studies to increase land productivity and crops quality, and reduce machinery, fertilisers, pesticides, energy and water demands. The interdisciplinary research consortium aims to explore how the diversified cropping systems can, under low-input practices, increase the delivery of ecosystem services (soil fertility, prevention of soil and water contamination, water availability, reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention, above and belowground biodiversity and pest and disease control). In line with a systems perspective the projects will evaluate how the downstream value chains and the actors involved will be impacted by the new diversified cropping systems, and so, propose new organizational structures adapted to the new production models from a technical, social, cultural and economic perspective, from farmer to consumer.
The project will develop and test agro-ecosystem models that will explore how the diversified cropping systems influence the land productivity and the soil-plant system in order to select the most suitable option for end-users and policy-makers for each pedoclimatic region and farm size. It also aims to evaluate the proposed diversified cropping systems on the basis of their economic impact, at all levels. To analyse relevant policies for synergies, conflicts and feedback loops and to develop a set of indicators for characterizing an enabling environment for sustainable crop production and value chain adaptation.
Tevi is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) until 31st January 2021. The project seeks to use the concept and framework of ecosystem services (ES), natural capital (NC) and circular economics within CIoS’s SME business community, in an integrated, novel and systems-based, way to:
- Improve business resource efficiency
- Drive new market, product and services opportunities
- Better understand the trends and trajectories of CIoS businesses and their supply chains impact on their natural environment
- Support the delivery and monitoring of Cornwall’s environmental growth aspirations through engagement with business
Cornwall SME’s across all sectors will be the target beneficiaries of Tevi, with a specific focus on SME’s that have a significant impact on the environment through their business operations or whom seek to become market leaders in their respective sectors, in terms of environmental leadership. Additionally, Tevi will seek to work with entrepreneurs and innovators to drive new market and product opportunities that deliver environmental and economic growth opportunities.
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The Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research hub (ExeMPLaR) is funded from 1st Jan 2019 for 18 months and aims to develop regional circular plastics systems which optimise circular flows of plastics for the highest value and greatest potential for value creation and significant reduction of negative externalities. The underpinning logic is to draw on the wide expertise of Exeter researchers and their research networks to connect high quality academic research with key collaborative partners in an Exeter University Plastics Research hub - ExeMPLaR - using the SW UK region as a demonstrator. The network will become a key legacy that outlives ExemPlaR. The focal point is designed around the core requirements of a systems level approach. The objectives are to overcome a number of technical and system design challenges:
- Establish a research hub and a regional network to build transformative circular economy approaches to tackling the challenges of plastics in society.
- Enhance understanding of the flows and impacts of plastic in a regional context, identifying the factors, barriers and enablers that affect current system performance.
- Develop the first-stage of a suite of system-level evaluation tools, integrating indicators for ecosystem services, human health/well-being and economic value into current Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools to assess current impacts and evaluate system-oriented interventions.
- Perform and evaluate a minimum of three short demonstration projects to assess the potential to design, optimise and replicate regional circular system elements, configurations and arrangements that afford opportunities for circular value creation and the enablers and incentives required to support this.
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