Technologies

  • 24 September 2021

    Excess Materials Exchange

    Excess Materials Exchange – A dating site for materials  Who said only people can date? At our event Re-think Circular Economy Forum 2020 in Milan, Maayke Aimee Damen, presented Excess Materials Exchange, which she founded with the aim of creating a digital platform and marketplace where companies can exchange their excess materials or as she called it, a dating site for materials.   Maayke started her presentation by posing two questions: what percentage of products we buy ends up as waste within six months? What percentage of material value is lost after a single use? The answers are respectively 99% and 95%, much more than what most of the people would expect. In addition, the resource path trend is on the rise and it is projected to increase even further. At the same time, products on the market are becoming increasingly more complex. Moreover, estimations based on a forecast of materials for technology extracted, shows that there are not many resources left. While demand for resources and the complexity of the product are increasing, most of the European countries import raw materials. Focusing on the city of Amsterdam, the native land of Maayke, a great amount of materials is coming from countries outside Europe, as China and Russia. Due to the current situation, the economic and political tension is rising, so being independent on import is a risky choice. On the other hand, the recycling rates of these materials are very low.  Even though we have overexploited our resources and we are very dependent on other countries, concrete actions on this topic have not been made, and instead worldwide waste-rate is expected to grow with 75% in 2050. The ultimate goal would be reaching a 100% global circular economy, in which resources are infinitely cycled across different sectors without having a negative environmental impact, but at the moment the world is only 8.6%...
  • 21 September 2021

    A Digital Technology Roadmap

    By Shyaam Ramkumar, Circular Innovation Expert at Tondo lab In the occasion of our Re-think Circular Economy Forum 2020 in Milan, Shyaam Ramkumar, Circular Innovation Expert at Tondo lab, explained us how digital technology can form a roadmap to enable Circular Economy.    Shyaam Ramkumar focused his speech on how digital technology can form a roadmap to enable Circular Economy.    Since the latter half of the 20th century we have seen an increasing digitalisation of the world. A proof of this huge exponential digitalisation is visible, for instance, by comparing the amount of world information stored in a digital format. Indeed, in 2014 this percentage overcame the 99%, while in the 80s less than 1%. We are currently experiencing the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, with incredible advancements in different kinds of technologies that are changing our reality (AI, digital fabrication, IoT etc.). Especially this year due to Covid-19, we have seen an accelerating trend towards a more digital society, increasingly moving in the direction of online working, online learning and online socializing. This trend has huge implications for governments, companies and citizens, creating a new normality in a post-covid world. This increasing use of digital technology has actually a huge positive trend to enable the circular transition as well.  Technology allows for greater knowledge sharing and collaboration, insights and analytics to support a better use of assets and resources and improved wellbeing for all. As highlighted in Circular Economy’s “DISRUPT” framework, incorporating digital technology is a key element of the circular economy, especially with regard to how resources could be optimized and connections between actors among the supply chain could be strenthened by using digital online platforms. During his speech, Shyaam focuses on four kinds of technological solutions: digital platforms, blockchain, big data analytics and artificial intelligence. It is relevant not only to understand how these technologies are contributing to the Circular Economy, but also how they are connected to each other.   Many digital platforms have been recently developed, creating the foundation to enable greater connection and collaboration to advance Circular Economy. Through them companies, governments and citizens are able to exchange knowledge, share assets, reduce transaction costs and some of the inefficient market failures for second-hand resources, wastes and products. The constant use of digital platforms is also generating a great amount of data and insights in terms of: patterns of the use of resources and wastes, the demand and the supply of second hand goods. An example of this is Floow2, an online marketplace that enables companies to increase and valorise their existing assets, services, knowledge and skills by sharing them with other businesses under a given price. The platform really opens new opportunities for collaborations within companies and is gathering data on what are the biggest resources required, who has the biggest needs and who has the resources to provide them.   Thinking about the creation of these platforms, it is important to manage and store all of this information in a secure way, while providing them to the different stakeholders. The blockchain can provide a decentralized way to manage and store this information, allowing a greater transaprency in terms of the origin of product, resource use, authentication, tracing supply chain issues etc. In addition,...
  • 2 August 2021

    Fili Pari: wearable marble

    English Is it possible to imagine the use of marble in the textile industry? Can marble be light? It sounds incredible, but Francesca Pievani and Alice Zantedeschi, Co-founders of Fili Pari, explained to us – during our Re-think Circular Economy Forum 2020 in Milan – how that can be done. Fili Pari is an innovative Start-Up focused on research and development of unconventional materials for the textile industry, respecting the territory and the environment. The Start-Up specializes in the development of cutting-edge technologies for the enhancement of marble powders. Fili Pari aims to contribute to protecting the land and valleys from the mountain’s dismemberment and encourage the use of by-products as a raw material. Fili Pari was born from the desire to create a new deep connection between the Italian territory and the textile industry. Fili Pari’s concept starts in fact from marble, a natural, typical element of the Italian territory. Since ancient times marble has been used in art, architecture, and represents a cultural, economic, and geological heritage, a symbol of uniqueness and timeless excellence. For instance, the Carrara marble is one of the most precious and luxurious marbles in the world.  Generally speaking, Italian marble is among the most valuable in the world and it represents a very important sector of Made in Italy. The Italian stone industry boasts the fifth position in the world ranking for processed marbles, with a share of 10%. The supply chain has more than 3,200 companies and 33,800 employees and reached in 2016 a production worth 3.9 billion euros, three-quarters of which is destined to foreign countries. However, marble was never used in the textile sector. Before Fili Pari, there was no connection or synergy between these two industries. In fashion, it was used as an aesthetic inspiration through prints that reproduce...
  • English Version Have you ever thought that spent coffee grounds could not be a waste, but a great resource?  Let’s start with some numbers. Italy imports annually around 606 thousand tonnes of coffee (this is 17% of the EU’s coffee imports), and on average an Italian consumes 6 kg of coffee annually. As we can see, Italy is a significant coffee consumer, which means that Italy produces a significant quantity of spent coffee grounds. Spent coffee grounds have a lot of qualities: in particular, they are rich in nitrogen, an element with a high potential for energy production, saturated fatty acids, and cellulose. They can be used in several industries as they can be used to produce cosmetics, compost, pellets, biofuels, etc.  While some industries do recognize the potential of spent coffee grounds, there are some innovative startups that truly went above and beyond. Coffeefrom uses this resource in a circular way, with a zero-waste approach.  Coffeefrom is an Italian company that was born in 2019, it is based in Milan and it brought an innovative, extremely versatile, and sustainable material of biological origin material on the market. This material is made using spent coffee grounds of industrial origin, in a truly sustainable and circular fashion. Coffeefrom is the second circular economy spin-off launched by a local cooperative, Il Giardinone Cooperativa Sociale. The first experience dates back to Expo 2015, when the team of Il Giardinone experimented with the recovery and transformation of coffee grounds from Lavazza bars, using them to cultivate fresh mushrooms. In 2016, FungoBox was launched: the kit allows for self-production of fresh mushrooms from urban coffee waste.  Over time, the know-how of Il Giardinone in the recovery and transformation of coffee by-products strengthened and a new entrepreneurial vision was born: this is how Coffeefrom first came...
  • By Claudia Fabris English Fairphone is a company that manufactures smartphones by paying special attention to the materials used and the conditions of workers throughout the supply chain. The smartphones are designed to last longer thanks to a modular design that allows for the separation of components to be repaired or upgraded. This extends their life and allows waste parts to be collected and recycled, promoting the idea of a circular economy. That cellphones’ manufacturing relies on practices that are not always sustainable or ethical, as it is sadly known. Fairphone is a model and an example for other companies working in the same field of how it is possible to produce smartphones while respecting the environment and the workers throughout the production process, from the extraction of raw materials to the recycling of components. The “coltan”, a mixture of minerals composed of columbite and tantalite, is used in the production of small high-capacity capacitors for devices such as cellphones and computers. Tantalum has a particularly high commercial value and, for this reason, its extraction in areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to fighting between paramilitary and guerrilla groups for control of the territories where this material is found. These practices have led to uncontrolled exploitation of resources and the population employed in the extraction of these minerals. By committing to purchase materials directly from producers, Fairphone seeks to create positive change to ensure fairer working conditions and increase the amount of recycled and responsibly extracted materials. Together, these practices are designed to increase awareness in the industry and consumers of possible solutions to the problems associated with smartphone production. By 2040, the communications sector will contribute 14% of the total global footprint. The contribution of smartphones will exceed that of computers, displays and laptops combined....
  • By Giovanna Matrone and Simone Bambagioni English Version The manufacturing process is currently living its fourth revolution: Industry 4.0. Based on a wide range of new technologies combining physical, digital, and biological aspects, this means taking an enormous step forward compared to the previous revolutions mainly characterized by technological advancement. These new technologies are impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries, as well as challenging ideas about our conditions as humans. The main characteristic of Industry 4.0 is the connectivity between machines, orders, employees, suppliers, and customers. This digital transformation – based on Internet-of-Things and electronic devices – impacts the entire value chain of the manufacturing process. Within this revolution, some trends are receiving more attention and investments due to their high potential: Smart factory, Predictive maintenance, and 3D printing. 3D printing is a computer-controlled process serving object production by adding sequential layers of material (metal, plastic, composite). The evolution of this technology, mostly used for prototyping of low volumes, is the Additive Manufacturing (AM) aimed to support a real serial production. This manufacturing process significantly differs from conventional subtractive methods, mainly based on removing material from a solid block. AM offers significant advantages: production innovation can be accelerated, while product customization and functional integration can be reached quickly and at lower costs. This makes AM attractive for many companies to differentiate themselves on the market and reach sustainability targets. Indeed, AM becomes a fundamental step in transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, disrupting current supply chain in terms of design, materials, manufacturing, and products. DESIGN AM basically expands the scope of design to a wider range of factors, asking engineers for a real mindset change. Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) is not just focused on the manufacturing step itself, but it also considers the material properties, part parameters,...
  • English Version Pietro Lanza General Manager of Intesa (IBM Group) and Blockchain Director of IBM Italia was with us at our Re-think Circular Economy Forum in October. Together we discussed how the transition towards the Circular Economy and the Green Deal create new opportunities for businesses in which technology and digital innovation play a key role. According to Pietro Lanza, what we are experiencing is a new industrial revolution that is based on exponential technologies, such as IoT, AI, cognitive computing, and Cloud. These technologies are growing at a global scale and allow companies to move towards new business models, enabling the Green and Digital Transition to a Circular Economy. The technology sector is then becoming a key player in redesigning businesses for Italian mid and big-size companies, especially because the supply chains of many industries are becoming more complex. Why are these technologies important? To unlock the potential of a Circular Economy through these new technologies, it is useful to highlight seven essential steps. First of all, it is necessary to understand and leverage the usage of IoT platforms. The second step is about focusing on the right data and analyzing them. This step is usually supported by AI combined with Machine Learning. The next one deals with rethinking the operations, an area in which Intesa is deploying a lot of effort, helping its clients in redefining their processes from the product design to the supply chain to the overall industrial processes. In this step blockchain, augmented reality, and optimization of the processes through innovation are often used. The fourth step is about connections: we are living in an interconnected world, which means that it is important to leverage on open platforms to connect in real-time actors across all the network. The blockchain is an example of a connected...
  • By Benedetta Esposito English Version The agri-food sector has been severely affected by many problems, such as resource scarcity, food loss and waste generation along the worldwide supply chain which, in 2019, counted approximately 1.3 billion tons, generating a cost of more than 1000 billion dollars per year (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2019). The decline in biodiversity and the improper management of resources and processes represent only some of the causes of such problems. Accordingly, a need has emerged to radically redesign the traditional linear economic path of production and consumption. In this scenario, Circular Economy emerges as a possible strategy that is able to overcome these critical issues, especially in the state of emergency generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, the need to adopt models and tools of Circular Economy in the agri-food sector is imperative to overcome these problems. Under this lens, the company’s performance should be guided towards consumption reduction, optimization of resource management, reduction of environmental impacts, waste reduction, and the reuse of leftovers. Moreover, the literature has shown that stakeholders’ engagement plays a pivotal role in catalyzing the shift towards the adoption of circular economy models, which is required at the supply-chain level rather than the individual company level. Indeed, one of the main barriers to circular economy implementation is the lack of information about the stakeholders involved in the supply chain. In addition to primary producers, numerous categories of subjects should be involved, such as customers and consumers, investors, public decision-makers, the process and transformation industry and distribution. Insightful information about companies’ practices can support sustainable business systems in the agri-food sector. Consistent with this statement, researchers have demonstrated that incorporating social and environmental considerations into the decision-making process and customers ‘reuse activities’ yields significant economic benefits. Therefore, sustainability commitments and the actions of...
  • By Giovanni Colombo, Senior Public Affairs Manager at EIT Food – from ReThink 2020 English Version EIT Food is one of the eight Knowledge and Innovation Communities created by the EU under the umbrella of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and is building an ecosystem to generate innovative solutions to make the food system more circular and bring these solutions to the market.  The “Circular Food Systems” is one of the six Focus Areas. EIT Food, as Europe’s leading food initiative, is working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy, and trusted.  It works in synergy with Europe’s leading agri-food companies, research institutes, universities, and startups to transform the food system and tackle some of the big societal challenges such as food waste. In the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually, which represents 20% of food production and it is estimated that this could feed 200 million people. The production and disposal of this food waste generate 170 million tonnes of CO2 which accounts for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union. The global cost is 870 billion euros. Today, the reduction of food waste is an opportunity because it could help to close the gap between the food needed to feed the planet in 2050 and the food that was available in 2010 by more than 20%. This has been recognized also by the UN SDGs target n° 12.3 which asks us to halve the food waste by 2030. In the European context, food waste covers food loss and food waste and it occurs at all stages of the value chain. Even though in Europe food waste occurs mostly at the consumption level, synergic efforts should be addressing the problem of food waste at all stages of the value chain. Colombo...
  • By Aleksandra Kekkonen English Version Today both fields of IT development and circular economy are in the highest interest. A circular economy promises a balanced and sustainable future in a clean and flourish way with well-designed and energy-efficient assets for all stakeholders. IT field in its turn drives economic development, brings science fiction projections in life, and saves (to some extent) the world from Covid consequences making distant work and business processes reality. For sure, all the popular tech trends like AI (Artificial Intelligence), ML (Machine Learning), IoT (Internet of Things), Big Data, edge computing, robotic process automation, and others come to ease our lives. But how those two fields overlap and what influence IT has for circular economy implementation?  First of all, IT field definition should be considered to be more specific in formulations: Information Technology (IT) is the use of computers to store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data or information. Necessary types of IT services include hardware & software, network Infrastructure (a company’s network infrastructure would typically include its internet connectivity and internal networking between computers and other devices (such as printers), mobile device management, cloud computing, and cybersecurity». Digital technologies play an important role in establishing real-time information exchanges among users, machines, and management systems. These technologies are intrinsically customer-focused and provide the information and connections needed to maintain a relationship far beyond the point of sale. Remote visibility and control of assets are especially critical for the Product as a Service, Sharing Platforms, and Product Life Extension business models. By altering the way businesses and consumers interact with physical and digital assets and enabling dematerialization, digital technologies can transform value chains, so they are decoupled from the need for additional resources for growth. Hybrid technology is partly digital and partly engineering. It can establish a unique type of control over assets and material flows. It allows a company to digitally identify...
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