Technologies

  • 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...
  • 12 February 2021

    CE and Lithium-ion Batteries

    English Version By Alessandro Innocenti, Tondo Associate and PhD student at Helmholtz Institute Ulm A Circular Future for Energy Storage The lithium-ion battery is the key technology that is allowing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles,portable electronic devices, and renewable energy storage.Every year, an increasing number of batteries are put into the market: we passed from an installed capacity of 200 GWh of 2014 to more than 700 GWh in 2019, with a forecast of about 8000 GWh by 2030. This also means that more and more batteries will have to be retired every year after their use in one of the mentioned applications. In fact, lithium-ion batteries must be replaced after a certain time, since they show a decrease of the performances caused by inevitable chemical degradation reactions. Spent batteries can be directly sent to recycling for the material recovery, but the economic sustainability of lithium-ion battery recycling strongly depends on the presence of precious metals as cobalt (which is getting phased out for its toxicity) and nickel inside. This is the preferred route for the batteries used in consumer electronics and personal mobility systems, which are usually quite small and with a lower quality if compared to other possible applications. In fact, stricter requirements for batteries are present in the electric vehicle industry, because of the high standards in terms of autonomy and of power set by the manufacturers to be competitive with classic vehicles. Moreover, these standards must be assured for a long time, since no one wants that after one year or two from the purchase, the electric car makes 10-20% less kilometres with each “refill”. In the industry, the common threshold for the end of life of a lithium-ion battery is when it retains 80% of the initial capacity or power. The actual time needed...
  • 20 November 2020

    Digital Platforms

    By Ghali Egger English Version The need to shift to an economy that is circular and inclusive has become inevitable. At the same time there are a lot of hurdles which are hindering us from it and making this transition one of today’s greatest challenges. Among them for example there is the current linear economic model which does not value natural capital; this information does not flow with products and material down the value chain and that customers lack awareness, capacities and convenience to actively contribute to a Circular Economy.  Digital solutions like online platforms, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain are already used to support Circular Economy initiatives, but the potential is even greater. If adequately steered, data and digitally enabled solutions could contribute to a system-wide transition and further enhance connectivity and the sharing of information across the value chains; make products, processes and services more circular; and empower citizens and consumers to contribute to the transition.  For this reason, the transition to a Circular Economy and the digitalisation of the economy and society should be aligned in order to benefit the environment, society and economy.  One of the ways digitalisation can enable the Circular Economy transition is in the form of digital platforms that are used for industrial symbiosis. Industrial symbiosis is a powerful approach to accelerate and scale the Circular Economy by closing resource cycles and valuing materials that would otherwise be discarded. In fact, waste is not seen as waste any longer but as a resource at the wrong place. Materials that cannot be used anymore by a company, can constitute a secondary raw material for another company. The digital platform in turn, is enabling and facilitating the process of material exchange and data flow between the companies.  The expression “symbiosis”...
  • 29 May 2020

    Enerbrain

    By Filippo Ferraris – Co-Founder and CPO of Enerbrain English Version Filippo Ferraris starts from “IoT”, Internet of Things, claiming that products such as smartwatches are not exploited as much as they can considering their rapid replacement with other increasingly innovative gadgets, a perspective that is far away from the concept of sustainability. The IoT was born with the aim of changing the planet and solving people’s problems in their daily lives. In 1991 the first IoT product was born in the laboratory of Cambridge University by Quentin Stafford and Paul Jardetzki: it was the Trojan Room Coffee Camera, thanks to which it was possible to remotely control whether the coffee maker in the Trojan Room, which required very long time to make the coffee, was full or not, and thus avoiding a useless journey from the workplace to the room. For this reasons IoT tools are born, with the aim of solving a problem. For example, a smartwatch can be used as a tool to control arrhythmia and get to know your health status in real time, by performing supporting functions for individuals. To date, the number of connected devices is 40 billion and it is no expected to stop. From computers to household appliances, from traffic lights to electrical outlets, in 2020 this value will reach 50 billion given the continuous development in IoT. Even if we don’t realize it – says Ferraris – we produce an incredible amount of data that is stored and used by third parties to make IoT products. An example is Netatmo smart thermostats which collect data on temperature that are then publicly shared, selling them to companies that make weather forecasts. These devices are leading the city to be increasingly “smart” because of its ability to obtain data from what surround them....
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