Research and Development for Promoting Circularity

Published on Friday, 15 July 2022

When we think about changing the paradigm of the linear economic model and its transition to the circular economy, one of the main elements to consider is openness to innovation. Overcoming the barriers posed by business models, legal models, technological limitations, and so on implies a much-needed reformulation of how we produce, act and think about society.

In that sense, associating economic development with better use of natural resources, new strategies, improvements in the manufacturing of products, less dependence on virgin raw materials, and prioritizing more durable, recyclable, and renewable inputs entails helping to integrate research centers, companies, and the public sector. Fort those reasons, much focus is being put on Research and Development (R&D) into circularity worldwide.

Universities have been devoting more and more time and investment to creating postgraduate degrees and introducing lectures on circularity as part of courses in Biological Sciences, Engineering, Architecture and Urbanism, Economics, and others. This momentum significantly increases the number of research projects being undertaken. Industry-related educational centers, such as SENAI (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje Industrial), have also developed short training courses on the circular economy, mainstreaming the topic and promoting innovation and technology within different sectors. We also see an expansion of this critical issue in the private sector, which helps to finance studies to address specific business challenges and to spread the circular economy in different industries. It is essential to define what we mean by the circular economy. For example, in Brazil, 76% of enterprises already implement crucial elements of the circular economy, such as water reuse, recycling materials, and reverse logistics. However, more than 70% of them are unaware of the concept of the circular economy.

Public policies also drive the circular economy and have a more far-reaching impact on all industrial sectors. One of the most successful examples of this worldwide is Brazil's National Electric Energy Agency's (Aneel) R&D program, which allocates energy companies' resources to different research types. With these resources, they have been able to get companies and research centers to work together to reuse materials from energy meters removed from the Enel Distribuição São Paulo network, thus easing the demand for materials for building new equipment. A study carried out for the Circular Smart Meter project aims to identify and create options for reusing plastic when manufacturing new meters and other equipment to reduce waste in production and the disposal of materials.

The C40's Reinventing Cities program is an excellent example of a collaborative city project. The model encourages companies to compete for urban development projects to transform what was previously obsolete and underused spaces into sustainable and circular areas around the world. Many projects from Latin America have won in recent years, including Buenos Aires, Bogota, and Quito, with projects in renewable energy, energy efficiency, batteries, and the reuse of materials. Another important C40 program is Cities100 and several outstanding projects from Brazil in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador.[1] The Rede Condonga hydroelectric power plant project on the Doce River (MG) has seen the community and academia come together to find circular solutions for almost 20 million tailings. Hence, reducing the environmental impact and creating new economic activities that can generate income for the population and finance research. [2][3]

Some multiple ongoing projects and programs encourage stakeholders to look for circular solutions that promote a paradigm shift in our current way of life and production processes. City projects are key given that they concentrate more than half of the world's population despite accounting for only 3% of the earth's surface. Moreover, cities generate 70% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore, research efforts into circular economy actions also contribute to decarbonization.