Digital Technology in Circular Economy

Linear, ‘take-make-dispose’ economies have had a negative impact not only on people and their consumption behaviour, but also on the environment – how could this change?uture of agricultureτεψ

circular economy & Innovation.

The production and exploitation of as many products as possible have led to the overconsumption of natural resources, jeopardising the provision of essential ecosystem services, such as air, water and soil cleaning. The circular economy model involves sharing, reusing, repairing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible, so as to maximize their life-cycle and reduce waste to a minimum. Moving towards that direction would help preserve natural resources and lead to benefits such as reducing pressure on the environment, stimulating innovation and boosting economic growth.

Digital Economy 2021

Fourth Industrial Revolution to assist circularity.

Technologies leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, and Cloud & Edge Computing can assist the transition to a circular economy and introduce effective and innovative ways to reduce waste and maximize products’ life cycle.

The storage and process of massive amounts of data with intelligent algorithms give us the opportunity to detect information and patterns that were previously unknown and as a result predict similar future scenarios and make more accurate and effective decisions.

For example, in almost every industry, there has been an increase in the quantity of data collected regarding the condition of equipment and its maintenance or repair needs. This type of information allows the implementation of accurate solutions and is key to extending assets’ use cycles and maximizing their utilization. Moreover, companies can implement AI in the development of circular strategies in various sectors (logistics, inventory management, predictive maintenance, etc.) and for different functionalities (pattern recognition, prediction, optimisation & planning, integrated solutions with robots, etc.).

Across industries, the implementation of AI tools can support and give boost to three major directions:
  • Design circular products and materials.
  • Operate circular business models.
  • Optimise infrastructure to ensure circular product and material flows.

An abundance of surveys and statistics highlight the fact that the implementation of digital technologies and AI tools in the circular economy is vital to its success and will boost global economic activity.

According to research from the McKinsey Global Institute (2018), AI has the potential to deliver additional global economic activity of around $13 trillion by 2030, or about 16 percent higher cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared with today. This amounts to 1.2 percent additional GDP growth per year. If delivered, this impact would compare well with that of other general-purpose technologies through history!

Case Study.

The project ‘Accelerated Metallurgy’, funded by the European Space Agency, conducted research on the development, production and testing of novel alloy combinations. Its aim was to develop new metals with the same performance but designed and manufactured based on circular economy principles. AI algorithms were used to process huge amounts of data regarding existing materials and their properties and the result was the design and testing of many thousands of unexplored alloy formulations.

The new alloys are environmentally friendly, non-toxic, can be used and reused, have longer life-cycles and their improved structure and increased performance help to reduce resource use and minimise waste. The introduction of these alloy formulations in industry and their exploitation will have a very high impact not only on the economy but also on the environment.

The European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) in March 2020. It is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. The EU’s transition to a circular economy will reduce pressure on natural resources and will create sustainable growth and jobs.

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