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Other innovations 26/04/2021

Circular Economy: Pillars And Key Projects For A Future That Lasts

A truly green economy needs more than just renewable energy, it also needs to be fundamentally circular.

Here are a few examples of key features of a circular economy, as well as several notable ENGIE projects that are part of it

While renewable energy is a cornerstone of a circular economy, the years ahead also require that we reimagine the very concept of growth in order to progressively decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.

It’s been roughly a decade since the energy transition started to gain real momentum — and we’ve achieved great things since. For the first time, the most common forms of renewable energies are cheaper than polluting fossil fuels.

Many countries are sprinting towards covering their full electricity demand by sun, wind or hydropower, with the UK reaching 42% in 2020. Meanwhile, the prices of both electric-vehicle batteries and solar panels keep plunging, as new clean-energy technologies are rapidly developed and commercialized. 

All of this is an inspiration for the further progress possible in the years ahead. But a truly green economy needs more than just renewable energy — it also needs to be fundamentally circular. 

The issue is that while the sources of renewables are potentially limitless, the surrounding infrastructure needed to turn them into exploitable energy still depends on polluting and finite resources. For example, by 2050, up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, creating a massive need for custom-made recycling solutions. Similar issues of recycling apply to electric vehicles and their batteries, while the residual effects of replacing an estimated 2 billion combustion-engine vehicles in the decades to come will require a drastic increase in mining activities around the world — raising question about how we best safeguard the rights of local communities and the environment. 

Indeed, while renewable energy is a cornerstone of a circular economy, the years ahead also require that we reimagine the very concept of growth in order to progressively decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. 

Here are a few examples of key features of a circular economy, as well as several notable ENGIE projects that are part of it: 

THE FOUR PILLARS OF A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

1. Wasteless. A circular economic model aims to close the gap between production and the natural ecosystems’ cycles — and that means eliminating waste. Part of the solution is of course better composting of biodegradable waste, but we also need more innovations for non-biodegradables. An example is ENGIE’s GAYA platform in southeastern France, where non-recyclable waste like cardboard and plastic are turned into renewable gas. 


2. Durability and Reuse. Designing waste out of the system also means making more durable products that are designed to be upgraded or repaired. Taking electric vehicles as an example, the average life of lithium-ion batteries (above 20% capacity) in EVs on the road today is around 10 years, with estimates suggesting that by 2030, there could be 11 million tons of lithium-ion battery waste from electric vehicles. Batteries can be part of a circular economy in two main ways.

  • Firstly, specialized companies can recover metals like cobalt, manganese and lithium from the cells and reuse them in battery manufacturing.
  • Alternatively, batteries can be repurposed without breaking them down in order to power less demanding forms of electronics. Ultimately, the success of both large-scale recycling and repurposing hinges on future batteries being designed with circularity factored in.

3. Renewable Energy.  While some countries in the West are edging closer to covering electricity demand by clean energy, renewables still only account for roughly 11% of the world’s primary energy use. As such, the 2020s will be about rapidly scaling up renewable use around the world to meet climate targets. However, while renewable technologies will be preferable to fossil fuels under any scenario, the clean-energy industry must better integrate system regeneration into its strategy to avoid a massive clean-up bill in a few decades. This is especially true as the countries most affected by renewable-energy e-waste and unethical extraction are currently the ones benefiting the least from the energy transition. 

4. Circular business models. Perhaps above all else, true global sustainability will require us to reimagine growth as something more than pure economics, to also include natural and social capital. As such, the prevailing business model of the future can’t depend on finite resources or endless consumption, but rather capitalize on maximizing societal good. For example, there are already progressive companies that have moved away from the take-make-dispose model to instead offer products-as-a-service where repairs, upgrades and after-life solutions are included in the price. 

THREE CIRCULAR PROJECTS FROM ENGIE

  • BeCircle : Improving industrial ecosystems 

    In collaboration with EIT Climate-KIC, ENGIE Lab has developed BeCircle — a service for territories and businesses in transition towards circularity. The service aims to assist in designing industrial sites that function in a circular economy. The main objectives are to reduce expenses and identify new sources of income, Improve transportation networks, optimize local organizations, and lastly to improve environmental performance and competitiveness. The web-based tool is currently being tested by business and production managers across Europe to plan, discover input synergies and evaluate locations and costs.

BeCircle : Accelerate the transition to a circular economy for territories and industries.


  • BeeWe : Pooling spares 

    ENGIE Digital’s BeeWe initiative is the energy sector’s first collaborative platform aimed at improving maintenance of energy production systems by pooling resources.  Bringing together 130,000 spare parts, 3,800 registered technicians and engineers across the globe, the Beewe platform aims to reduce investment by purchasing savings, reducing carbon footprint by avoiding overproduction of spare parts, as well as shorten turnaround time for repairs. Deployed in 22 countries today, BeeWe also functions as a platform for experts to share innovative ideas and visions for the future. 

  • Skill'Lib : Skill set matchmaking 

    For a company, a circular economy also means making the best of its human assets and resources, as well as the talent and experience fostered within different services. ENGIE Skill’Lib is an internal jobing platform, like an online marketplace where employees can create their profile to highlight their skills and express their interest in working on zero-carbon projects within the group.  Created in 2016, the platform allows employees to become “Skillers,’ in a back-office database that works as a match-making site between employees and for projects. Employees can make better use of their individual skill sets while empowered to better stake out their preferred career path.  Since the platform’s founding, 1601 Skillers profiles have been created and matched with 152 missions. 

DISCOVER Skill'Lib in VIDEO 


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