Industrial symbiosis is one application of circular economy, where waste or side stream from a process is the raw material for another. This idea is not new, so why don’t we see it happening everywhere — instead we hear talking about the importance of closing material loops.
Well, first, companies need information about the opportunities and business models of industrial symbiosis. Second, they must find a suitable partner. Third, geographical proximity must enable reasonable logistics. Fourth, material flows must be sufficient to keep production going.
Of course, there are material sharing platforms, or matchmaking platforms, where supply and demand can connect. These platforms help to find a partner, but when the long-term relationship is established, they are not the solution.
Products in bio economy and circular economy need steady material flow. The problem in this business is that waste and side streams are not purposefully produced — instead, everybody wants to minimize it. The volume of the production affects the volume of produced waste and side stream. For this reason, the user of waste and side streams might face two difficulties with the material flow: there won’t be enough material to produce the planned or sold volumes, or another way around, there might be too much material the production can handle. These are big problems in the circular economy value chain.
How to overcome these problems? Information sharing between companies is obviously important, but still, it is a problem. Information that the waste and side stream user needs is the forthcoming volumes and material quality or characteristics. Companies are not necessarily willing or able to share this kind of information. Especially if the changes are caused by a rapid change in the production volume, these changes are not necessarily transferred to the user of the waste or side stream. This kind of situation brings challenges for both partners: the producer might need to stop the production in waste or side stream is not moving fast enough to the other partners, on the other hand, the material user might have to do extra work to handle the material logistics and to operate the production before the material might be spoiled.
My research deals with the material related information sharing between companies, information value potential for circular economy and opportunities that data and digital technologies provide.
Doctoral Student at University of Vaasa
School of Technology and Innovations
Senior Lecturer in Information and Communication Technology (Bioeconomy)
Häme University of Applied Sciences