Sustainability innovations for resource and energy efficiency
The Earth does not have an endless supply of resources needed to sustain today’s economies. With disruptive recycling processes, increases in energy efficiency and enablers for a circular economy we can contribute to manage this major challenge.
Maximizing the use and lifespan of resources in a circular economy
A fundamental dilemma is confronting our complex and interconnected way of life: the earth does not have an endless or even abundant supply of the resources we would need to sustain current consumption over many generations. The products and processes that have enabled a modern way of life – providing electronic devices, for example – have consumed a tremendous amount of resources such as rare earth metals and petrochemicals. The resulting resource scarcity urges us to rethink today’s recycling concepts and material streams. At the same time, the world suffers from emissions of production and use of products. For example, a more and more circular economy will help to maximize the use and lifespan of our resources.
That is why Bosch Research is working on technologies for resource-efficient processes to support sustainable manufacturing while bringing innovations quickly to market. One approach we are investigating in this context is urban mining, the recovery of raw materials in urban spaces. For example, in a commen project with BSH Hausgeräte GmbH we are working on the recovery of the materials used in washing machines like (noble-) metals and plastics, e.g. by developing efficient and cost-effective dismanteling strategies to decompose washing machines into their individual parts.
Increasing resource and energy efficiency through circularity
In a world facing resource scarcity, any successful strategy for sustainable development needs to find solutions for decoupling economic growth and the use of resources. A circular economy is one of those potential solutions. In such a system, resource input and waste, emissions, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. This means that components and materials are kept in the loop for as long as possible and at their highes value possible. Ideally, waste no longer exists and everything recirculates back into the economy to convert into another product, component, or material.
Waste avoid¬ance, life-cycle extension through remanufacturing or reuse, and improved recycling techniques are important strategies for sustainable manufacturing that are currently being explored together with new, increasingly circular business models. These strategies are also being discussed at the political level. For example, in Europe there is an effort underway to standardize recycling and materials-efficiency terms so that mandatory guidelines can be developed for a circular economy as a potential solution to the problems caused by the current linear take-make-dispose economy.
In this field of innovation, researchers at Bosch Research are focusing on the question of how a circular economy can be strengthened. That means we research and evaluate circular economy strategies by identifying the potentials, risks, and challenges of circularity, and develop business models to increase circularity rates.
Life Cycle Costing and Assessment (LCC/LCA)
Mapping complete product life cycles and simulating adjustments in manufacturing environments will foster the transformation to a more sustainable product portfolio. More transparency regarding environmental hot-spots and holistic product cost is why Life Cycle Assessment, accompanied by Life Cycle Costing, plays an important role in this field of innovation.
A combined LCC/LCA approach which is integrated into the product engineering toolchain is in preparation and an important step of the transformation towards a more sustainable Bosch product portfolio.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method that evaluates the environmental impact of products and services throughout the complete life cycle.
Life Cycle Costing (LCC) is a method for a comprehensive cost-evaluation of products, also including use and end-of-life phase.
An examination of the complete path from raw material extraction and manufacturing of a product to its use, disposal and recycling is needed. What resources is it made of, how is it produced, how much energy does it require during use and which opportunities are there at the end of it’s life? To get an insight into the overall resource efficiency of a product, we also take into consideration the environmental footprint of the purchased parts when entering production and the environmental impacts (e.g. CO2 emissions, water/land use) generated by the product in its consumption and recycling phase. The environmental impacts of different scenarios regarding product design and business models can then be compared with the respective cost assessment to choose the most eco-efficient option.
Another important aspect of resource efficiency taken into consideration by our researchers is that of energy efficiency of buildings and industry, for example by using smart controls, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. The main research on these topics is made in the fields of Electrified Mobility and Systems and Chemical Energy Conversion, where you can find further aspects and information.
In a world facing resource scarcity, any successful strategy for sustainable development needs to find solutions for decoupling economic growth and the use of resources. One potential solution is a circular economy. Part of this research is assessing the life cycle of a product and optimizing its life cycle design.
Bosch Research Blog
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