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Recycling materials more efficiently

20.12.2011

Economic development and increasing prosperity put pressure on our planet. Because Earth’s resources are limited, human actions must adapt to the planet’s capacity, bearing in mind economic realities.

Climate policy and investments in environmental protection guide companies to reduce the amount of waste and to increase waste recovery. Companies aim at improving their eco-efficiency by producing the same or a larger amount of products using less natural resource inputs and producing less waste. This has led to new methods and innovations, which in turn create new markets and business opportunities.

At the unit of Mechanical Processing and Recycling at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, research focuses on, for example, what goals society has set for reducing waste generation and enhancing the material cycle and how companies will respond to these challenges. Research examines issues that, on one hand, promote more efficient utilisation of the flows of residue and by-products in industry and, on the other hand, hinder or slow down such development. The work is done in cooperation with companies. Research material is gathered through interviews, a literature review and private and public sector documents.

“We also examine what business opportunities this presents for companies and how companies can benefit from utilising residue and by-products efficiently and playing a leading role in environmental issues,” says researcher Nani Pajunen.

Cooperation across organisational boundaries

Material flows begin in raw material production and end in the final stages of the product life cycle. At the end of the life cycle, the material is either recycled back to the beginning of the life cycle or to the life cycle of another product or is appropriately disposed of as waste. The aim is to improve material efficiency in the life cycle of process industry products. The research focuses especially on forest and metal industries. In order to achieve material efficiency, all actors in the production chain, including primary production, manufacturing industry and distributors, must have sufficient knowledge of the product, its manufacturing process and life cycle.

Therefore, all actors in the life cycle should endeavour to cooperate across organisational boundaries and think about new innovative solutions. Success requires that key stakeholders recognise the need to bring about changes that are significant both in terms of the environment and the economy. In addition, they need to be interested in finding and implementing innovative solutions.

At the Aalto University School of Chemical Technology, research is carried out in a research group led by Kari Heiskanen, Professor of Materials Science. Heiskanen’s group cooperates with the research groups led by Olli Dahl, Professor of Environmental Technology, and Ari Ekroos, Professor of Economic and Environmental law at the Aalto University School of Engineering. The research is a part of the already finished ProDOE project of the KETJU research programme funded by the Academy of Finland as well as the Metric research project of the ELEMET research programme and the Environmental Footprint project of the LIGHT research programme, both of which are funded by Fimecc Ltd.

Sustainable development and environmental footprints

In the ongoing research programmes, the Metric project aims at developing together with companies a measuring system for process industry that can be used for conducting independent and reliable evaluations of the sustainability of an entire enterprise group and its individual factories. Developing such a measuring system requires knowledge of the process itself and the environmental load it causes. In addition to environmental impacts, the measuring system will also include economic and social impacts. The Environmental Footprint project focuses on determining the environmental footprint of new light-weight structures. The aim is to create a designer’s tool with the help of which the environmental impacts of the product life cycle can be taken into account already when the product is designed. With this information, designers can make the right choices and thereby help decrease the environmental footprint of the final products.

Further information:

Researcher Nani Pajunen
Aalto University
School of Chemical Technology
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
nani.pajunen [at] aalto [dot] fi (nani.pajunen@aalto.fi
Tel
)
. +358 50 301 0742, +358 40 550 4449

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Page content by: verkkotoimitus [at] aalto [dot] fi | Last updated: 19.01.2012.