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'The solutions for circular economy are not achieved alone'

A circular economy workshop series develops new collaborations between engineers and business researchers.
Circular economy workshop Dilemmas of disassembly Photo: Outi Puukko
The circular economy workshop series looked into the dilemmas of disassembly. Photo: Outi Puukko

A former circuit board finally breaks, and a handful of copper string is collected from the smashed parts into two rolls. A group of researchers and students uses hammers to dismantle the board in the laboratory of the School of Engineering. Copper is one of the valuable metals used as a raw material in technology industry, but a person who wants to recycle the used technologies doesn’t receive a very high remuneration.  

'Engineers call these rolls of copper string meatballs, because they get easily stuck in the recycling process,' says assistant professor Annukka Santasalo-Aarnio from Aalto School of Engineering. 'This amount of string would give your group approximately one euro. So who would invest in the separation of copper and plastics?'

Santasalo-Aarnio and professor Minna Halme from the School of Business lead a workshop series about the business models and material chains of circular economy. At the moment, only a small portion of all used raw materials circles back to use from waste, explain the master students involved in the project, Hai Anh Tran, Nikhil Bhole and Karelia Dagnaud

'One smartphone is in use approximately only 18 months. The extraction of raw materials for a single phone consumes 22 megajoules of energy. 9,9 million tons of electronic waste is generated alone in the EU in a year, only 30 percent of which is recycled,' says Nikhil Bhole.

Which comes first, the end user or the raw material?

Circular economy means that a product’s lifecycle can differ from the usual model, which starts from the drawing board and ends at the land fill. This can mean, for example, replaceable parts or entirely new opportunities for business in the middle of the value chain.

'The solutions for circular economy are not achieved alone but now many different disciplines come together. Engineers, business researchers and designers must rethink the old paradigms and develop new models,' says professor Minna Halme.

Collaboration is important also for Annukka Santasalo-Aarnio, who has personal experience of multidisciplinarity while changing schools from chemical engineering to engineering.

'My research relates currently to energy technology. It is a field in which the focus was earlier more on the question what is burned. Now there are entirely new questions, like what is the source of energy, how to produce and store it efficiently,' Santasalo-Aarnio says. 'Understanding of energy markets is crucial.'

The two colleagues think that researchers from different fields need a common language. The circular economy workshop series gives an opportunity to practice this.

'Business researchers start to fill the circular economy business model canvas from the end user’s perspective, and the engineers start by thinking about the raw materials. However, a common goal was easy to find,' says participant Elba Horta.

Business Hooks for the closing loops workshop attracted engineers and business researchers. Photo: Outi Puukko
Business Hooks for the closing loops workshop attracted engineers and business researchers. Photo: Outi Puukko

Join the workshop series

On Friday April, 26 the theme of the workshop is building circular economy language skills. The previous two workshops focused on the business models and material chains of circular economy. 

Workshop: Building Circular Economy Language Skills

 

 

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