CE@KTH leading the transition towards Circular Economy in Sweden

The Circular Economy at KTH (CE@KTH) initiative aims to establish and strengthen research and education in Circular Economy (CE) in Sweden. CE@KTH works towards expanding collective competence of Swedish research and development teams and delivers expert assistance across industries in Sweden.

In 2011, researchers at the department of Production Engineering at KTH proposed a visionary framework for the manufacturing industry to design closed-loop systems. Since then the research group, under the leadership of Professor Amir Rashid, has played the role of core CE knowledge provider to industry, academicians, students and policy makers both in national and international context.

CE@KTH provides postgraduate courses, academic symposiums, industry workshops and executive education on CE. In 2016, the President’s office (Rector’s office) of KTH decided to invest internal strategic funding to form a university wide consortium on CE. The CE@KTH received 10 MSEK in funding from KTH management for four years period.

Research area background

CE is currently a rapidly emerging concept within the policy and business communities of sustainable development work. The new popularization of the CE concept has been developed and re-popularized mainly by practitioners, e.g. within the policy community such as the European Commission when it declared Circular Economy Action Plan in 2015 and within the business community such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) in 2012. The Swedish government has also identified circular and bio-based economy as the key area to reinforce a sustainable society. However, a systematic scientific research basis and logic of CE is still only emerging.

The scientific foundation, as it stands now, consists of a somewhat fragmented collection of emerging disciplines, and new or semi-scientific concepts. Yet, a systematic theoretical, methodological and practical body of knowledge for CE as a scientific field remains a work in progress. The sources used in CE research include, e.g. cleaner production, cradle-to-cradle design, industrial ecology, industrial symbiosis, ecological economics, eco-efficiency and others.

The research at CE@KTH mainly deals with creating knowledgebase to lead the transition towards Circular Economy in Sweden and beyond. In particular, CE@KTH focuses to facilitate the transition towards CE by implementing Circular Manufacturing Systems (CMS). It includes developing implementation framework, methods and tools (descriptive as well as interactive simulation) as well as IT-tools/infrastructures. Moreover, the CE@KTH initiative also aims to establish and strengthen research and education in CE .The goal is to put together activities related to CE held at different schools and departments and develop a common CE platform for future research and collaboration.

Underpinning research

The CE is a new paradigm for economic development and a policy initiative. The CE transition is gaining global momentum to respond to the existing unsustainable, linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model. Promoting circularity aims at accomplishing sustainable development, and the CE has links to many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The CE concept highlights the notion of replacing the ‘end-of-life’ in current production and consumption practices by reducing, reusing, and recycling products and materials in production, distribution and consumption processes. As such, the transition towards CE by implementing CMS has become inevitable to ensure sustainable development. In this regard, ResCoM and ReCiPSS are two flagship projects coordinated by the MMS group at KTH that supported 5 European OEMs in exploring and implementing CMS. 9 SMEs (both Swedish and European) involved in these projects received support to develop methods and tools that are crucial for implementing CMS. SerBIT, CIS Sotenäs and CEPort are three smaller scale projects that are supporting OEMs and a municipality in Sweden to become circular. These projects also involve SMEs that are developing IT-solutions for implementing CMS. Furthermore, 3 spin-off companies have taken shape by participating in the above mentioned projects and are trying to establish themselves commercially as well.

The CE@KTH along with MMS group is also representing KTH in the EMF’s CE100 network and signee of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The group has always been an active participant in different networking/dissemination activities organized by the EC, EMF as well as major conferences such as World Circular Economy Forum, Circular Materials Conference and European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform etc.

Details of the impact

The CE@KTH platform is open for both researchers and industrial partners to join, discuss their challenges and co-create solutions to advance their research in the field of CE. The initiative is also coordinating the CE related research and education activities at KTH in order to ensure that the Swedish industry has access to a wide range of expertise and training/education. There are 4 PhD students, 3 postdocs and 2 assistant professors actively doing research in CE in collaboration with 5 full and 2 associate professors.

Being the lead of the CE@KTH, the MMS group has published more than 10 highly relevant journal publications which are citified more than 6oo times including some important publications such as ‘Från värdekedja till värdecykel- så får Sverige en mer cirkulär ekonomi’ published by the Swedish Government. Two PhD defence were held in CMS in past years. A PhD course in Circular Economy and Industrial Systems is given every year, which is open to PhD students across Sweden. CMS is a theme for B.Sc thesis for production engineering students and M.Sc thesis for all students at KTH. Through the contributions of MMS group at KTH, more than 300 undergraduate and 50 graduate students have undergone education in CMS in past 5 years. KTH has been represented as a main speaker in several major conferences/events on CE. In November 2019, CE@KTH is going to organize 1st KTH symposium on CE for PhD students and early career researchers.

Furthermore, the MMS group at KTH is developing a network of industries that are in need of support in becoming circular. The initiative has already organized two workshops gathering more than 15 companies across Sweden, which will continue through organizing at least 2 workshops/year. One of the objectives of these workshops is to initiate small co-projects with companies that can potentially become larger research projects. Right now one of the co-projects is being shaped to convert to a large R&D project. Besides, several EU and nationally funded projects are running together with companies with the main goal to make the industrial world circular. ResCoM project, as one of the flagship project led by the MMS group, has developed number of tools and methods that are available for both researchers and companies to try out. ResCoM partners have also made some of the tools commercially available. Some of the IT-tools developed by the partners as part of different research projects led by the MMS group are also commercially available. 

References

References to the research

Lieder, M.; Asif, Farazee M.A.; Rashid, A., Mihelič, A. & Kotnik, S. (2017). "Towards circular economy implementation in manufacturing systems using a multi-method simulation approach to link design and business strategy", International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (online)

Lieder, M., and Amir Rashid (2016). "Towards circular economy implementation: a comprehensive review in context of manufacturing industry." Journal of cleaner production 115 (2016): 36-51.

Kurdve, M., Shahbazi, S., Wendin, M., Bengtsson, C., Wiktorsson, M. (2015). “Waste flow mapping to improve sustainability of waste management: a case study approach”. Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 98, pp. 304-315.

Asif, Farazee M.A.; Rashid, Amir; Carmine, Bianchi; Nicolescu, Cornel M (2015. "System dynamics models for decision making in product multiple lifecycles", Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 101, August 2015, Pages 20-33

Rashid, A., Asif, Farazee M. A., Krajnik, P. & Nicolescu, Cornel M. (2013). "Resource Conservative Manufacturing: An essential change in business and technology paradigm for sustainable manufacturing." Journal of Cleaner Production, 57, 166–177.

Asif, Farazee M. A., Bianchi C., Rashid, A. & Nicolescu, Cornel M. (2012). "Performance Analysis of the Closed Loop Supply Chain", Journal of Remanufacturing, 2:4 (6th November 2012)

References to corroborate the impact