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Circular thinking

This article addresses the topic of circular economy of batteries.
Six batteries on the table
© Joanna Kulczycha - Mineral and Energy Economy Research Institute

The world population is growing rapidly and so is the demand for raw materials. At the same time, the supply of crucial raw materials is limited. Meanwhile, the extraction and use of raw materials exert a major impact on the environment. It also increases energy consumption and CO2 emissions. However, smarter use of raw materials can lower CO2 emissions.

The concept of a circular economy (CE) has become popular and is an important matter in environmental management. The CE approach is an industrial system that is restorative by design. It emphasizes the idea that materials that have already been extracted should be recovered and reused in different ways instead of extracting natural resources over and over, thereby securing natural resources from overexploitation.

To meet the assumptions of CE, modern and innovative technologies that allow for the recovery of valuable materials should be developed. This approach also applies to eco-innovation that connects technology development with environmental aspects. It should be underlined that in a linear economy, all the resources used in making a product are utilised only once. By contrast, CE is an economic system involving closed loops wherein raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible. A CE addresses the crisis of anthro-oppression that our planet is facing.

A silhouette of a man watching a circular drawing. The text reads Circular economy can be defined as an economic system based on maximising the added value of resources, materials, and products and minimising the amount of waste producedClick to expand

CE is an alternative and rapidly developing socio-economic model that aims, among other things, to:

  • decouple economic growth,
  • increase efficiency in the use of natural resources,
  • reduce environmental impacts at all stages of a product’s (goods and services) life cycle, as well as minimise waste generation
  • whilst satisfying the needs of individuals and promoting their well-being.

As CE is concerned with cross-sectoral activities, it is necessary to consider a broad spectrum of thematic categories, including economic development, materials management, the volume of waste generated and volume of manageable wastes, the quality of people’s lives, and the possibility of implementing eco-innovation.

CE avoids the production of waste as much as possible, so resources are used for as long as possible, and when they are no longer needed, they are recycled or reused. CE is based on seven principles: redesign, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, recycle and recover.

As such, CE can be described as a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. That is, in CE, when a product reaches the end of its life, its component materials are kept within the economy wherever possible. These materials can be productively used again and again, thereby creating further value.

© Joanna Kulczycha - Mineral and Energy Economy Research Institute
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Batteries for the Energy Transition: Exploring the Sustainable Value Chain

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