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Ideas of Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy

Reviewing the global trends of both Industry 4.0, what it means and how it can support the transition to cleaner cities.
Digital light connections across the globe
© Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Industry 4.0

Manufacturing of products and goods has gone through disruptive periods of change three times in the past.

The first so-called industrial revolution took place in the late 18th century, when steam engines entered the factories and enabled the further mechanization of the most physically demanding and highly repetitive tasks. This helped increase productivity and lower production costs, and in turn enabled an increase in living standards and the growth of cities around factories. Steam engines also enabled the development of press and printing, as well as railways. People and information could move more quickly than ever.

The second industrial revolution occurred in the late 19th century with the introduction of linear assembly-lines that could be powered with electrical energy from oil and gas – allowing for huge efficiency gains that would enable mass production.

The third industrial revolution happened in the 1970’s, when the application of electronics, basic information and communication technology in manufacturing opened up new opportunities for automation and engineering, enabling new technological advances and further increased productivity.

The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 is being informed by a vision where the physical world of industrial production merges with the digital world of information technology – in other words, the creation of a digitized and interconnected industrial production.

The transformation of the energy sector through the deployment of more sustainable energy systems and digital transformation of the industry will substantially alter the way people live, consume, produce and trade. These two major transformations are concurrent and interconnected, but are pursued in different political arenas and with different paces and priorities across the globe.

The sustainable energy transition and Industry 4.0 share important characteristics: both are highly influenced by technological innovations, dependent on the development of new suitable infrastructures and regulations as well as being potential enablers for new business models. These commonalities have not yet translated into substantial policies to foster the transition to more sustainable energy systems and digital production at the same time and in an integrated way.

Industries account for a major share of electricity consumption.

This could be reason enough to think how the transition towards more sustainable energy systems and the digital transformation of industries could mutually benefit from each other. Such an approach could also help to avoid the development of new path dependencies that potentially lead either sector – energy or industry – into a less sustainable, more carbon intensive future.

For more information on Industry 4.0 and its links to accelerating Clean Energy please read the UNIDO report or visit Industry 4.0

Circular Economy

How do CleanTech play a role in a circular economy?

The Circular Economy label can be applied to different schools of thought that share the same key principles. But it has been the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an independent charity established in 2010, that has lately created a framework for systems level re-design and at the same time outlined the opportunity of harnessing innovation through this restorative model.

A clean technology is a technology that uses raw materials and energy rationally, while minimizing its environmental impact and its toxicity risk throughout its life cycle. At first glance, a hybrid or electric vehicle could be considered clean, as it does not emit greenhouse emissions during use. However, it is important to look at how the electricity consumed is produced (e.g. is it actually from a renewable source?), whether the vehicle production and supply chains are clean (e.g. has the vehicle been designed ecologically?) and, last but not least, whether the vehicle’s end-of-life has been planned (e.g. how will the batteries be reused/recycled once they no longer perform adequately?).

Within the framework of The Circular Economy, we want to use resources sustainably and optimally by closing materials’ cycles. This can be done by returning renewable resources to their natural environment (biological cycle), or by keeping technical materials in the economy for as long as possible while maintaining or even increasing their value (technological cycle).

Consequently, the design, use and end-of-life of a CleanTech can positively impact the circularity of the economy.

A great article highlighting what The Circular Economy is can be found below:

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

What is the Circular Economy

Read this case study from Manchester Metropolitan University on Developing Circular Economy Business Models

Discuss below what is Industry 4.0 and what is The Circular Economy?

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