Circularity: narrowing, slowing and closing flows

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Article from REHVA Journal 1, 2022 – Dr. ing. Olaf Oosting, managing Director at Valstar Simonis; Dr. ing. Tillmann Klein, circularity expert at Delft University of Technology; Dr. ing. Bob Geldermans, Building Product Innovation Professor at Delft University of Technology.

Due to a globally growing population and the need for comfortable and healthy indoor environments, a huge building challenge lies ahead of us, mainly related to the development of new building projects and the need to upgrade the existing building stock. To ensure a future-proof, sustainable economy for future generations, reducting the use of primary resources is essential. Therefore, there is a need for a shift from linear to circular systems. Circularity aims at narrowing, slowing and/or closing material, water, and energy flows (Boeken et al. 2015).

The HVAC sector certainly has great potential to contribute to circularity. Cydes of energy, air and water f1ows form the core business. Service installations and components are often subject to maintenance or replacement. Here, the preservation and reuse of valuable components offer considerable opportunities, both from an environmental point of view and from a user comfort and business perspective.

The mentioned opportunities and benefits have, at least for the time being, not translated into a large-scale market breakthrough. The sector needs a clear vision on realising circularity targets, based on innovative strategies and an integrated approach on the area of circular design, product technology, business models and administration & management. Few examples of these four strategies, are as follows.

Examples of circular design: Design for disassembly; Product life cycle strategies; Product functionality; Building design; Environmental assessment of circular components.

With the CSP Panel (particular PCM panel), PCM Technology has introduced a phase change material with Cradle to Cradle Silver certification to the market (Source: Phase change materials either store heat or release it, when their physical condition changes, allowing them to generate more consistent room temperatures. The panels are built into walls or ceiling surfaces.

To attain the CZC Silver certification, the entire production process of the CSP Panel has been checked for health aspects and reusability of the material, as well as for (green) energy use, water use and social justice. Circularity is therefore part of an integral methodology.

Examples of product technology: Biological, technical and critical materials; Reuse and remanufacturing of components; Circular maintenance; Product and material tracking; Sandards and regulations

Since 2018 Carrier has been committed to setting up and tracking material passports for (a series of) air heat pumps. This venture immediately showed how complex the issue can be for installation components. The process took a considerable time, partly as a result of the long supply chain, the complexity of the products or the quantity and materials and origin.

Unlike a concrete shell or wooden frame, an installation component consists of a large variety of materials. Taking stock of these materials offers the possibility of generating a dettailed LCA and thus providing products with better labesl in the  National Environmental Database (NMD). Most installation products in the NMD have a so-called generic category 3 label. This entails a conservative estimate of the LCA and an additional penalty of 30% to ensure that the results are not presented too positively. Within the framework of the MPG requirement, which has been tightened since 1 July 2021, imroving data quality is therefore an attractive circular initiative and a basis for creating circular awareness.

A second example that contributes to increasing awareness and defining materials and raw materials, is Madaster (see|), the so-called registry for materials. Madaster offers a platform to record and store properties, quantities, locations and characteristics in a structured way.

Examples of business models: Value proposition; Total cost of ownership; Total benefits of ownership; Legal and safety aspects; New models of ownership; Strategies for product services

One of the best-known examples in the field of installation technology that is provided ‘As a Service’ is ‘Light as a Service’, where Philips Lighting (now Signify) was the first party to offer light instead of lighting. Philips remains the owner of the LED lighting fixtures and lamps and charges an amount per quantity lux or burning hours delivered.

Also, the first ‘Lift as a Service’ concept was delivered in Circl, the ABN Ambro pavilioin on Zuidas in Amsterdam. Here, Mitsubishi launched its M-Use concept. It is a circular model for lifts, which charges for use rather than a traditional purchase and maintanance subscription.

This ‘product as a service’ model avoids high investment costs for the customer, and reuse and recycling are the priority at the end of the lift’s service life. The handling of materials and effective lift maintenance can therefore lead to a longer service life compared to bought lifts, which in turn can contribute to the strategy of delai. The well-known principle of an Energy Service Company (ESCo) can also be described as a Heat As A Service proposition. The big difference here, however, is that an ESCo is rarely, if ever, the producer of the products and thus differs from the regular As a Service proposition.

Examples of administration & Management: Supply chain management; Reverse logistics; Engagement of stakeholders; Responsibility of producer responsibility; Business operations, facilities and resources; Policy

In October 2018, Grundfos and Technische Unie took the initiative to collect old pumps for recycling. Collecting the pumps is a start to realising a circular production process. The take-back strategy that the parties have set up together has reduced the material impact, as materals taken from the pumps are no longer destroyed.

Old pumps were previously partially recycled at a traditional waste disposal facility. But here, not all the material from the pumps could be reused. By choosing to take back and reus and/or recycle the pumps, the percentage of reused material from these old pumps is over 97%. That is 10% more than with a traditional waste management company. Wilo has also developed a similar programme, where the look at each pump to decide which parts can be reused or recycled. In 2020, for example, 223,000 magnets had been reused, according to the company. They do this, on the one hand, to avoid limiting the quantity of primary raw materials and, on the other hand, to ensure the quality of the supply of raw materials. Both are concrete examples of the closing and regeneration strategy.

Read this article in REHVA Journal 1

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