Circular economy can help mitigate climate change and save money
Measures with the biggest impacts in tackling climate change are being taken in companies – especially in industry. Industries and real estates are Finland’s biggest energy users, and energy production and consumption are responsible for three quarters of Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions. With circular economy actions, companies can not only bear their environmental responsibilities, but also generate cost savings.
Industrial companies consume high volumes of energy and raw materials. Taking environmental factors into account in business is not only essential for companies, it is also often financially worthwhile. Recycling water and energy, for instance, reduces the need to purchase them. In addition, with the help of the circular economy, industrial side streams can lead to an entirely new business.
Adven’s circular economy expert Antti Tuominen presents three of the most common ways that industrial companies can apply circular economy. Many industrial operators can get the most out of circular economy by combining all three approaches.
“A comprehensive approach is often the most cost effective, whereby water and energy solutions are examined together and combined in material recycling. It is important, however, to take the special characteristics of each case into account,” says Tuominen.
1) No waste heat – thermal energy recovery
Industry consumes roughly 40 per cent of all energy in Finland. Efficient thermal energy recovery offers clear cost savings and helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Enhanced energy use can also improve the competitiveness of production plants.
Industry uses high volumes of steam, which is very energy intensive to produce. If a plant’s energy needs grow, it is worthwhile to determine if the heat can be more efficiently recycled and whether procuring additional energy can be avoided altogether. It is possible to reduce the volume of steam required through heat recovery, and at the same time, the company’s carbon footprint decreases significantly.
Steam energy can also be produced by combusting industrial by-products. Climate targets and the rising cost of fossil fuels are increasingly encouraging industry to seek solutions in locally available renewable fuels.
2) Closed-loop water solutions for recycling water
Finnish industry consumes roughly 8 billion cubic metres of water annually, with freshwater accounting for some 2 billion cubic metres of that volume. Water is used as a raw material for cooling and washing, and for transporting products, among other uses. Industry generates 850 million cubic metres of wastewater a year. The largest industrial consumers of water in Finland are the pulp and paper industry, chemical industry and electricity and heat production.
For industrial players, making better use of water is thus an important driver of profitability and sustainability. With today’s technology, industrial process water can even be purified into drinking water, and at the same time, chemicals, for instance, can be recovered from the water and reused. Similarly, heat can be recovered from wastewater.
3) Raw material can be recovered through evaporation
Industrial processes generate high volumes of recyclable raw material that would otherwise go to waste as wastewater or sludge. It can be recovered and reused or processed into a valuable resource, however. Using an evaporation system that is based on a closed-loop heat cycle, raw material, such as the nutrients in sludge, can be recovered and reused.
With a change in the process, the environmental load of production is reduced. Sometimes raw material recovery can even lead to a new business, for example, in the case of fertilizer that can be recovered from the process and sold.