Mobility in a circular economy

Circulo Collective
Apr 8 · 5 min read

Outlook and recommendations for policy makers and business

By Jan Konietzko, Juana Camacho-Otero, Emilia Ingemarsdotter, Lucy Chamberlin, Glenn Aguilar Hernandez, Carl Kuehl

The Paris Climate Agreement will require radical innovation in mobility, a sector that has— next to food and construction — one of the highest environmental impacts.

A circular economy

A circular economy can be useful tool to decarbonize and dematerialize mobility. For a circular economy, firms can make four types of changes to their resource and energy flows. They can 1) narrow: use less products, components and materials during production, delivery, use and end-of-life, 2) slow: extend product and component lives through long-lasting design and product-life extension services, 3) close: find ways to use again everything that is currently considered waste, and 4) regenerate: use renewable energy during the production, delivery, use and end-of-life; use materials and processes that are clean and safe for humans and the environment; and regenerate natural ecosystems (figure 1). More about the theory behind these strategies can be read, for example, here and here.

Figure 1 — Circular economy strategies

A workshop on circular mobility

This blog article summarizes the outputs from a workshop on circular mobility, which hosted around 40 participants during the World Resources Forum 2019 in Antwerp.

Workshop on circular mobility at the World Resources Forum 2019 (image src: https://bit.ly/2tLfPQh)

At the beginning of the workshop, we asked:

  1. How might mobility look like in a future circular economy?
  2. What do policy makers and businesses need to do to make mobility circular?

During a short panel at the beginning of the workshop, five experts shared their concise answer to the first question. The panelists included:

  • Helen Versluys, Business Consultant for Sustainability at Moebius
  • Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environment Policy at University College London and Co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre
  • Arnold Tukker, Professor of Industrial Ecology and Director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University
  • Karl Vrancken, Research Manager Sustainable Materials at VITO

An outlook on circular mobility

The panelists proposed that, for a circular economy:

  • Mobility needs to be viewed and understood in its entirety. This includes people who walk, bicycles, scooters, cars, metro, subway, bus, vans, trucks, trains, metro, subway, airplanes, ships, and more.
  • Mobility will be about the software and the service, not the product.
  • Self-driving cars are not a panacea: they may lead to more vehicles on the road.
  • Policy makers need to prioritise human-powered modes of transportation (walking, cycling) and aim at reducing the overall number of vehicles in cities.
  • City centers will need to be car free.
  • New startups and innovation projects will continue to experiment with and shape shared mobility design.
  • Vehicles will need to be based on electric drive trains.
  • Vehicles will be powered by batteries and/or fuel cells, and zero-carbon electricity and/or hydrogen.
  • Batteries will be standardized and compatible across products and components in all kinds of applications (also beyond mobility assets). They will be reused in a second life (e.g. in household heating/energy storage applications), remanufactured for a third life, and then recycled.
  • Technology will design out critical materials and radically increase battery performance.
  • We will have to find ways of dealing with piles of waste from out-dated battery technology.
Workshop on circular mobility at the World Resources Forum 2019 (image src: https://bit.ly/2tLfPQh)

The participants then spread out in five groups to generate further business and policy recommendations.

Here is the output from the workshop:

How to innovate business models for circular mobility

  • Stimulate and engage in new forms of cross-sector collaboration (e.g. mobility, energy, ICT).
  • Engage in collaborative city experiments to research and implement circular strategies.
  • Ensure the availability of public “playgrounds” — free from too many legal constraints — where diverse stakeholders and users can come together to test and co-create new mobility solutions.
  • Experiments should prioritize human-powered mobility solutions (e.g. walking, cycling).

How to increase user acceptance for circular mobility

  • Create local hubs and ecosystems with co-located offices and living areas to reduce travel distances.
  • Provide financial incentives for users to opt for more circular mobility solutions.
  • Establish clear legal frameworks that minimize risks for consumers in access-based models for mobility.
  • Organize seamless, multi-modal mobility ecosystems to enhance convenience.
  • Integrate circular solutions into everyday life through advertising and other cultural devices.
  • Create customizable offerings. There is no one size fits all solution.

How to develop technology for circular mobility

  • Research how to substitute critical materials to reduce future supply risks.
  • Demand and establish clear rules for product safety and producer responsibility.
  • Provide digital services to maximize capacity utilization of the mobility assets.
  • Develop digital services for small-scale energy systems that can charge vehicles.
  • Monitor the condition of batteries to enable high-value reuse and faster diagnostics at their end-of-life stages.

How to measure impact for circular mobility

  • Establish a ‘waste hierarchy’ for mobility to understand the potential environmental impacts of reduce, reuse and recycling possibilities.
  • Evaluate the potential impacts of policies that incentivize circular mobility.
  • Analyze infrastructure plans: will they decarbonize and dematerialize mobility?
  • Understand future vehicle/battery stocks: how much, where, and when will their components and materials will be available for a second use?
  • Consider new technology: how will new stuff impact the environment, and how will disposing of old one impact the environment?
  • Assess the potential benefits of minimizing material losses through circular strategies.

How to organize supply ecosystems for circular mobility

  • Fund research on how to substitute critical materials to reduce future supply risks.
  • Provide financial incentives for firms to increase the circularity of their supply (e.g. tax credits, subsidies).
  • Localize reuse and recycle options.
  • Enable information sharing about components and materials across supply chains (e.g. through RFID, blockchain).
  • Increase cross-sector collaboration, engage in industrial symbiosis.

Do you agree with these recommendations? What else is important? Please share your perspective in the comments section.

Circulo Collective

Written by

A group of circular economy researchers who like to share their views and experiences.

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