Mutual benefits of industrial symbiosis

27th August 2015


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Peter Laybourn highlights what's new in industrial symbiosis from around the world

This year is proving to be pivotal for industrial symbiosis. It has been 10 years since the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) officially launched in the UK, and globally the appetite for replicating its approach continues to gather pace.

Experts at consultancy International Synergies have taken the NISP model to create a blueprint for replication around the world, regardless of economy or culture. Although other examples of industrial symbiosis exist, the model is proving to be the most effective for its applicability at scale and for generating rapid results. It brings together producers and users of waste resources with innovators and entrepreneurs to deliver innovative solutions to business problems and accompanying environmental benefits.

A systems approach

Part of the NISP's innovation is that it applies a systems approach, holistically addressing not just material "waste" but also energy, water, logistics, capacity and expertise - indeed, any underused assets. The programme's engagement model also creates opportunities for deploying additional circular economy tools, such as ecodesign and cleaner production.

Between 2005 and 2013, the NISP was actively engaged with more than 15,000 companies in the UK. Opportunities identified and facilitated by the programme in England generated £1 billion in sales and achieved cost reductions of £1.1 billion for the participating companies, largely small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It also reduced carbon emissions by 39 million tonnes, diverted 45 million tonnes of material from landfill, and saved or created more than 10,000 jobs. These figures have all been independently verified and, compared with other programmes supported by the government, the NISP produced a much higher rate of return.

In April, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) supported International Synergies to work with the UN's environment programme (UNEP) and associated national cleaner production centres (NCPCs). It was to provide them with the expertise and tools to implement facilitated industrial symbiosis as part of their existing activities. Initially, the project will develop pilots with NCPCs in Asia, Africa and South America, but its main aim is to establish a framework to foster a global industrial symbiosis programme. This could include all countries eligible to receive official development assistance, helping enterprises, especially SMEs, to adopt more eco-innovative business strategies.

Going global

Meanwhile, the regional Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) meeting in Kenya in May focused on addressing growth issues for countries in Africa. Two years ago, 3GF adopted industrial symbiosis as a core area of activity. Led by International Synergies, the aim was to explore how public-private partnerships (PPPs) can advance green growth around the world. The meeting in Kenya highlighted the implementation so far of industrial symbiosis in Africa and developed further actions to advance it across the continent.

In 2013, the regional government launched the Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis Programme (WISP) in South Africa. GreenCape, a "special purpose vehicle" set up to support the green economy, has delivered the WISP, with support from International Synergies. The success of the scheme has been the catalyst for implementing industrial symbiosis elsewhere in the country, and there are now similar programmes running in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Staff in all three provinces have received training from International Synergies and held cross-sector industrial symbiosis workshops. Ndivhuho Raphulu, director of the NCPC of South Africa, says the approach "aligns very well to the aims of the cleaner production centre, providing means to engage with companies, together with structured processes and support tools, to increase resource efficiency through the identification of new business opportunities that exploit currently underutilised resources".

The level at which industrial symbiosis has permeated South Africa is illustrated by the presence of Helen Zille, the premier of the Western Cape government, at a WISP workshop in June, part of Synergy Day hosted by the administration's 110% Green programme. South Africa is now on the way to having its own national programme, which will form part of the federal government's national industrial symbiosis strategy.

In June, the European commission, through SWITCH Africa, agreed to support a three-year programme to develop an industrial symbiosis network (again based on NISP) in Ghana. International Synergies and its African partners have also been invited to submit a second stage proposal to SWITCH Africa that, if successful, would involve building industrial symbiosis capacity in a further six African countries.

Elsewhere, China is in the process of implementing its third regional scale industrial symbiosis project, the most recent being in Jiangsu province. International Synergies is also working with stakeholders in the province of Hubei to develop a circular economy strategy for the region. And, in South Korea, International Synergies is building on its relationship with the Korean government through the Korea Industrial Complex Corporation (KICOX), a specialist in industrial eco-parks, by signing a memorandum of understanding on wider collaboration.

In Europe, the inclusion of industrial symbiosis as an exemplar to deliver a resource efficient economy in commission policy is helping to pave the way for new programmes. International Synergies is a partner in NISP France, which was formally launched in May 2015 with l'Institut de l'économie circulaire and is funded by ADEME - the French environment and energy management agency - and a number of French provinces. International Synergies' work in Finland and Denmark has supported programmes that have moved from a regional to a national scale. And, regional projects continue in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Turkey, where industrial symbiosis is incorporated into regional economic development strategies.

Recommendations calling for industrial symbiosis to be taken up at a global level continue. This year alone, the NISP, which first referred to the circular economy in 2004, has been cited as best practice for delivering such a model by, for example, governments going circular, an initiative developed jointly by De Groene Zaak, the Dutch sustainability business association, with business service company Accenture and others. The Governments going circular report, part of the Global Scan series, highlights projects for their capacity to stimulate actions that nurture a circular economy. Both the NISP and WISP are featured in the top 30 of those identified, while the latter was also a finalist in the Circulars awards, which each year recognise individuals and organisations that have made a notable contribution to driving circular economy principles.

Additionally, EU research and innovation programmes - for example, POLFREE and DYNAMIX - have included industrial symbiosis in their top 10 recommendations for inclusion in the revised European circular economy package, which is due later this year.

The UK picture

Industrial symbiosis activity in the UK has declined, however, and there is no longer a national programme to support companies. The decline inevitably stems from 2009, when the government decided to channel its support through the waste and resources action programme (Wrap). The governments in Scotland and Wales have taken a similar approach. Nonetheless, in the West Midlands International Synergies continues to create jobs and assist businesses to implement resource-efficient practices by bringing them together with companies from different sectors in an industrial symbiosis network. This work is supported through the European commission's regional development fund.

Looking ahead in the UK, there is optimism that, because industrial symbiosis has the ability to deliver "green" growth and jobs, while lowering environmental impacts, some form of joined-up, multi-regional network could emerge under the auspices of local enterprise partnerships. Birmingham City Council has been pioneering in its approach by adopting the concept in its big city plan, a 20-year vision to create a world-class city centre that delivers sustainable growth. Also, the council, with the support of Defra and the FCO, recently used NISP's evidence base to bring the G7 workshop on industrial symbiosis to the city. To be held at the end of October, it will be the first major event hosted by the G7's alliance on resource efficiency, which launches in September and aims to promote cooperation on ways to deliver sustainable growth.

So far the NISP has been replicated in regional or national form in 25 countries on five continents and has garnered the support of institutions such as G7, OECD, UNEP and UNIDO. The strapline we developed for NISP in 2002, "Connecting industry - creating opportunity", remains as valid today as it was then.

Industrial symbiosis in action - Turkey

International Synergies was a key partner in the Iskenderun Bay industrial symbiosis programme. The project was financed by BTC Crude Oil Pipeline Company in Turkey and managed by the Technology Development Foundation of Turkey (TTGV).

Fruit juice concentrate producer Limkon Food Industry and Trade generates around 12,000 tonnes of fruit pulp waste each year as a by-product of its process, and it wanted to find a way to reuse the material rather than sending it to costly landfill. The project team identified an opportunity to bring in researchers from the Faculty of Agriculture at Çukurova University to test potential ways to treat the pulp and make it suitable for reuse. At the same time, another business member of the programme, Akay Mining Industry Foreign Trade, wanted to find an outlet for the waste heat its facility produced during the manufacture of lime.

Researchers at the university carried out tests to dry the fruit pulp waste using the waste heat from Akay Mining's production process, successfully transforming the material into animal feed. The nutrient composition and energy value analysis proved that the quality of the animal feed end product was high, which was critical to the full commercialisation of the scheme.

Implementing this three-way synergy redirected 115 tonnes of petroleum coke waste heat; reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by 3,500 tonnes; reused 12,000 tonnes of waste pulp each year; and produced 1400 tonnes animal feed for reselling.

The success of the project has resulted in the Turkish ministry of development and its regional agencies adopting industrial symbiosis as a tool for regional development.

Industrial symbiosis in action - Finland

The Finnish Industrial Symbiosis System (FISS) was launched in September 2014, after a one-year pilot that tested the methodology and engagement model developed by the UK's National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP). The pilot concluded that a cross-sector industrial network, coupled with facilitation experts working to identify and drive forward resource synergies, would work effectively in Finland. Motiva, a government agency specialising in energy and material efficiency, fulfils the role of national coordinator, with regional partners supporting businesses in their respective areas.

KWH Mirka is a global manufacturer of high quality abrasive products, accessories and grinding systems, which is a resource intensive and high waste producing industry. The company is committed to developing renewable energy based abrasive technology to create a more sustainable, circular business model.

To this end Mirka, working with Ekokem commercial power plant, has created a new technology for the production of abrasive minerals based on integrated bioenergy production and material recovery. The technology enables the recovery of energy from the by-products of sandpaper production at its plant in Finland - around 3,000 tonnes a year. The energy generated provides approximately 30% of the needs of Ekokem's power plants, drastically reducing Mirka's energy bills and landfill charges, and reducing its annual carbon footprint by 6,000 tonnes.

Mirka is looking at developing further new process technologies to upgrade its low-value feedstocks and waste streams to create high-quality raw materials that it can then reuse to produce flexible abrasives.


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