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Few people will argue about how important it is for all industries to adopt new thinking in terms of production, process and product to incorporate notions of sustainability and eventually Circular Economy. Charles-Albert Florentin, Cluster Manager – EcoInnovation outlines the cluster’s roadmap for 2018 and the top priority topics for Luxembourg.

Mr Florentin, how would you classify eco-innovation in Luxembourg?

“The eco-innovation sector in Luxembourg is rather heterogeneous. It is more a group of companies involved in different fields such as construction, energy production and distribution, circular economy, water treatment and consulting-engineering. Our members come from all kinds of industries, reflecting the country’s industrial landscape.

At what stage is the EcoInnovation Cluster?

“The EcoInnovation Cluster has less than ten years of existence; it is not yet fully mature and we need to work on that.

We have 200 registered members, SMEs and large companies and of those, perhaps 50 are proactive in the circular economy field; be it construction players such as ProGroup, Astron, Contern SA, or Ramborn with their handmade cider using traditional Luxembourg apple varieties, and, last but not least, groups such as Arcelor Mittal, Enovos, Paul Würth, etc. Increasingly, eco-innovation touches every industry.

What is the Ecoinnovation Cluster’s roadmap 2018? How can people become a member?

“Our Working Programme in 2018 has its focus on Circular Economy with flagship projects on plastics, deconstruction waste and water treatment, Material Flows and Eco-cities, and the promotion of our Fit 4 Circularity programme. Networking events will also be organised and cross sectoral projects will be launched with the Materials & Manufacturing, AutoMobility, Wood, ICT, and Creative Industries Clusters.

As far as waste is concerned, we need still to improve recycling and go even further and introduce concepts such as upcycling, reuse and eco-design. We need to change our mind-set and consider waste prevention.

The presentation of our cluster as well as its strategy can be downloaded from Luxinnovation’s website and it is very easy to become a member by simply registering online.

What is the value for companies in the cluster?

The value for companies in the cluster is not only networking but also access to key information, company visits, pitching events and participation in workshops on selected topics.

I very much like a bottom up approach so, when companies identify a need or experience similar problems, we try to group them together to find innovative solutions. I am, for example, working with the Materials & Manufacturing Cluster and our flagship projects’s team on building up such a group, dedicated to plastics. This could be replicated for water, sludge and digestate treatment. *digestate (residues coming out of biogas production).

It is true that the market in Luxembourg is somewhat limited so the idea is to expand some of our projects in the Greater Region (Belgium, Germany and France with Luxembourg at the centre).  For this reason, the Cluster participates in the European Meta-Cluster project, Greater Green, or cross-border network of environmental technology. Its target group are other networks from Rhineland-Palatinate, the Saarland, Lorraine, Luxembourg and Wallonia. Greater Green connects stakeholders from business – especially SMEs -, science and administration across borders and helps SMEs to grow their product offerings, helping them enter new markets.

We are currently working on two topics: plastics and construction waste but the project also focusses on biogas production and energy efficiency in buildings.

What are the three top priorities in your 2018 cluster strategy roadmap?

Plastics is a very important topic to me. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, “plastics production has surged over the past 50 years, from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is expected to double again over the next 20 years, as plastics come to serve an increasing amount of applications.”

In addition, according to the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy “around 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Europe every year. Less than 30% of such waste is collected for recycling. Of this amount, a significant share leaves the EU to be treated in third countries, where different environmental standards may apply.”

Our current strategy involves:

  • Circular economy with a focus on plastics and deconstruction waste
  • Water, sludge and digestate treatment
  • Eco-cities with a focus on urban metabolism

An interesting project (ECON4SD) is going on at the Luxembourg University about sustainable buildings, energy efficiency, deconstruction and re-useable components. In association with the LIST, the Cluster will push for the creation of a materials bank and will focus on deconstruction and reuse of materials.

Circular economy is something the world is waking up to. Is it achievable in Luxembourg?

“What is encouraging in the face of these daunting, long term challenges is that there is a strong will to do something. The Luxembourg Government has established working groups pushing Circular Economy.  The main thrust, again as per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the leading reference on the subject is: “looking beyond the current take-make-dispose extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. This is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and, regenerate natural systems.”

“This is not something that will occur overnight. The legislation has to evolve and, perhaps most importantly, the mentality has to change. Education is important in order to facilitate the change. For this, I strongly believe it is critical that both the youth and the CEOs be educated simultaneously on Circular Economy principles”

Is there a specific project or topic you would like to highlight?

“I would like to see more small companies get involved, we can offer support and help companies to access aids through the national funding and H2020 programmes.

I also feel very strongly that there is a lot of work to be done on plastics recycling, upcycling, reuse and innovation.

Plastics are a convenient material to use, and they are in almost everything we use in our lives today but they are difficult to dispose of in a sustainable way. It is often cheaper to produce new than to use recycled polymers. The collection and recycling of plastics is not yet efficient. Six plastics resins account for most of the production and different additives and plasticisers make recycling very complicated.

An area Luxembourg (and the world) needs to move into more is plastics waste prevention, eco-conception and bio plastics that are truly biodegradable. Private and public sectors should work together on this topic.

Another area I would really like to put more emphasis on is the re-use of materials. There is almost no market for reuse yet and I would like to help create one.

And for the future?

“We would like to see more companies become involved in the bio-economy. The Cluster will be involved this year in the European Bio Based Industries Consortium in Brussels. We already have SMEs invested in biomimicry (the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for solving complex human problems), bioplastics, and in producing microorganisms to clean water and waste.

 

*Digestate is the material remaining after the anaerobic digestion of a biodegradable feedstock. Anaerobic digestion produces two main products: digestate and biogas. Digestate is produced both by acidogenesis and methanogenesis and each has different characteristics.

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