A team of around twenty researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is working on sustainability and circularity assessment, according to Life Cycle Thinking approach. “This can be applied to a product, a process or a more complex system of processes and infrastructures correlated” says Mélanie Guiton, R&T Associate at LIST.
Environmental assessment relies on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) which consists in identifying and quantifying material and energy flows, waste and polluting emissions related to the system under assessment, at each stage of its life cycle: raw materials extraction and transformation, transportation steps, (re-)use and end of life.
Then this inventory is modelled and the environmental performances are characterised for several environmental impact categories.
With industrial stakeholders
“The interest of the methodology is that it allows an exhaustive view of the life cycle stages, and we do not focus on a single impact category, but on several. So if we act on the reduction of one of these stages or impacts, we can check that this does not influence the others” explains Ms Guiton.
All this product or technology related data is collected in two ways: some are obtained directly from industrial stakeholders and policy makers (which means that they are specifically representative of the system under study); and others extracted from databases.
LIST’s work focuses among other topics on the energy transition and mobility challenges. The web-based application Climobil, for instance, makes it possible to compare the environmental performances of different vehicles with thermal combustion engines or electric motors.
Another example is the Hermes project, which analyses the environmental consequences of the planned ban on diesel and gasoline vehicles in the years to come.
A major project is also underway in the field of sustainable finance, REFUND, aiming at developing an approach/methodology for assessing the environmental sustainability of so-called “green” funds and bonds.
LIST is also very active in support to the sustainability challenges the manufacturing industry is facing, often related to their objectives of decarbonisation and circularity.
“Life Cycle Thinking approach is transverse and can be applied in many different situations depending on the issue to be addressed” explains Ms Guiton. “We develop partnerships with industrial stakeholders, but we are also positioning ourselves in response to national or European calls for projects, particularly in the context of the FNR research programme and Horizon Europe programme. Knowledge about how to quantify and evaluate environmental, economic and social performance is increasingly required by European directives.”
To date, Life Cycle Assessment is not mandatory for industries, but it is a very effective tool for them to support and guide the design of their products, technologies and the implementation of their industrial activities. “It definitely allows to get a picture at a given moment, to identify areas for improvement, and even to make prospections on the environmental, economic and social performances of technologies that are expected to evolve and improve over time.
LIST as a research organisation, intends to make the link between research and needs from market players. “In addition to applying the LCA methodology as is, the strength of our research group is to continue to develop it in combination with other complementary approaches to address challenging topics in an exhaustive way, and to provide our partners with innovative and efficient tools.”
Support from Luxinnovation
Private companies also show strong interest in economic sustainability. This is the case of WAVES, founded in 2019 within the Luxembourg City Incubator, which is developing a tool called Sustainability Management Platform (SMP) based on cloud technology. “By providing our B2B customers with transparency on relevant sustainability indicators in real time, such as CO2 emissions, we enable decision-makers to organise the activities of their company, site, transport and products in a more sustainable way,” explains Armin Neises, CEO of WAVES (photo).
Luxinnovation played a major role in the company’s development, particularly in the preparation of a funding application to the Ministry of the Economy. The agency also put the company in touch with the managers of the prestigious “Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions Label” and the Luxemburg Cloud Awards.
This initiative was a success, as the solution provided by Waves was awarded the Solar Impulse Label and named Cloud Tech Innovator of the Year in 2021. “We are looking forward to continuing our success story with Luxinnovation.”
Many obstacles to overcome
This success goes hand in hand with the growing interest of companies in organising their activities in a more sustainable way. A desire that includes calculating their carbon footprint and being more transparent about their emissions. “But there are still many obstacles preventing companies from taking concrete steps towards sustainability,” says Mr Neises, noting that as long as there are no regulations obliging companies to act in a more sustainable manner, many do not feel obliged to adapt their business model.
“There is also a lack of support, education and expertise. Companies fear an additional financial burden and are unsure of the outcome of their investment in sustainability. It would be good, for example, if there could be public financial incentives and facilities for knowledge transfer or the establishment of adequate IT infrastructure. This is where we are working.”
The WAVES team continues to work intensively on the development of the cloud platform, with for example the deployment of new carbon footprint calculation modules for diverse industrial sectors in Luxembourg and beyond, such as construction, food and beverage or automotive.
“In addition, we plan to introduce the calculation of environmental and social footprints. By making all these different influencing factors transparent, we are helping to pave the way towards the circular economy,” concludes Mr. Neises
“This issue has become essential for companies today,” says Charles-Albert Florentin, CleanTech cluster’ manager at Luxinnovation. “We are working in particular with the construction sector with the aim of reducing the CO2 impact of the entire sector. Some companies have already developed monitoring systems. Others are working on traceability, sustainability and modularity. But everyone is obviously concerned by these issues of energy efficiency and eco-design.”