New technologies are being developed to reuse, remanufacture and recycle metals, paper and fibers, polymers and electronic waste.
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Manufacturing is a key driver of quality of life in both developed and developing economies and the current industrial model relies on access to large quantities of raw materials and energy. In the United States, roughly a quarter of energy consumed goes into the manufacturing sector. With the growth of world population and the desire for continued worldwide economic growth, there is a concern about the amount of new raw materials required for manufacturing. Will the needed materials be available, and what will the impact be on the environment due to continued industrial growth?
Recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse are ways to reduce demand for newly mined virgin materials, and this system of keeping materials active and productive in the economy (described as the circular economy) is also significant business opportunity. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, scrap recovery and recycling added $106 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015 while significantly reducing energy demand. For example, steel recycling uses 58 percent less energy than steel produced from ore, similarly, recycling of aluminum, paper, and plastics saves 90 percent, 68 percent and 87 percent respectively of the energy required to produce from virgin (new) material. However, the U.S. is not taking full advantage of the potential of recycling, in recent years, approximately 20-50 percent of the aluminum, steel, paper, and plastic that was collected in the U.S. was exported. Meanwhile, significant volumes of paper, plastic, and even waste electronics, still go into US landfills. Additionally, China, one of the largest importers and processors of waste material, has decided to no longer accept paper and plastic scrap, among other materials. Better utilization of our own scrap domestically is an economic opportunity and may become an economic and environmental necessity.
Remanufacturing is a formal industrial process that rebuilds a product to the specifications of the original product using a combination of reused, repaired, and new parts. In some cases, for example office furniture, the reman ufacturing process modifies the original product in order to meet new consumer demands or market specifications. Remanufacturing is also a major contributor to the U.S. economy, amounting to $43 billion of product shipments in 2011, according to a U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) report. According to this report, the largest remanufacturing sectors are the aerospace industry, heavy duty equipment (e.g. mining industry and construction industry), and automotive technology (including spare parts for conventional vehicles as well as hybrid and electric vehicles). Studies of remanufacturing show that 50-90 percent of the original product material is reused, resulting in energy savings of a similar magnitude as compared to producing new. And, many products can be remanufactured multiple times amplifying the benefits. However, there is still greater economic opportunity in remanufacturing, as the USITC report shows that remanufactured products only represent 2 percent of sales as compared to total product sales, and only 0.1 percent in consumer products.
The Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, with support from the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia grant program recently developed a strategic roadmap for advancement of the U.S. remanufacturing industry. This roadmap has input from all 12 of the remanufacturing sectors identified in the USITC report and identifies industry needs in three areas to promote growth. Industry defined needs with respect to New Standards and Improved Knowledge Base include: overcoming data silos within the remanufacturing supply chain, remanufacturing process certifications, and design tools that integrate remanufacturing considerations. Needed technology advancements and process improvements include: improved techniques for inspection and condition assessment of used components, particularly electronics, cost effective additive processes for part repair or replacement, and improved surface cleaning technologies. Industry also identified the need for new policies and improved industry perception, including: improved tools and validated information on economic and environmental benefits to inform policy and decision makers, and coordinated effort to promote the industry.
REMADE, a Manufacturing USA Institute, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a public-private partnership that was established in 2017 to address technology needs in recycling, remanufacturing and reuse in order to reduce energy consumption and raw material dependence of U.S. manufacturing. Manufacturing USA is a network of 14 manufacturing innovation institutes that work toward a common goal: to secure the future of manufacturing in the United States through innovation, education, and collaboration. These institutes bring together U.S. industry, universities, and trade organizations to develop technology and workforce development programs in a selected technology area.
REMADE focuses on reducing material and energy consumption through more efficient manufacturing processes, more efficient and cost effective recycling, and through keeping products in service longer through reuse and remanufacturing. The development of improved product design processes and tools is also an important goal. Materials such as metals, plastics, paper and industrial fibers, and electronic waste products have the highest impact and are the focus of the institute. Institute goals include overcom ing cost barriers to recycling, and ultimately increasing recycling and material reuse by 30 percent.
Industry members such as Alcoa, Nike, Shaw Industries, Cardone Industries, WestRock, and Unilever have contributed to REMADE’s technology roadmap, in conjunction with trade associations such as the Aluminum Association, the American Chemistry Council, the American Forest and Paper Association, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Automotive Parts Remanufacturers Association, and the Remanufacturing Industries Council. The roadmap describes research needs in product design, manufacturing material efficiency, remanufacturing, and recycling. In addition, the roadmap includes in-depth material and energy flow analysis of the U.S. manufacturing system to ensure that the institute focuses on the technology needs and materials that will have the greatest impact on the U.S. economy. REMADE recently announced its first round of research funding awards that includes a wide array of projects, including: improved aluminum casting efficiency and recycled material use, improved sorting and separation of metals and plastics, methods for evaluating the suitability for reuse of metal and electronic parts, and a framework for design of solar panels that considers recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing. You can learn more about REMADE at remadeinstitute.org.
Dr. Michael Thurston is the Technical Director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is also the Remanufacturing Node Lead for the REMADE Institute.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.rit.edu/gis.