The latest edition of the Circularity Gap Report shows that the global circularity score has decreased from 9% in 2018 to 7% in 2023, indicating that the global economy is still far from becoming truly circular. One of the key systems identified where progress can be made to improve circularity is in the transportation sector. ALMA’s work on ecodesign and particularly the use of lightweighting techniques for vehicles can help.
Lightweighting is the practice of reducing the weight of a vehicle without compromising its strength or performance. This can be achieved through the use of lighter materials, such as advanced composites, or through the use of more efficient design techniques. Both of these can have a significant impact on circularity, as they help to reduce consumption of material resources and increase the efficiency of the transportation sector.
A key benefit is that lighter vehicles help to reduce the consumption of energy needed per distance travelled and thus decrease emissions. Lighter vehicles require less energy to move so they are more fuel efficient and emit less greenhouse gases. This is particularly important as transportation is one of the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing weight also reduces the consumption of raw materials, as less material is used for manufacturing. This is particularly important, as the extraction and processing of raw materials is a major contributor to the growing circularity gap. In fact the current report emphasizes that recycling and reusing materials is not enough, we must also to reduce consumption of resources to within the limits of the natural global environmental carrying capacity.
The report also highlights the need for collaboration and innovation to drive the transition to a circular economy. This includes collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society to create a supportive policy environment and investment in research and development to drive innovation in circular economy solutions. ALMA is a good example of the research driven partnerships that can exist between governments and private enterprise through the EU H2020 program funding which can target strategic innovation areas such as circularity where a complex web of interactions within the entire value chain is necessary to implement environmentally sound change.
The latest Circularity Gap Report highlights the importance of reducing consumption of resources, not just recycling and reusing them, and ALMA’s eco-design and light weighting techniques for vehicles can play a crucial role in achieving this. But circularity does not always equal lower environmental impact, sometimes the new materials and recycling processes can have an overall higher impact than the original processes. One of the first priorities for the ALMA project was BEVSIM – the Battery Electric Vehicle Sustainability Impact Model. This is an advanced LCA model that allows designers and manufacturers to evaluate the environmental impact of a vehicle throughout its entire lifecycle, from the extraction of raw materials, through production and use, to end-of-life disposal. This information is crucial in informing the use of new materials and techniques to reduce weight and improve the lifespan of vehicles, while still maintaining a low environmental footprint. LCA techniques can help to identify trade-offs and to compare different options in terms of environmental impact and to optimize the design and choice of materials, manufacturing processes, and end-of-life management. The BEVSIM system which is designed to be accessible can be used by the industry to make informed decisions on the use of new materials and technologies to effectively reduce the environmental impact of the vehicle throughout its life-cycle.