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Industrial symbiosis allows the whole to be larger than the individual parts

Collaboration across sectors and industries. Residual flows that become resources. The ability to look at production beyond the end product. With the municipality as a cohesive actor and with a common vision from participating actors, the end result can be something greater than the components – industrial symbiosis. RISE can support in all steps towards realising ideas about collaboration and transition to fossil freedom and sustainability.

Industrial symbiosis is a concept that is increasingly being applied in the context of developing growing company clusters and creating a more circular economy. Companies that are looking into how to manage their waste flows might, for example, discover that things they consider as waste might be a resource for someone else for manufacturing something new. For example, when a municipality analyses what is required for new companies to emerge and grow, they will likely conclude that there are opportunities when local companies are encouraged to widen their perception of own production beyond what directly contributes to their usual end product.

– “When it comes to industrial symbiosis, 1 plus 1 does not necessarily equal 2,” says Rickard Fornell, Senior Researcher in Industrial Conversion at RISE. “When different stakeholders collaborate across sector and industry boundaries, it is possible to use resources that are currently underutilized or not be utilized at all. What that happens, the whole really can be larger than the sum of its individual parts,” he says.

Tools for achieving sustainability goals

Progress that is occurring in the area of industrial symbiosis is nothing new. Within the Swedish district heating network, for example, residual heat generated in industries is being captured and used to heat homes in many areas. The symbiosis perspective can also be applied to more complex processes. The petrochemical industrial cluster that emerged in Stenungssund during the 1960s is based on a joint utilization of incoming raw materials and different types of production streams. In recent years, interest in linking together various types of industries has grown.

– “At the root of it all, it’s about seeing the opportunities that exist. When a company starts investigating its various unutilized waste streams, it can generate new innovations around which new companies can be created and grown. And, when symbiosis is used in the right way, it can be helpful it achieving various sustainability targets. In some municipalities, company development is what’s driving industrial symbiosis, while in others, it’s the desire to create a more circular economy,” explains Rickard Fornell.

It’s a much larger issue than simply realizing an envisioned form of collaboration. It’s about taking conscientious steps that lead us in the right direction

National and international cooperation

RISE is currently collaborating with other partners under the scope of SNIUS, Swedish Network for Industrial and Urban Symbiosis to develop methods for measuring, facilitating and analyzing symbiosis in the EU project, CORALIS. When RISE initiates a discussion with potential new partners, the starting point is always to ask them (the company or municipality/municipality) to describe the vision for their efforts. In other words, their “why”.

– “At RISE, we frequently discuss our role as a catalyst for change in society. We want to use our knowledge and test beds to help others find their way in the maze that transitioning to a sustainable society represents. And this applies to symbiosis as well. For example, right at the start, we invite all of the partners in a new collaboration to participate in a CORALIS vision workshop. It allows them to create a shared vision for the symbiosis/symbioses,” he says.

The municipality is a cohesive actor

You typically need to involve more partners than you might have first thought in order for the symbiosis to become a reality. Rickard Fornell goes on to explain how important it is to have an overall facilitator for the work. Typically, it will be a municipal employee. Furthermore, the companies and financiers involved need to understand, and be committed to, the set goal.

– “Initially, it is worthwhile to consider all perspectives. You need a situation analysis of areas that the municipality has control over, such as planning and permits. It is also important to look at talent management. And, do you have the support of residents in the municipality? Do they understand the benefit in these investments? At CORALIS, we have created a tool, or compass, for capturing various perspectives and understanding how ‘ripe’ the circumstances are for a possible symbiosis based on several different perspectives,” he says.

Investments in efficient use of resources need to pay off

There are many benefits that can be derived from industrial symbioses. But there are also various obstacles standing in the way. For example, the existing business models in place might not allocate the benefits of symbiosis to those taking the greatest risk in generating them. And, because of that, it might deter an investment that could be highly beneficial to society.

Rickard Fornell goes on to talk about how important it is to design contracts in such a way that it is profitable to invest in something that leads to more efficient use of resources, or, which encourage companies to make investments that generate more tax revenue to the municipality, raise the skills level or make it possible for people who are locked out of the labour market to gain access.

– “To do this however, you need to be able to evaluate these benefits, which is something were are working with here at RISE. We have an overview and versatility that gives us an important role in the development of symbioses. We have a clear mission of impartially helping industry and the public sector transition to more sustainable solutions. We can help explain the various concepts associated with circularity, resource efficiency, sustainability, symbiosis and green urban planning. Before making an investment in symbiosis, for example, we can provide scientifically based documentation that covers several perspectives. And, because of our impartiality, we can ask questions like: In this specific case, is symbiosis the right avenue to pursue for achieving your sustainability targets? Is it possible to create a long-term solution so that each component of the symbiosis is financially viable for all parties? And, can it successfully transition to a solution that is fossil-free and sustainable? It’s a much larger issue than simply realizing an envisioned form of collaboration. It’s about taking conscientious steps that lead us in the right direction,” concludes Rickard Fornell.

Published: 2021-11-22
Rickard Fornell

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Rickard Fornell

Senior Forskare

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