How can we advance industrial symbiosis in Europe?

Industrial symbiosis (IS) is a systems approach to a more sustainable and integrated industrial system, which identifies business opportunities that leverage underutilised resources (such as materials, energy, water, capacity, expertise etc). It involves organisations operating in different sectors of activity that engage in mutually beneficial transactions to reuse waste and by-products, finding innovative ways to source inputs and optimising the value of the residues of their processes.

Under the title of ‘Feasibility Study for a Circular Economy / Secondary Raw Materials Platform’, Trinomics, together with Technopolis (project manager), UCL (Technical Lead) and International Synergies have carried out a thorough study of industrial symbiosis which includes:

  • Comprehensive mapping of industrial symbiosis coordination initiatives;
  • Market potential of industrial symbiosis;
  • Evidence, taxonomy of industrial symbiosis coordination nodes and taxonomy of nodes;
  • Online repository of industrial symbiosis case studies;
  • Recommended policy actions to promote effective industrial symbiosis coordination;
  • Feasibility of a trading / coordination platform for secondary raw materials at the EU level.

The study was commissioned by DG GROW and has been published here in April 2018.

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A snapshot of some of the key conclusions are:

  • The mapping of industrial symbiosis activities indicates pockets of IS activity all across Europe, although varying in nature, resources transacted and scale.
  • Market potential:
    • Very few industrial symbiosis facilitation initiatives track their results in a consistent manner, which makes it hard to provide accurate assessments of their performance. Most performance data comes from facilitated initiatives yet tends to be fragmented, inconsistent across initiatives, difficult to validate, and collected at one point in time (as opposed to continuously monitored).
    • Nonetheless, taken together, the analysis of data is highly suggestive of large potential savings and market potential (although remaining thin on details and numbers).
    • However market potential remains under-utilised due to several barriers.
  • Market, legislatative, knowledge, financial barriers:
    • Companies perceive risk and uncertainties regarding the benefits of IS synergies.
    • The initiation of industrial symbiosis projects is in many cases accompanied by costs that companies are not always prepared to bear.
    • Regulatory uncertainty  related to the status of secondary materials (waste versus product) has been one of the major issues that deter companies and institutional investors from supporting industrial symbiosis endeavours.