On 6 and 7th of December our project team headed to Linz, in a tour organised by Business Upper Austria, who were invited by our project in a webinar previously. During the tour our group visited entities working on both academic and business aspects of Circular Economy. In this tour we were also joined by representatives from Innovation Agency Lithuania and the Lithuanian Energy Institute.
Business Upper Austria
The tour began with a meeting at the offices of Business Upper Austria where all participants offered introductory presentations.
Business Upper Austria is the Upper Austrian government agency promoting innovation, collaboration and solutions for investment in the region. Upper Austria has a strong industry base with steel mills, aluminium smelters, plastics and paper. Business Upper Austria aims to be a key driver in transforming their industries which they see as the way forward for the region as opposed to moving to becoming more services or tourism based. Research plays a vital role as it is the source of competitive advantage in a high wage location that competes with neighbouring countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Strong focus on R&D
Companies based in the region spend an average of 3.5% of their revenue on research and 80% of overall R&D expenditure is covered by companies. Business Upper Austria help companies with subsidies, licenses and finding labour as well as in expanding and growing within the region.
A strong focus is placed on helping with R&D rather than finding investment as if companies can develop their innovations the investments will soon follow.
Circular Economy is a cross sectoral matter
Business Upper Austria works with 8 clusters of sectors including automotive, medical technologies, IT, mechatronics, building innovation, cleantech, plastic and food. Their vision is for Upper Austria to become the leading model region for Circular Economy by 2030.
As such, among the different support mechanisms Business Upper Austria offers, helping companies transition to becoming more circular is central. They follow regional, national and international policy papers and give presentations to the companies to show them the urge to move to Circular Economy. Policies are being set faster than companies have been able to comply fully.
Circular Economy is looked at on a strategic and holistic level and knowledge exchange and cooperation are needed to help enforce it along the value chain towards reuse and manufacturing.
Activities they arrange aim to encourage collaboration among companies. They also initiate projects, organise talks by experts and help in defining the challenges for circular solutions to be developed.
As the plastics industry is strong in the region, it is important to address how this fits in a Circular Economy. For this they have worked with the plastics cluster to establish a technology roadmap with the vision of achieving 100% recycling of the contents of the yellow bag, where all plastic waste from a typical household are disposed of.
Projects and initiatives organised are also tackling aspects such as circular use and consumption, the role digitalisation can play in easing recycling, raising knowledge and awareness and business models based on making equipment or electrical appliances last as long as possible so they do not need to be replaced often.
One of the initiatives Business Upper Austria are involved in is Tech2b, a support hub for spin-offs from universities and research institutions and young companies through consultation, start-up incubation and encouraging cooperation between start-ups and more established companies.
Circular Based Waste Management project
Each of the partners from the Circular Based Waste Management offered presentations with brief introductions about themselves, their roles in the project and the goals they are aiming to achieve through it.
Innovation Agency Lithuania
Our group was joined by representatives of Innovation Agency Lithuania, the official public agency responsible for promoting and developing Lithuania’s innovation ecosystem.
The agency supports SME’s to become established and developed through a complete support mechanism. This includes consultation, helping to find business partners and advice on administrative and regulatory aspects of establishing a business. The agency also managers financial and other support measures and organises trade missions and participation in international trade fairs and exhibitions.
Central to the agency’s targets for 2030 is the move to a circular economy. Encouraging innovations in business models through cooperation among manufacturers can help address extended producers’ responsibility. They aim to develop a system for green public procurement and minimise waste by identifying markets for secondary raw materials as well as systems for the management of circular products and packaging. New green technologies and materials based on deep-tech innovations and reducing costs through product design and remanufacturing are also high on the agenda.
Lithuanian Energy Institute
The Lithuanian Energy Institute, is a state technical research centre working on energy related research. Researchers and scientists at the institute work on energy technologies such as nuclear, renewable energy sources, hydrogen, combustion and plasma. They also work on thermal and environmental engineering as well as material science and the economics of energy systems.
In the afternoon of the first day, the group was offered a tour of the Institute of Polymeric Materials and Testing and the LIT Factory at the Linz Institute of Technology, all located at the Johannes Kepler University.
The main focus at the LIT Factory is to study and work through the whole value chain for the production and recycling of plastics from the molecules through to product specific development. The facility is a networked factory for education and research on smart polymer processing and digitalisation.
The LIT Factory houses pilot and industrial scale machinery for the study of material treatment in the recycling process, its conversion and post treatment. All projects carried out need to consider the whole life cycle of plastics while ensuring high performance and quality management through digitalisation.
Behind the LIT Factory are 25 companies from the full chain of polymer technologies, ranging from materials, product development, engineering and equipment suppliers.
On site, our group had the opportunity to see and try to recycle plastic instantly through a system which can be installed anywhere for small scale recycling. The system was developed by plasticpreneur and is composed of a shredder and an extruder where the plastic flakes are melted and pushed into a metal mould through a nozzle.
From here the group moved to Tabakfabrik, a once tobacco factory now converted into a hub for new technologies, creative and cultural industries. The industrial complex was designed after the Bauhaus style of architecture and has very large spaces as they were designed so that one can see from one end to the other.
The complex houses companies, cafes, restaurants and event halls and as part of the development of the city of Linz, it follows its four cornerstones of creativity, social development, employment, and education. As such, Tabakfabrik calls itself a hotspot for creativity and innovation. It aims to create spaces for good foundations for culture by hosting and organising events such as exhibitions, encourage schools and universities to come and get in touch with companies to learn and to encourage social behaviour through open spaces so that everyone can get in touch with each other and network.
Strada del Startup
Tabakfabrik also houses Strada del Startup, which offers office and working spaces of various sizes for startups and larger companies. The area Strada del Startup occupies in the complex is designed to look like streets so as to mimic street lifestyle. The space invites socialising and to discuss ideas and offers the possibility for networking.
The group further met Carbon Cleanup, one of the companies resident at Tabakfabrik tackling a serious waste issue. They work on recycling carbon fibre, a material that normally ends up in landfills and that is generally difficult to recycle. They have developed a concept based on a mobile recycling station which allows sorting and recycling of the material on site for further reuse. It is based on mechanical recycling and the material has applications in sheet moulding, injection moulding and 3D printing.
Normally during recycling fibres, a lot of dust is produced but through their patented solution they have a way to work with it safely. Customers pay for them to take their fibre waste away and Carbon Cleanup sells the recyclable material produced.
Recycling of carbon and other fibres is urgent as a ban of all fibre material in landfills is starting from January 2023.
On the second day our group visited four companies that cover different aspects of the production of plastics and how these fit in a circular economy.
The first stop was at Borealis, a manufacturer of high-quality plastics with offices globally. At their facilities in Linz, Borealis have taken on the challenge to solve the issue of plastic waste and its recycling while focusing on the entire lifecycle of plastics. The company places emphasis on design for recycling and works with and advises its customers on the production of plastic products that are circular. They have customers in industries such as consumer goods, energy, healthcare, infrastructure and mobility.
The facility in Linz focuses on R&D on circular economy solutions for polyolefin with both mechanical and chemical recycling. They also study the use of monomaterials – solutions that avoid using different materials in one product or avoid using inks so that products created are easier to recycle.
Waste management companies are important for them as they value sharing and exchanging knowledge from players in the full value chain, as well as creating interdisciplinary teams with people that can have broad perspectives on the topic.
The main challenges they have identified in creating packaging from recyclate is to achieve light colours, reduced odour and little to no impurities.
Moving forward, the group visited EREMA, a manufacturer of machines for recycling that aims to make plastics recycling as innovative and efficient as possible. EREMA’s machines take plastic items and convert them into pellets, sheets, strappings or fibres for use in the production of new items. To this date they have sold 7,500 machines worldwide. Their solutions range from large recycling plants to recycling machines and components. Systems can be designed based on customer needs and include software solutions.
Their main goal is for the circular economy to be a reality for plastics by 2030. Along with mechanical recycling, they also offer solutions for chemical recycling. The main challenge they find for plastics recycling is in the correct preparation of materials as different plastics have different melting points.
EREMA make a lot of their own parts for their machines and they further design them under circular principles so that these themselves can be reused or remanufactured.
LAVU Waste Management
Upper Austria’s waste management company LAVU, is owned by the 438 municipalities it serves.
LAVU collects 90 different types of waste materials over 70% of which is recycled after it has been sent to one of the 178 recycling centres of upper Austria. Among the types of waste collected are plastics, packaging materials, electronics, electrical appliances, tyres, batteries, x-ray films, cd’s and more. They also collect and dismantle fire extinguishers and disassemble electronic items.
Out of small appliances collected by LAVU, around 20% may contain hazardous parts, these are removed manually and stored in a facility for hazardous waste.
Residents are provided with collection bags for different types of waste such as clothes, medical, paper, etc. There is also a collection system for cooking oil, where people are given buckets to dispose their cooking oil in and receive a clean one when they bring it in. The system has been used for 20 years with newer buckets made from recycled materials. Around 30,000 litres of this oil is transported to a biodiesel plant every week.
LAVU also offers services to the recycling centres such as planning of infrastructure, operational management, training and administration.
The group’s final stop for this tour was at Greiner, a global supplier of plastic and foam solutions with plants in 30 countries. Greiner is composed of three divisions, focusing on packaging, foam and plastics for the pharmaceutical industry.
Their portfolio includes a wide range of production, barrier and decoration technologies. They produce plastic packaging for food items as well as home care and personal care, pharmaceuticals and drinking bottles.
They have an in-house design and prototyping agency which looks at creating innovative, practical and appealing packaging. They aim for solutions to be sustainable and to create value for their customers, while looking at the current mega trends of digitalisation, sustainability, individualisation, globalisation and health awareness and how to combine them.
Plastic is a material that is deeply embedded in out lives and if handled properly can play a role in a circular economy. Their sustainability strategy aims to make their products 100% recyclable, eliminate unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging and to use as much as recycled material as possible.
Their solutions in making plastic sustainable include reducing the amount of material used, focusing on design for recycling and on reuse, using alternative materials and reducing CO2 emissions.
More photos from the tour can be found on the project facebook page here.
The Circular Based Waste Management project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation – eeagrants.org.