Circular Economy Network+ in Transportation Systems (CENTS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: WMG


The 20th Century was characterised by a massive global increase in all modes of transport, on land and water and in the air, for moving both passengers and freight. Whilst easy mobility has become a way of life for many, the machines (planes, automobiles, trains, ships) that enable this are both highly resource consuming and environmentally damaging in production, in use and at the end of their working lives (EoL). Over the years, great attention has been paid to increasing their energy efficiencies, but the same effort has not been put into optimising their resource efficiency.

Although they may share a common origin in the raw materials used, the supply chains of transport sectors operate in isolation. However, there are numerous potential benefits that could be realised if Circular Economy (CE) principles were applied across these supply chains. These include recovery of energy intensive and/or technology metals, reuse/remanufacture of components, lower carbon materials substitutions, improved energy and material efficiency. While CE can change the transport system, the transport system can also enable or disable CE. By considering different transport systems in a single outward-looking network, it is more likely that a cascading chain of materials supply could be realised- something that is historically very difficult within just a single sector.

CENTS will focus on transport platforms where CE principles have not been well embedded in order to identify synergies between different supply chains and to optimise certain practices, such as EoL recovery and recycling rates and energy and material efficiency. It will also be 'forward looking' in terms of developing future designs, business models and manufacturing approaches so that emergent transport systems are inherently circular.

More specifically, our Network will carry out Feasiblity and Creativity@Home generated research that will develop the ground work for future funding from elsewhere; provide travel grants to/from the UK for both established and Early Career Researcgers to increase the UK network of expertise and experience in this critical area; hold conferences and workshops where academics and industrialists can learn from each other; build demonstrators of relevant technology so that industry can see what is possible within a Circular Economy approach. These activities will all be supported by a full communication strategy focusing on outreach with school children and policy influence though agencies such as Catapults and WRAP.

Planned Impact

This Network will address the important challenge of reducing the environmental burden of global transport systems across their life cycle and, in the long term, support socio-economic, environmental and industrial sustainability. As such, there are many areas of wider impact.

UK Research Community - a primary objective of the Network is to bring together new academics and researchers that have not worked previously together. By doing this, the Network will enable new relationships, learning, sharing of experiences and foster long-term collaborations that would not necessarily happen otherwise. This will give individuals and groups unique perspectives and future opportunities to exploit. We have prioritised the involvement of Early Career Researchers and developed Network mechanisms to actively engage them.

Environmental Impact - The environment will benefit by our scientific/technological solutions being better informed by social, economic and cultural considerations so that they are more readily acceptable for real world adoption and impact in terms of reducing the environmental burden of transport systems.

Industrial Impact: Manufacturing will benefit from reduced waste profiles, improved resource efficiency, materials security and improved environmental footprints. Our research will deliver new designs, feedstocks, processing and end-of-life recovery opportunities for existing applications and potentially new products. The Network welcomes industrial members who can contribute to its future development and for whom involvement will add value; for example by providing help to them in finding symbiotic partners, contextualising research projects in terms of industry problems, facilitating routes to implementation and mentoring Early Career Researchers.

Public and Social Impact: We will engage with the public and consumer groups to gain/maintain their support, understanding and acceptance of how our developed technologies/approaches could be used and explain how they can play their part in achieving the Circular Economy paradigm. There will be wider social impact through a reduction in waste or End Of Life materials being disposed of via landfill or incineration, embodied water and energy usage, along with improvements to the greenhouse gasses, effluents and emissions associated with transport systems manufacturing and use.

Economic Impact: The Network activities will, in the longer term, generate significant economic impact through the creation of new industries, processes and products that have the potential to be globally exported. The reduction of wastes and enhanced circularity of materials also bring significant opportunities to reduce disposal costs to companies which will impact positively upon their bottom line, decrease their reliance on imported raw materials and lower their overall operational costs. Any reductions in effluents, energy and water usage, carbon or other emissions will also make a positive contribution to the wider economy as they are, and will continue to be, financially penalised by current and emerging legislation.

Policy Makers: Policy makers will benefit from having a focussed, centralised and independent body of research activity and knowledge that they can draw upon when formulating related positions in a rapidly changing global environment. The Network will actively engage with these stakeholders from day one.

Young Researchers: The research outputs from the Network will be incorporated into future educational offerings within the partner Universities. This will facilitate the production of well-trained, motivated students and researchers who will be in great demand from industry be able to transfer seamlessly from the laboratory to the commercial world. Over time, many of these individuals will start to develop their own research agenda and will start to feed new research ideas back to the EPSRC or other relevant funding agencies.


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