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05 Aug 2022

The Place of Clean Energy in the Circular Economy

Clean Energy, Climate change, Energy Transition
Busayo Sunday-Omofe
circular economy

The essential benefit of a circular economy is in its flexibility, viability and how exploitable it is. Experts fear the world may be overridden due to excess manufacturing and less preservation and production. They fear that natural resources are being used heavily, and mechanisms to ensure the continuity of healthy production are almost inexistent. For example, the trees being felled to produce furniture, books, artefacts and more are not grown back for more production, limiting the available resources. This is one of the major causes of global warming. The same goes for fossil fuel energy resources like coal and gas.

The Circular Economy is a closed-loop system that aims to reduce waste by extending the useful lives of items, machinery, and infrastructure by reusing, recycling, and refurbishing them. Renewable energy, one of the major circular economy principles, plays a vital role in society. In our world today, almost every aspect of our lives requires electricity. It is a key component in almost every industrial, business or social activity and operation. In addition, the world is transitioning from fossil-based products to renewable energy sources like solar, wind energy, biomass degradation, etc.

Various ways renewable energy contributes to the circular economy include:

Conservation of Critical Materials

The energy transition depends on a shift to renewable power, pivoting away from natural gas and petroleum and towards solar, wind, hydrogen, geothermal power, or other zero-emissions tech supported by batteries. According to the International Energy Agency, getting to net-zero by 2040 will require a six-fold increase in mineral input; some key metals, such as lithium, could see growth rates of over 40 times, with nickel and cobalt demand growing more than 20 fold. Obtaining these materials exclusively via mining presents sustainability challenges. Furthermore, these materials also present potential challenges to energy security in Europe.

Low Carbon Utilization and Circular Material

Clean technology, such as electric vehicles or energy transition tools, must be created from materials with zero emissions and must not emit emissions when used to reach net-zero. This will be a challenging task. For example, a World Economic Forum report claims that by 2040, when most cars are expected to be electric, the materials used to make them might be responsible for 60% of their lifetime emissions, up from only 18% in 2020. According to a recent UNEP analysis, it represents an increase from 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 1995 to over 11 billion tons in 2015 or about a fifth of all emissions of greenhouse gases.

Low carbon materials may be available from the circular economy. For instance, compared to aluminium from virgin sources, recycled aluminium generates up to 95% less carbon dioxide. In addition, building energy transition infrastructure out of waste materials will aid our net-zero transition.

Circular economy and renewable energy work hand in hand for sustainable development at large. While other products like plastics being recycled, the sun and other renewable sources could help in electricity generation, with this a good number of SDG goals like SDG 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 (52% of the SDG goals) could be achieved.

This blog is authored by Busayo Sunday-Omofe, a Research Assistant at The Electricity Hub. It is originally published on the electricity Hub.


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