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A Concept to Support the Transformation from a Linear to Circular Carbon Economy: Net Zero emissions, Resource Efficiency and Conservation Through a Coupling of the Energy, Chemical and Waste Management Sectors


Coal and carbon-containing waste are valuable primary and secondary carbon carriers. In the current dominant linear economy, such carbon resources are generally combusted to produce electricity and heat and as a way to resolve a nation’s waste issue. Not only is this a wastage of precious carbon resources, which can be chemically utilized as raw materials for production of other value-added goods, it is also contrary to international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase resource efficiency and conservation. This article presents a concept to support the transformation from a linear ‘one-way cradle to grave manufacturing model’ toward a circular carbon economy. The development of new and sustainable value chains through the utilization of coal and waste as alternative raw materials for the chemical industry via a coupling of the energy, chemical and waste management sectors offers a viable and future-oriented perspective for closing the carbon cycle. Further benefits also include a lowering of the carbon footprint and increasing resource efficiency and conservation of primary carbon resources. In addition, technological innovations and developments that are necessary to support a successful sector coupling will be identified. To illustrate our concept, a case analysis of domestic coal and waste as alternative feedstock to imported crude oil for chemical production in Germany will be presented. Last but not least, challenges posed by path dependency along technological, institutional and human dimensions in the sociotechnical system for a successful transition toward a circular carbon economy will be discussed.

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways
Countries: Germany

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