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Closing the Low-carbon Material Loop Using a Dynamic Whole System Approach


The transition to low carbon energy and transport systems requires an unprecedented roll-out of new infrastructure technologies, containing significant quantities of critical raw materials. Many of these technologies are based on general purpose technologies, such as permanent magnets and electric motors, that are common across different infrastructure systems. Circular economy initiatives that aim to institute better resource management practices could exploit these technological commonalities through the reuse and remanufacturing of technology components across infrastructure systems. In this paper, we analyze the implementation of such processes in the transition to low carbon electricity generation and transport on the Isle of Wight, UK. We model two scenarios relying on different renewable energy technologies, with the reuse of Lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles for grid-attached storage. A whole-system analysis that considers both electricity and transport infrastructure demonstrates that the optimal choice of renewable technology can be dependent on opportunities for component reuse and material recycling between the different infrastructure systems. Hydrogen fuel cell based transport makes use of platinum from obsolete catalytic converters whereas lithium-ion batteries can be reused for grid-attached storage when they are no longer useful in vehicles. Trade-offs exist between the efficiency of technology reuse, which eliminates the need for new technologies for grid attached storage completely by 2033, and the higher flexibility afforded by recycling at the material level; reducing primary material demand for Lithium by 51% in 2033 compared to 30% achieved by battery reuse. This analysis demonstrates the value of a methodology that combines detailed representations of technologies and components with a systemic approach that includes multiple, interconnected infrastructure systems.

Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics
Countries: United Kingdom

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