Sign In
Information about science based innovations, solid facts to support decision-making, performance and business development for VTT’s partners, customers and anyone interested in high technology and its applications.
A magazine on science, technology and business

Traceable data will accelerate the circulation of materials

Markku Rimpiläinen | 30.8.2019

Nobody knows precisely where high-value materials are, who owns them and how they are being used right now. This is a big problem for the circular economy. Developing the monitoring of materials represents a fantastic business opportunity for companies.

VTT's future outlook combines data and materials in a way that makes materials identifiable and traceable.

"Information is absolutely critical to the circular economy. We need to know where materials are. Without this information, many important steps forward will not be taken," says Matti Tähtinen, Senior Scientist at VTT.

The list of information required by the circular economy is long.

"We need information about the products that can be recycled. In addition to the location of the products, it is also essential to know about the materials they contain. The manufacturer has this information, but the vendor or user does not necessarily have it," says Ville Kotovirta, Senior Scientist.

In the ideal scenario, the product itself would contain information about the materials used to make it. Clothes already have labels saying which fibres they are made from. Products have also become more traceable thanks to RFID tags.

However, many industrial products contain dozens of different materials. If the information on materials is incomplete, many valuable materials will inevitably be wasted.

"Information should become an integral part of products, components and materials. It sounds complicated, and indeed it is," says Géza Szilvay, Senior Scientist at VTT.


 Geza Szilvay and Ville Kotovirta.

"Micro-scale tags are already in use for identifying products and preventing forgeries. These can be found in items such as banknotes. But if we are thinking about individual components and materials, the technical solutions become considerably more complex."

VTT is already researching how data could be written to and read from materials. The solutions being studied are on the molecular level.

"We are studying how the periodicity of molecular structures can be managed and whether there are any practical ways of reading this data. We also want to utilise biochemical structures, such as the onset of different microstructures as a function of time, and identify suitable methods for reading them. We aim to utilise this research in concepts that companies will eventually be able to use to monitor materials," says Szilvay.

Real-time data is needed soon

It would be a great achievement to incorporate material data into materials, but that alone will not be enough.

"We need real-time information on material flows very soon. For example, the need for lithium will continue to grow. It is vital to get it back into circulation because lithium is needed to store solar and wind energy and make batteries for electric cars," says VTT's Research Scientist, Vafa Järnefelt.


 Vafa Järnefelt.

Real-time monitoring can succeed if products, components and materials are able to communicate and work as a part of the industrial internet. Then the data they contain could be stored on various cloud services. Anybody would be able to find out where high-value materials are, who owns them and at which stage of lifecycle they are and directed for recirculation.

The impact would be transformative.

"Data mobility is a prerequisite for markets to arise. When data about materials becomes open, market information is available to everyone, and the market can assess a price for the materials. The data also has an intrinsic value because it affects the trade in materials. Someone will surely have an interest in digging up this data. Data related to the circular economy could, therefore, give rise to a data market that motivates companies and people to share data and accelerates the growth of the circular economy," Ville Kotovirta forecasts.

Material as-a-service

A further crucial aspect is data related to material ownership.

"The problem with the linear economy is that the responsibility for products and materials is cut off after the purchase transaction. The new owner decides how the product or material is used, for how long the products or material stays in circulation or how fast it's being disposed of.  If the material is not connected to ownership, nobody cares about it. For instance, consumables owned by consumers are so called loose-end products (consisting valuable materials) that are lost during their lifecycle. Someone needs to care about materials in order to get them back into circulation. Tracing technologies make this possible," Vafa Järnefelt says.

If we know who owns a material, purchase offers can be made, even if the quantities are small. A financial incentive makes recycling feel even more worthwhile. At present, the mobile phones, computers and tablets owned by Finnish people contain lithium amounting to about as much as a packet of ham.

It is also possible for companies to begin selling the right to use materials as a service. Conventional metal industry companies may become such service providers, but any new operator could step in just as easily.

"Anyone who finds value in a material will ensure that it is put back in use and remains in circulation for as long as possible," Järnefelt says.

Markets bring about systematic change

Combining data with material circulation requires major systematic changes. Whose job is it to promote change?

"Everyone who wants to create new business and growth," replies Ville Kotovirta.

"Systematic change arises when markets change. There is already a demand for more sustainable solutions and, conversely, the desirability of unsustainable solutions will decrease over a period of time. It may not be necessary for a regulator to say how things must be done. The regulator creates a framework in which to operate but, ultimately, the markets bring about change. There is already a global trade in recycled materials, even though no-one is regulating it."

In Matti Tähtinen's opinion, developing the monitoring of materials represents a fantastic business opportunity for Finnish companies.

"This is a totally scalable business model. If it can be made to work in Finland, the solution could be taken anywhere in the world."

VTT is building a circular economy project aiming to accelerate the circulation of products and materials by generating and sharing knowledge. A corporate consortium is currently being assembled, and companies are being invited to join the project.
 
More information:

Vafa Järnefelt, Research Scientist
vafa.jarnefelt@vtt.fi, +358 40 673 8550

Further reading: VTT vision roadmap Going beyond a circular economy: A vision of a sustainable economy in which material, value and information are integrated and circulate together.

 

 

 

VTT Impulsehttps://www.vttresearch.com/ImpulseVTT Impulse
Using personal know-how to promote the common goodhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Using-personal-know-how-to-promote-the-common-good.aspxUsing personal know-how to promote the common good
Advancing cyber security on several frontshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Advancing-cyber-security-on-several-fronts.aspxAdvancing cyber security on several fronts
All sights on generationhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/All-sights-on-generation.aspxAll sights on generation
A machine is more humanehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/A-machine-is-more-humane.aspxA machine is more humane
Finland is good investmenthttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Finland-is-good-investment.aspxFinland is good investment
Renewing industrial practices creates a new competitive edgehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Renewing-industrial-practices-creates-a-new-competitive-edge.aspxRenewing industrial practices creates a new competitive edge
Could smartglasses replace smartphones? VTT spin-off Dispelix to commercialise a virtual display for glasseshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Could-smartglasses-replace-smartphones-VTT-spin-off-Dispelix-to-commercialise-a-virtual-display-for-glasses.aspxCould smartglasses replace smartphones? VTT spin-off Dispelix to commercialise a virtual display for glasses
Designers needed in printed technologyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Designers-needed-in-printed-technology.aspxDesigners needed in printed technology
It is the duty of entrepreneurs to seek growthhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/It-is-the-duty-of-entrepreneurs-to-seek-growth.aspxIt is the duty of entrepreneurs to seek growth
From ideas to major innovationshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/From-drawing-board-to-major-innovation.aspxFrom ideas to major innovations
Bioeconomy and circular economyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Bioeconomy-and-circular-economy.aspxBioeconomy and circular economy
Smart Citieshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-Cities.aspxSmart Cities
Health and wellbeinghttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Health-and-wellbeing.aspxHealth and wellbeing
Low carbon energyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Low-carbon-energy.aspxLow carbon energy
Digital societyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Digital-society.aspxDigital society
Business developmenthttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Business-development.aspxBusiness development
Smart industryhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-industry.aspxSmart industry
Converting rags to design clotheshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Converting-rags-to-design-clothes.aspxConverting rags to design clothes
Business angel speaks out: Growth from the international arenahttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Business-angel-speaks-out-Growth-from-the-international-arena.aspxBusiness angel speaks out: Growth from the international arena
VTT Impulsehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/MainPage.aspxVTT Impulse
The story of Finlandhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/The-story-of-Finland.aspxThe story of Finland
We must maintain Finland as an attractive target for investmenthttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/We-must-maintain-Finland-as-an-attractive-target-for-investment.aspxWe must maintain Finland as an attractive target for investment
Impulse 2/2017https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Impulse-2-2017.aspxImpulse 2/2017
Intelligence for machineshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Intelligence-for-machines.aspxIntelligence for machines
A birthday gift from us to ourselveshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/A-birthday-gift-from-us-to-ourselves.aspxA birthday gift from us to ourselves
Brought to you by Paptic: Wood fibre challenges plastic in carrier bagshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Brought-to-you-by-Paptic-Wood-fibre-challenges-plastic-in-carrier-bags.aspxBrought to you by Paptic: Wood fibre challenges plastic in carrier bags
X-ray imaging to new heightshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/X-ray-imaging-to-new-heights.aspxX-ray imaging to new heights
New synthetic biology technologies are revolutionising microbial designhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/New-synthetic-biology-technologies-are-revolutionising-microbial-design.aspxNew synthetic biology technologies are revolutionising microbial design
Infinited Fiber brings radical change to the textile industryhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Infinited-Fiber-brings-radical-change-to-the-textile-industry.aspxInfinited Fiber brings radical change to the textile industry
Three-dimensional virtual reality and augmented reality – Towards new worldshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Three-dimensional-virtual-reality-and-augmented-reality-Towards-new-worlds.aspxThree-dimensional virtual reality and augmented reality – Towards new worlds
Small is big: growth and new opportunities in silicon photonicshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Small-is-big-growth-and-new-opportunities-in-silicon-photonics.aspxSmall is big: growth and new opportunities in silicon photonics
Smart cities, can the performance be measured?https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-cities,-can-the-performance-be-measured.aspxSmart cities, can the performance be measured?
Leca – filtering a cleaner futurehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Leca-filtering-a-cleaner-future.aspxLeca – filtering a cleaner future
Finnish fuel cell technology aims for the worldhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Finnish-fuel-cell-technology-aims-for-the-world.aspxFinnish fuel cell technology aims for the world
Digitalisation of the shipping industry requires cutting-edge researchhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Digitalisation-of-the-shipping-industry-requires-cutting-edge-research.aspxDigitalisation of the shipping industry requires cutting-edge research
Is life cycle assessment method suitable to guide policy decisions? Case of European sustainability 
criteria for biofuelshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Is-life-cycle-assessment-method-suitable-to-guide-policy-decisions.aspxIs life cycle assessment method suitable to guide policy decisions? Case of European sustainability 
criteria for biofuels
Industrial 3D printing takes offhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Industrial-3D-printing-takes-off.aspxIndustrial 3D printing takes off
Transition in the shipping industry: intelligent ship´s bridgeshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Intelligent-ship-bridges.aspxTransition in the shipping industry: intelligent ship´s bridges
Optical isotope spectroscopy – More and more detailed informationhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Optical-isotope-spectroscopy-more-and-more-detailed-information.aspxOptical isotope spectroscopy – More and more detailed information
Sustainability and acceptability for mining operationshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Sustainability-and-acceptability-for-mining-operations.aspxSustainability and acceptability for mining operations
Smart 5G light pole provides safety for residents of the smart cityhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-5G-light-pole-provides-safety-for-residents-of-the-smart-city.aspxSmart 5G light pole provides safety for residents of the smart city
Using nuclear power to mitigate climate changehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Using-nuclear-power-to-mitigate-climate-change.aspxUsing nuclear power to mitigate climate change
VTT’s spin-off GrainSense puts a laboratory in farmers’ handshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/VTTs-spin-off-GrainSense-puts-a-laboratory-in-farmers-hands.aspxVTT’s spin-off GrainSense puts a laboratory in farmers’ hands
Finland provides community housing solutions for Namibiahttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Finland-provides-community-housing-solutions-for-Namibia.aspxFinland provides community housing solutions for Namibia
Novel Cellulose products and applicationshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Novel-Cellulose-products-and-applications.aspxNovel Cellulose products and applications
Resource-efficient future citieshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Resource-efficient-future-cities.aspxResource-efficient future cities
Raw material for fuels, chemicals and food from atmospheric carbon dioxidehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Raw-material-for-fuels-chemicals-and-food-from-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide.aspxRaw material for fuels, chemicals and food from atmospheric carbon dioxide
Brazil paves the way for bioenergyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Brazil-paves-the-way-for-bioenergy.aspxBrazil paves the way for bioenergy
The new agenda enhances the use of research infrastructurehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/The-new-agenda-enhances-the-use-of-research-infrastructure.aspxThe new agenda enhances the use of research infrastructure