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Region and universities: 10 million euro for R&I in support of circular economy

Region and universities: 10 million euro for R&I in support of circular economy

Redazione Open Innovation

Redazione Open Innovation

Regione Lombardia

Promoting the transition to a circular economy and encouraging the transfer of competencies and results of Research and Innovation to this strategic sector is the goal of the 10-million-euro partnership agreement, 5 million euro from the Lombardy Region, approved on 17 May by the Regional Government on the proposal of Fabrizio Sala, Councillor for Education, University, Research, Innovation and Simplification, jointly with Raffaele Cattaneo, Councillor for the Environment and Climate.   

The three-year partnership involves the Polytechnic University of Milan, the University of Milan, the University of Milano-Bicocca, the University of Pavia and the CNR – STIIMA (National Research Council – Intelligent Industrial Systems and Technologies for Advanced Manufacturing).  

It encompasses the design of new systems and demonstrators of innovative technologies, integrated solutions for the circular economy, as well as business models that reduce the risks of private investment allowing the pursuit of research activities that will have large impact on the community. 

Through this Agreement, Lombardy Region and the entities involved will lay the base for a future Regional Hub for the Circular Economy, made up of one or more regional “System Integrators” to support the transition. 

Sala: making the production system more competitive

“We want to give a strong impetus to innovation with direct support to the Universities”, remarked Councillor Fabrizio Sala, “to that end, we are investing in training for our students and in infrastructures with the goal of instilling greater competitiveness in the production system. We want to work as a system in order to encourage development of innovative solutions for the manufacturing industry and new technologies for e-Mobility”. 
The first major sphere of action will be the circular Transformation towards e-Mobility of the automotive industryt: a strategic sector for the regional ecosystem and economy of Lombardy. 

Actions and their impact on the territory 

The partnership provides for development of the innovative pilot infrastructure designed to give Lombardy ecosystem stakeholders the ability to validate and demonstrate products, processes and innovative circular production systems, and thereby create new opportunities to develop circular cross-sectoral value chains for the automotive sector to enable e-Mobility.  

New business models inspired by principles of the circular economy -where a product, after reaching the end of its lifecycle, is placed back into circulation through appropriate product and process design - will lead to greater resilience and competitiveness in the current production system. In fact, it will increase the availability of strategic resources and high-value products in the local eco-system, resulting in a reduced impact of any external criticalities (consider the problems due to the lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic). 

Lastly, building this infrastructure will guarantee upgraded training of future generations of engineers, architects and professional figures, such as chemists, industrial chemists and materials scientists. Thanks also to the new Hub, they will be able to respond to the challenges posed by a systemic and systematic transition to the circular economy and by a paradigm of sustainable development. 

The context

The innovation falls within an international programme started as part of the Interregional Network Vanguard Initiative, and specifically the Pilot Initiative ESM – Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing – coordinated by the Regions of Catalunya and Lombardy.

The innovative pilot infrastructure fits into the framework of an ambitious research and innovation programme which is in high synergy with the priorities of the “Lombardy Roadmap for Research and Innovation in the Circular Economy” and “Smart Mobility & Artificial Intelligence – Strategy and projects for innovation of mobility systems in Lombardy Region”. 

Effective support to innovation 

The new pilot framework will benefit from strong investment. The 5 million euro - provided by the Lombardy Region - will cover the costs for: purchasing research and technology infrastructures, including their modernisation or innovation; upgrading enabling technologies; and strengthening methods as well as skills to enable the territory’s transition towards the circular economy. 

The research bodies involved will co-finance the Agreement with the total sum of 5,056,415.20 euro.

Examples of R&I for the circular economy

The idea is to promote multidisciplinary research on the product’s entire lifecycle by developing: 

- new methods and solutions for the design of modular products intended for multiple usage cycles in an effort to reduce the production of waste, which is more easily disassembled  
- new processes of de‐ and re-manufacturing for the recovery of functions and materials from after-use products 
new processes and systems of circular production to reprocess and reassemble high-value products, which encourage the reuse of materials and components in keeping with an “end- of-waste” vision
- new cross-sectoral circular business models (and industrial symbiosis) to guarantee the economic feasibility of circular supply chains
new digital solutions inspired by Industry 4.0 able to increase the traceability of resources through different sectoral supply chains and to integrate the actors of the circular supply chain.  

The automotive sector and the role of Lombardy 

The automotive sector, the most important manufacturing industry in Europe, which employs 12 million people and has a turnover of about 780 billion euro and an added value of 140 billion euro, is experiencing a fundamental transformation from ICEV ‐ Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles to EV ‐ Electric Vehicles and HEV ‐ Hybrid Electric Vehicles.

The e‐Mobility market is seeing continuous growth: in Italy between August 2019 and August 2020 the HEV market grew by 227.2%, the Plug‐in market by 420.5%, and EV market by 249.5%.

Lombardy leads this transition by covering roughly 25% of the Italian market, thanks also to existing incentives. 

In the future, an additional increase is expected. In fact, estimates (data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance: indicate that in 2035 sales of electric vehicles will outpace sales of traditional vehicles. 

This revolution is accompanied by a basic transformation in automotive design, which sees an important evolution of components and critical materials of the automobile. For example, LiB, or  Lithium-Ion Batteries, a basic element of electrical vehicles, constitute 35‐50% of their overall cost, while mechatronic components, intelligent electronics and sensors have become essential and predominant components of them.

It is estimated that composite materials and technopolymers will be more widely applied in electric and hybrid vehicles, with the goal of moderating the increase in weight due to the batteries and electronics without compromising safety and performance. 

This substantial change in vehicle design demands innovation regarding the treatment of the after-use product and creates new opportunities for new companies oriented towards the circular economy. Presently, end-of-life management in the automotive sector is dominated by recycling and only a minimum part of the components is regenerated and reutilised in the aftersales market.  

The transition to electric and hybrid vehicles as well as their design could, in the future, affect the attainment of minimum thresholds imposed by the CE directive [2000/53/CE] regarding end-of life vehicles (ELV), which establishes the objectives for the reuse and recovery of the materials. 

The current absence of sustainable solutions for the recovery of materials and functions from critical components after-use is a serious obstacle to e-Mobility and highlights the need as well as urgency to design and validate a new circular strategy for the whole supply chain. 
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