M18 ECOBULK Project Update

ECOBULK - Business Models Workshop - Valencia

The consortium gathered in Valencia for their regular 6 monthly meeting, hosted by partner ITENE at their offices in Paterna. After 18 months of hard work, the partners shared their progress, and collaborated on workshops designed to enhance the ECOBULK prototypes and demonstrations. 

Business and Design

The full first day was spent on intensive workshops specifically designed to challenge and stimulate the partners to further refine the business models for their circular prototypes. These workshops were a follow up to the previous circular design workshops in Koblenz (M12 – 06/2018) where the first concepts for the prototypes were crafted based on different circular strategies.

EOCBULK Business Model Ambition versus Circularity

The circular design process, perhaps by its very nature in having to integrate solutions from both up and down the value chain, requires an iterative approach where the original designs and concepts are revisited to ensure that the partial solutions being integrated are well matched and adjusted to each other where necessary. While this redesign iteration focused on the business model, the next ones will revisit and optimize material choices and then recovery options at end of life. Read more about the workshops.

ECOBULK Fastener Finder
The Fastener Finder developed by TUDelft

The meeting also featured presentations of some of the many deliverables due at this stage of the project. One of these was the finalised Circular Design framework developed by TUDelft, and a great new tool, the Fastener Finder, specifically designed to search for and provide information on the circularity of a wide range of fasteners and joining options for designers and manufacturers. This enables smarter, more circular choices to be made already at design time that make the flow of products and materials easier in the subsequent steps of the circular chain.


Of course, an essential part of circular design has to do with materials – which ones to choose and how to improve them for circular scenarios. In Valencia the partners presented the latest developments in this area. Granta has been working on the Materials Explorer database, which enables designers and manufacturers to choose from a wealth of materials and the resulting circular impact on the product from those choices. Further, our materials partners have continued developing and improving new materials for the ECOBULK project, based on pultrusion (Coventive), compounding (Tecnaro), agglomeration (Conenor), Airlaid (NTT) and hot press (KEAS/AKZO/CU) processes. These target different applications for the demonstrations, and are all now testing and improving their formulations for production.

CoventivePultrusionRecycled PP Natural Fibre - LFT PelletsAutomotive Interior Components
TecnaroCompoundingRecylced PP + Natural FibresAutomotive Interior Components
ConenorAgglomerationRecycled PE/PP + narural fibres, G-FRP wasteConstruction and outdoor furniture
NTTAirlaid TechnologyPL + PU, PL + Wood scrapsAutomotive (floor carpets), Furniture (upholstery), Construction (insulation)
KEAS/AKZO/CUHot PressingParticle Boards (increased recycled content)Furniture

Afterwards, IRIS as lead of the task on material conditioning for recycled streams, presented the advances on DMSO based cleaning processes and plasma activation for plastic surfaces that will help to eliminate impurities and improve the adhesion to both other materials as well as paints for a higher quality finish on recycled plastic materials.

ECOBULK Plasma Treatment for Plastics

Systems and Services

UPC, along with partners Exergy, ITENE, Granta and IRIS have been hard at work developing the digital systems support that will be necessary to enable the efficient circular flow of materials and products. Along with the required databases that will house the enormous amounts of data for the materials, their properties and their availability, they are also starting to design a decision support system that will help to make the most appropriate and efficient decisions at each stage of the circular chain. The system will first help in identifying the product or components, and then based on a reported failure mode can then propose possible actions such as repair, refurbishment or recycling by taking into account both economic and environmental costs of each action. 

Next Steps

During the next few months, the prototypes will be further refined and developed. They will go into production towards in 2019 so that they can be deployed to the demonstration sites by the end of next year. As the plans for the demonstrations become more concrete, we will be posting more information on what, where and how you will be able to experience the ECOBULK demo products.

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ECOBULK in Lahti, Finland

The Finnish Plastics Federation (FIPIF) and its Composites Group held their 2-day annual event to highlight modern composite applications in Lahti, Finland on the 22nd and 23rd of November 2018. The conference featured many talks and discussions that emphasized the need for the development of more circular options in FRP materials and applications, particularly in light of the expectations that the Glass and Carbon Fiber Reinforce Plastics will continue to grow at an accelerated pace.

Conenor, an ECOBULK materials partner who is currently developing new materials based on FRP waste was there to talk about the project and their new circular wood plastic composite extrusion materials that feature up to 35% FRP waste.  Both Conenor and TUDelft will be presenting their work on developing circular solutions specifically for decommissioned wind turbine blades, as well as highlighting the new Circular Design framework for bulky composite products, at the AMI Conference on Wind Turbine Blade Manufacture in December in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Decommissioned wind turbine blades crushed and integrated into circular plastic extrusion profiles
Core layer: Epoxy-glass fibre FRP-waste/recycled HDPE-plastic | Surface layer: waste wood / recycled HDPE-plastic

ECOBULK at Ecomondo

Earlier in November, we took opportunity to present the project, the circular design framework and some of the early prototypes at the Ecomondo Exhibition in Rimini, Italy. At the ISWA booth, representatives from partners Exergy, KEAS, Next Technology Tecnotessile, and Moretti Compact joined in.

ECOBULK is a design-led circular economy project. For us, this means that we believe that the best, time to integrate the many solutions and concepts required to make a product more circular is at the design stage. The Circular Design framework, developed by TUDelft, is a design philosophy, as well as set of tools and strategies, that help to redesign products in a way that will allow manufacturers to take advantage of circular opportunities for repairing, refurbishing, reusing and only as a final resort, recycling their products and materials. 

At Ecomondo, we presented for the first time our video that explains the project, its goals and practical demonstrations. After this introduction, each of our partners then talked about their own contributions to the project.

Moretti Compact displayed a new modular furniture concept using recycled wood particleboard and reusable hot glue binders. The modularity allows for easy reconfiguration of a single base unit into a chair, a desk, shelves or even a bed.

Huseyin Metin from KEAS Kastamonu talked about the development of a new particleboard that will include more than 20% of recycled wood, and significantly lower the formaldehyde emissions. The new materials are currently being tested for integration into the demonstration products.

Also on display were early samples of wood plastic composites from Conenor that include up to 35% of crushed wind turbine blade waste in a thermoplastic matrix that ensures almost endless recycling. These will be used to create sheds, benches and other light structures at the new motorsport center Kyimiring in Finland.

Daniele Spinneli from NTT displayed samples of some of their airlaid non-woven materials for application in the construction, automotive and furniture industries. Non-wovens tend to be lighter than traditional materials, which can make cars more than two kilograms lighter saving fuel and carbon emissions.

Dominik Jasinski, represnting Exergy – the coordinator of the project – talked about their ongoing efforts to develop a stakeholder platform. This platform will be essential to exchange the information necessary to enable circular options across lifecycle stages and different industries. It will also connect supply with demand in a circular marketplace that will allow manufacturers to explore new, more circular business models.

In December, the consortium will meet in Valencia at the office of our partner ITENE. There we will refine the use of the design framework to integrate the expert knowledge of all partners to redesign the demonstration products in the automotive, construction and furniture sectors.

To find out more, subscribe to our newsletter here below. The next issue will be out in mid-december and will report on the latest developments and results.

ECOBULK Project Video

With the project fast approaching the 18 month mark, we are now ready to start promoting the work that has been done to create a Circular Design framework for composite products and its initial application to the Automotive, Construction and Furniture sectors.

As a first step, we are launching our promotional video, which introduces the project and some of the new designs and concepts that will be tested during the demonstration phase.

We hope you enjoyed the show. If you wish to find out more about the project, contact us or subscribe to our newsletter below.

Newsletter 2 – ECOBULK does design

ECOBULK - first year's progress toward circular composite products

The ECOBULK consortium met for the 3rd time, this time hosted by partner TOMRA in Koblenz, Germany. During the visit, the partners also had a chance to see the inside of TOMRA’s innovation and testing centre, a report on which you can read here.

This occasion also marks 1 year of the ECOBULK project.  In that context, it was time for a more explicit consensus among the partners as to the ultimate goals. This resulted in a new vision statement which you can read here.

After a thorough investigation of the baseline scenario [download here], the pilot products to be redesigned and made more circular were selected. The project can now enter its design phase, and to present the process of incorporating circularity into products, MicroCab shared [see here] how they have been doing just that. To support the design research conducted by TUDelft, part of the meeting was dedicated to a design workshop which tested the new Circular Design Framework [read more]. 

Of course, circularity is not just about products, but also about processes. The work has begun on designing the information systems to support the level of data needed to be stored and exchanged during the prolonged life-cycle of the new circular products and materials. Open API architectures will enable relevant databases to implement micro-services that can be used to find and combine the correct data. However, the complexity of the decision tasks might be better suited to machine learning techniques – AI systems might be able recommend courses of action to maintain circularity quickly and effectively.

The next six months promise to be very busy for our partners, as they gear up to prepare for the demonstrations, the re-design of the pilot products and their manufacture. ECOBULK will also be holding more workshops and events towards the end of this year. To stay updated with the project follow our Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin profiles or, if you haven’t yet, subscribe to our mailing list.

The ECOBULK Vision

The ECOBULK Vision

“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean and make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Steve Jobs, Apple.


To be circular is to thrive within our planet’s natural boundaries.  This requires a shift from a ‘take-make-use-waste’ economy to a ‘make-use-save’ economy.  The move to a circular economy will require systems thinking, will deal with complex problems and challenge deep-rooted – perhaps unconscious – behaviours, though the end result might be simple.  ECOBULK is part of that move.  

Product design for a circular economy is a fundamental aspect of the ECOBULK project.  The project considers design strategies that maximise the future value of materials and avoids waste.  Within the detail, the ECOBULK project will keep to some clear principles:

Challenge every step: circular economy needs vision and fresh thinking.  Challenge and be transparent about the need for the decisions we are making and how they contribute to circularity.

Minimise ecological footprint: the materials and processes used must strive to limit negative environmental impacts, whilst still addressing social, technical and economic needs.  Environmental impact should be decreased through adapting the principles of the circular economy such as closing the resource use loop.

Keep the value: design for the hierarchy of durability, upgrading, adapting, repair, remanufacturing and parts harvesting.  Recycling and composting are the last resorts.

Life cycle thinking: ensure decisions consider both the first and successive product lifecycles, are based on sound science and use LCA and other accepted analytical bases.

Demonstrate by doing: use the process of demonstration to test and show new technologies, processes and designs for the circular economy.

Better information: information is essential for valuable re-use or recycling of products and materials, especially in the case of composite material products, where the material properties are tailored to product needs.  Information on material composition and product construction must be available for consumers, recovery activities and future generations who will harvest the value of materials we are using today.

Question the barriers: the fundamental shift to becoming circular may present us with seemingly insurmountable barriers.  Define them, explain them, test them and propose how to get around them.

Work together: a company should work with other entities who are trying to ‘go circular’.  Products are made of parts from the supply chain and all companies need to move towards a circular system.  It cannot be done alone. 

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Create business opportunities for all

Glossary of key terms:

Business model

An organisations chosen system of decisions and activities that determines how it creates, delivers and captures value over time. 

Circular economy

A circular economy entails decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resource and designing waste and pollution out of the system.  It aims to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life[1].  A circular economy should build economic and social capital and regenerate natural systems.   

Composite materials

A composite material is composed of at least two materials, which combine to give properties superior to those of the individual constituents.  They typically result in lighter, stronger, more durable solutions compared to traditional materials[2].  Composites are hybrid materials, the composition of which is determined by their components.  The most familiar man-made composites are a polymer matrix reinforced by fibres of glass, carbon or Kevlar.     


Process of controlled biological decomposition of biodegradable materials under managed conditions that are predominantly aerobic and that allow the development of thermophilic temperatures as a result of biologically produced heat[3]


Any operation which is not recovery (see below) – even where the operation has a secondary consequence or leads to the reclamation of substances or of energy6.  This includes disposal by incineration where the incineration plant does not meet the EUs R1 energy recovery status[4].


Measures taken before a substance, material or product has become waste that reduce the quantity of waste, the adverse impacts of the generated waste on environment and human health and the content of harmful substances in materials and products6.


Any operation, the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function in the plant or wider economy6.  This includes incineration facilities where the plant meets the EUs Recovery plant (R1) energy recovery status4


Any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes.  It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations6.


Returning a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than that of the newly manufactured product[5].


Return a faulty or broken product, component or material back to a usable state.  A repair may use remanufactured or reconditioned parts4.


Any operation by which products or components that are not waste are used again for the same purpose for which they were conceived6.

Systems thinking

A holistic approach to understanding how different parts of a system can influence one another and the relationship of the system to the parts over time[6]


Any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard[7].

Waste hierarchy

The priority order in waste prevention and management: prevention, reuse, recycling, recover, disposal6.



[1] Adopted from The Ellen Macarthur Foundation and the UKs Waste Resources Action Programme

[2] Taken from Composites UK

[3] Taken from PAS100-2011, Specification for composted materials.

[4] See EU guidance on R1 status

[5] Taken from BS 8887‑2:2009 Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing. Terms and definitions 

[6] Taken from BS 8001:2017, framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations- Guide

[7] Taken from the EU Waste Framework Directive

MicroCab Circular Automotive Design Philosophy

Circular Economy Aspects in the MicroCab Automotive Design Philosophy

At the recent consortium meeting in Koblenz, Germany, John Jostins, Managing Director at MicroCab and one of the ECOBULK partners, presented an overview of how MicroCab has integrated circular economy concepts into its own designs.

John and MicroCab have been working on new mobility and concept designs, focussing on lightweight fuel-cell driven solutions. Back in the 1990’s, John was prompted by poor air quality in his environment to start thinking about alternatives to the internal combustion engine. John’s experience in Motorsport had already prepared him to work on saving every possible gram on weight; which he combined with emerging fuel-cell technology in lightweight mobility concepts that MicroCab has been pioneering for the last 15 years.

Much of the current design and development work in the automotive industry seems to be focussed on increasing recyclability of the materials in the car. MicroCab, from early on, adopted a wider circular economy philosophy by focussing also on modularity. For example, they worked together with Lotus to develop a chassis design that could be used for multiple applications. The re-usability of the chassis spreads the costs over multiple product lines, but more importantly, allows for the possibility of switching out and upgrading every major component within the car. MicroCab estimates that from a structural perspective its current chassis design could be used for over 20 years – the challenge would be to maintain the inside of the car functional and up-to-date so that the vehicle remains useful and attractive.

To achieve such a long-lasting product life without the drawbacks of aging technologies (energy inefficiencies, usability limitations, etc) and styling, would truly open up the market for vehicles that could be provided as a service rather than a product.

The inside of the vehicle is also designed to fit in with the CE philosophy. Modularity is key, and every effort is made to ensure that assembly and disassembly is as simple as possible. By implementing IoT technologies and intelligent systems, the health and viability of all parts can be easily controlled and maintained. Beyond that, currently there are many options for the human-machine-interface (HMI) which allows people to control the car and its amenities; in the future, there will be many more. MicroCab anticipates the development of new interfaces and interaction concepts by maintaining an open-architecture interior design. Swappable components can be designed, using the latest technologies and interface concepts, that can be installed in the car as necessary, or desirable, during the lifespan of the vehicle.

John admits that circular enabled vehicles are more expensive to produce. But that can also be turned around – circular enabled vehicles are more valuable. The circular economy philosophy advocates maintaining the value within products and materials for as long as possible. Combining modularity and open-architecture offer opportunities to keep vehicles on the road for longer. It also opens the way to easier upgrades and refurbishments that can maintain the value of the car at a higher level for longer – instead of having to buy a new car to have a new more efficient engine, you can just replace the engine. MicroCab is currently exploring the Open Platform Architecture concept together with Mahle, the first results of which were on display at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show with the MEET (Mahle Energy Efficient Transport) project.

For more infromation on MicroCab and its activities, refer to their website – www.microcab.co.uk.

Circular Business Models

Business Models in the Circular Economy – Getting the circle spinning

Our economy has worked very well in its linear form. An annual material extraction rate of 84 billion tonnes – and growing, and little consequences of what happens with the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste produced – has led to global GDP growth. But what if humanity can no longer operate like this – because of the finite nature of resources, of the ecological consequence of our activities and of projected population growth – 9 billion by 2050. We still need jobs and a healthy economy, but clearly, we need to change. These are the drivers towards a circular economy, which includes an evaluation of new and existing business models that can support a circular flow of resources.

A circular economy is one in which resources are retained, rather than quickly being discarded as waste.  Resources should be retained at a ‘high value’, a requirement that stops resources being systematically down-graded and therefore replaced by virgin materials.  This is, fundamentally, the waste hierarchy – but in 2018 with the progression to circular economy thinking, we should really re-brand it the materials retention hierarchy (figure 1.)

The current business landscape (political, economic, social and technical factors) does not yet widely support models that encourage resource retention strategies –too much ends up as waste – a problem rather than a resource. Circular economy concepts can only develop if they make business sense. Some business models have become synonymous with the circular economy – rental, leasing and servitisation, for example, generate income for companies while they retain ownership of the product itself. Car sharing rather than car ownership, printing services rather than photocopiers, lighting services rather than light bulbs, etc. These models can lead to greater circularity – the economic benefits of product longevity, for example, become more significant to the product owner if the drive is to sell services, not products. Decisions about what to do at the end of life can be clearer when the product manufacturer or retailer still owns the product.

Second hand shops have been a mainstay of high streets for many years, but a culture of taking used products back is now becoming more widespread – there are examples of clothes, furniture, carpet tiles, mobile phones and many more. How to deal with returned products can vary depending on factors such as product and material value, ease of disassembly, levels of contamination and markets for components or recovered materials. Upstream, at the manufacturing end of the value chain, some businesses are already looking to increase use of secondary raw materials, minimise materials use, consider materials substitution and improve design for a circular economy.

Where circularity is a business objective, a business model may have to be changed or enhanced; possibly meaning different value propositions, partners, revenues streams, costs and investors etc. Transitioning to a circular economy will instigate change – there will be opportunities for new businesses to form, for new partnerships to develop, for new products, for using new technologies in efficient ways – and there will undoubtedly be winner and losers.

Business models themselves of course don’t necessarily lead to greater circularity – maybe old products are sold off before reaching end of life, leasing might encourage consumers to replace products more often than they otherwise would, the infrastructure or markets might not exist to recover value from a product, component or secondary material, whoever owns it. For this reason, ECOBULK includes economic and environmental assessments of the products and concepts developed. Business cases will be tested, and an analysis made as to whether the new business models support increased circularity or not.

ECOBULK will first describe how models currently support the linear patterns of the products we are looking at, and how they might be impacted by circularity. We will look at how changes in the design of the pilot products will change the business opportunities arising in a circular economy. The consortium has partners of very different business sizes operating in three different sectors. This variety will provide a wealth of information and opportunity to investigate the business cases and business model aspects of circular products.

Tour of TOMRA Innovation Center

Guided Tour of TOMRA Sorting Test Centre

The host for the third ECOBULK consortium meeting kindly invited the project partners to visit the automatic sorting test center at the company’s recycling hub in Mülheim-Kärlich, Germany.

TOMRA Recycling, with an installed base of nearly 6000 machines worldwide, is a market leader in the automated sensor based sorting industry. Originally a pioneer of reverse vending machines for empty bottles from Norway (‘tom’ means empty in Norwegian), TOMRA has continuously invested in innovation to create cutting-edge sensor-based solutions for optimal resource productivity. Throughout the last four decades it has managed to successfully maintain a philosophy of making its own products obsolete before their competition can.

At its testing centers (in Europe, Asia and North America), TOMRA experiments with customer provided materials and develops custom solutions that meet the specified requirements with their programmable sorting machines. These machines integrate state of the art detection techniques such as near infrared (NIR), x-ray transmission (XRT), visual spectrometers (VIS), colour line cameras, laser technology and metal sensors that can offer some of the highest recognition rates for a variety of bulky products and materials. The optical sensor sorters rely on scanning a continuous flow of materials on a conveyor belt, and activate tiny valves on a large valve block that use compressed air to blow out the recognized and selected materials into a separate flow. For example the so called Autosort machine can spot and separate particles (as small as 2mm using the flake sorter, and as large as 450mm on the belt machine) based on the types of plastic ( for example PE, PP, PS, PVC, PET, EPS, ABS), and color. With some of their newest customers and systems, TOMRA is developing its ability to provide solutions for separating glass shards from MSW, and sorting textiles for recycling. In their latest experiments for sorting textiles they have been able to separate not only buttons and zippers from the textiles, but also pick out cotton and polyester fibers, as well as different blends.

All this was explained to the visiting ECOBULK delegation by Oliver Lambertz and Lisa Höflechner, both from the business development department and TOMRA representatives for the project. The technologies developed by TOMRA and demonstrated during the tour are critical to the success of ECOBULK. The technology should allow the project to demonstrate that it is possible, and economically viable, to source the necessary recycling materials, at the required quality levels, to close the loop on plastic composite products.

On behalf of the ECOBULK partners we would like to offer many thanks to TOMRA for the very instructive and inspiring tour around their facility!

“Actions for circularity” workshops

“Actions for circularity” workshops

After a year of research into a circular design framework, the month 12 consortium meeting was used to put the new framework to the test. ECOBULK partners TUDelft and ITENE organized a set of workshops focused on each of the three industrial sectors – automotive, construction and furniture.

In the field of circular economy, the design focuses on keeping a product that has minimal impact on the environment and high economic value in circulation for as long as possible. This implies that the products should no longer have a cycle with a beginning, middle, and end. To achieve this, materials, product designs, business models, logistics and processes must all be adjusted and aligned to feed into each other minimizing waste and loss of economic value at each step.

The workshops were organized around the specific pilot products from the three targeted markets. These products were chosen as pilots during the baseline scenario development, so that during the project it is possible to measure and demonstrate an increase in circularity.

For each product, multi-disciplinary groups of experts applied a methodology designed to stimulate the design for recovery, the thinking of material value and subsequent product lifecycles. Each group consisted of both manufacturers and recyclers, and they discussed the different processes and what needs to be included in the design of the product from their own perspectives. Naturally, this led to conflicting design requirements or missing information, which was valuable information to capture so that it can be applied in closing the loop at a later stage.

Sector Reference Products
 Automotive Fascia Central Console
 Safety belt brackets
 Trim for central panel
 Central Console Cowlings
 Furniture Upholstered bed
 Building OSB structural panel
 Plywood structural panel
 Pillars outdoor
Figure 1: List of products discussed
The methodology consisted in 3 phases:Phase 1: The leader presents the product to rethink, indicating the current value chain of the product.Phase 2: Individual work by each work group member. Each person writes down ideas corresponding to each point of the circle considering 3 levels of Circular strategies: Energy recovery, materials recycling, and product level including remanufacturing, refurbishing, re-use and long use.Phase 3: Group work, where the team discuss collectively the individual contributions of phase 2, placing each idea on its appropriate category –actions & processes, challenges and design solutions-. This list of actions, challenges and potential solutions to improve the sustainability of each one of the products is, at the end, the intended outcome of the workshops.
Circular Strategies Framework

Figure 2: Template for Phase 2 and 3.

The significance of the workshops is no just related to the pilot products – the framework and design for circularity process itself needs testing and adjusting. At the moment there is no standardized methodology for circular design, and ECOBULK hopes to contribute to establishing such a standard. In particular, the new design framework will try to introduce a wider system thinking perspective into the early design phase of products. This should make it easier for designers and manufacturers to see the product within its specific context of production, life-extension and recovery. The design methodology will be used for the pilots to evaluate the various products and to establish the design interventions needed to make the recovery a success, and from that experience, more generalised lessons learnt can be applied to other similar industries and problems.

In the next few months, TUDelft and ITENE will analyse the results of the workshop, and with those they will be able to make further adjustments and refinements to improve the methodology. Please come back later for more information, we expect the full results to be published by the end of 2018.