Industry 4.0 could be a key player in mitigating climate change

Industry emissions account for 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. But, production processes are currently undergoing massive shifts due to digitalisation efforts, known as Industry 4.0 or IIOT (“Industrial Internet of Things”).

Journalist Christoph Behrens from Süddeutsche Zeitung met with the authors of our newest publication, Climate Innovation Insights, to discuss this topic on a panel at Productronica, the world’s biggest trade fair for electronics manufacturing.  

A commentary by Maria Loloni, Sustainable Production Systems Expert at EIT Climate-KIC.  

Industry 4.0 and climate change are an unusual pair, but they have obvious things in common: They’re systemic, they’re complex, and they’ll disrupt how we as a society conceive of value creation.  

While climate change will force us to think more and more about the ecological footprint of a product—to make sure that we produce and consume within environmental boundaries—IIOT, and the rise of interconnected AI-based machinery, will drastically change how we value (and interact with) human labour. The global competitive landscape is steadily shifting towards digitalisation of all activities and using big data analytics to raise cost efficiency, quality, and production speed.  

rsz_machinery

But there’s a different potential of IIOT: Its contribution to establishing a circular economy and a greener industry. “Smart manufacturing” allows the gathering of data along the lifecycle of a material, understanding the material input, and considering the end-of-life of a material, instead of putting it to landfill,” says Sira Saccani, Director Sustainable Production Systems at Climate-KIC.  

This can help establish production processes with zero per cent of extracted raw material, net-zero emissions, and 100 per cent recycling. This is necessary to keep products, materials, and components at a high level of a value, and multiple lifecycles—the foundation of a circular economy. She adds: “There will be a need for new product concepts where materials are available for high-quality recycling across different industries. Product designers are at the moment not trained to create this kind of product.”  

As Industry 4.0 technologies are being implemented worldwide, we gradually build a virtual image of all production processes and entire supply chains. If there’s an open access channel for this data, skilled product designers will be able to tap into this information, giving them the possibility to integrate secondary materials from all different industries into their design process. That would be a whole new way of value creation.  

Workplace with notebook on black background

DATA, DATA, DATA for climate innovation

As we have worked in a linear way for over 150 years, there are almost no interconnected value chains in the production industries at the moment—besides sales. It might take decades until IIOT technologies reach their full potential and provide circularity in the production industries.  

But there are visionaries working on this in beacon projects right now. One of them is David Tronchoni, Founder of Edinn, an Industry 4.0 platform based in Spain that delivers real-time information on losses in production processes: Material and energy consumption, quality, and speed issues as well as human failure. “When these losses are addressed, CO2 emissions can be lowered significantly”, says Tronchoni.   

Key tools like this could become the new foundation of a circular production model.  “To know exactly what and how much material is needed for every process enables the exchange of material between local and connected companies. The technology behind this is powerful and at the same time easy,” says Tronchoni.   

rsz_circuit-circuit-board-resistor-computer-163100

A new era for electronics production  

“There are certain industries that will be forced to use IIOT for circularity earlier than others. The electronics industry is one of them. Its need for rare earths and emission-heavy metals will not be manageable by additional extraction soon. Especially in Europe, where we basically almost can’t mine raw materials needed for industrial activities,” says Prof. Dr. Alessandra Bonoli, a circular economy expert from the University of Bologna.  

“The only mining option is the so-called urban mining, meaning, the recycling of electronic equipment in order to extract and recycle it as a secondary raw material,” he adds.   

A highly efficient waste-management system in the electronics sector might become mandatory, to stop practices like shipping electronics waste to third world countries for down-cycling. These environmental issues have to be addressed on a factory level.  

rsz_europe

A chance for Europe

“The circular model is now mandatory. We have to move towards a low-carbon future,” says Bonoli. In that, there’s a big chance for the EU in promoting IIOT for climate innovation and circularity. In my opinion, Europe could showcase that it’s able to have an economy that works in a regenerative way, showing new ways of collaborating, and using open-source to create social value. Therefore, let’s have a mind shift and make this transformation a reality.  

 

Feel inspired? Check out these nine case studies on Industry 4.0-based circularity: Climate Innovation Insights  

 
Location
Related Goal
Goal 8: Reduce industry emissions
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change

Starting today, the seventh edition of the global green...

Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change
In The News
Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution

Ensuring that fresh water is available, in a sustainable...

Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution
In The News
Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation

The European Commission released the new EU Climate Adaptation...

Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change

EIT Climate-KIC welcomes the new EU strategy on adaptation...

EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change
In The News
Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities

A labyrinth of cobblestone streets, dimly lit and presided...

Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities
In The News
Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neig...

EIT Climate-KIC is working with the city of Leuven...

Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neighbourhood
In The News
Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience

Start Park, a project led by citizens from Florence,...

Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience
In The News
New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners

Following its Open Call, the New Accelerator programme has...

New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners
In The News
New videogame builds climate awareness among players

Change Game, a videogame financed by EIT Climate-KIC and...

New videogame builds climate awareness among players
In The News
Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations

Carlota Mateos and Juan Vila, co-founders of PlenEat have...

Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations
In The News
Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio

EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks, a carbon capture technology, is...

Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio
In The News
Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs

The peer-to-peer learning platform for governments, Apolitical, included EIT...

Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs
In The News
New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture

Supported by EIT Climate-KIC and developed by its partner...

New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

EIT Climate-KIC will be taking part in the Climate...

EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021
In The News
Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards ...

A total of 140 teams of citizen finalists applied...

Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards 2020
In The News
Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation

Joe Biden will be sworn in today as 46th...

Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition

It is no secret that to tackle climate change...

EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition
In The News
New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction

This week marks the launch of NoMuWood.com, an EIT...

New platform inspires sustainable Nordic wood construction
In The News
European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action

On Wednesday 16 December, the European Commission is launching...

European Union launches Pact to support citizen-led climate action
In The News
“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melissa Capcha. Five years on...

“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of Paris
In The News
“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Gopal Kumar Mohoto. Five years...

“Let’s find ways to take action within our abilities”
In The News
“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz. Five years...

“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”
In The News
COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Kit England. Five years on...

COP26 gives Scotland “a platform to showcase… what’s possible”
In The News
COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Melani Furlan. Five years on...

COP26 might be postponed but “climate action cannot wait”
In The News
A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas

The SaferPlaces project, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has created...

A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas
In The News
Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region

The Glasgow City Region uses arts as a means...

Raising climate awareness through art in the Glasgow City Region
In The News
Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition

EIT Climate-KIC, EIT RawMaterials, EIT Digital, EIT Food, EIT...

Helping Europe achieve a circular economy transition
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy

The World Circular Economy Forum brings together business leaders,...

EIT Climate-KIC and EASME host WCEF event on circular economy
In The News
Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery

Over 4,500 citizens from around the world will join...

Citizens across globe eager to contribute to a post-COVID recovery
In The News
Transformative climate action and COP26: Join our webinar

Are you working to deliver transformative change for a...

Transformative climate action and COP26: Join our webinar