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The challenge

Moving from a linear to a circular economy

The idea of a 'circular economy' reimagines the linear model where we make products from extracted materials, use the products and then throw them out — the 'take-make-waste' model.

In a circular economy, materials and products are instead reused, remade and recycled. These processes keep the molecules in use for longer, reducing waste, pollution and energy consumption, and moving us away from a reliance on resource extraction.

CSIRO's research considers circular economy principles in resource and environmental management, manufacturing, supply chain security, behavioural science, energy and more. New technologies and pathways are needed to achieve our goals at a greater scale, and we are leading the way with programs to convert biomass to energy and recycle energy storage products, to name a few.

Our response

Energy in the circular economy

Energy is a key component of a circular economy. Energy is embodied in waste streams that are currently sent to landfill, for example, like the by-products of agriculture, food and forestry industries. CSIRO is investigating the chemical properties and quality of various feedstocks for use in different bioenergy technologies.

In the production of fuel for power, transport and industrial applications, energy has traditionally been generated in a linear process. But, as more and more renewables and energy storage options are included in the electricity grid, we can start developing new ways of producing clean hydrogen to support the energy transition without burning coal and gas.

Solar and battery technologies come with their own challenges — materials for their manufacture need to come from somewhere. That's why CSIRO research is supporting lithium-ion battery reuse and recycling, with new processes for recovering metals and materials, and developing new battery materials.

Energy in the circular economy case studies

  • Developing our sustainable bioenergy capabilities to decarbonise the energy sector and reduce landfill.

  • A challenge facing the growth of renewable electricity generation from solar and wind is dispatchability, the ability to generate energy on demand. Direct injection carbon engines can provide dispatchable power via an energy cycle called bioDICE when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

  • How can we best address Australia's annual 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste?

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