Industrial Ecology and Symbiosis – Importance, Mechanism and Challenges

The expansion of economic activity in recent decades has been accompanied by growing environmental concerns on a global level. These include climate change, energy security and increasing resource scarcity.

Since Manufacturing industries account for a significant part of the world’s consumption of resources and energy, and generation of waste, the need for sustainable manufacturing and eco-industry has sprung in order to shift the track of economic growth into a green one. Manufacturing industries have the potential to become a driving force for realizing a sustainable society by introducing efficient production practices and developing products and services that help reduce negative impacts on the environment. This, however, requires the adoption of business approaches that place high emphasis on environmental and social aspects as well as economic concerns.

Such practices include the establishment of industrial ecosystems that aim to reduce pollution and waste, use energy efficiently, reach sustainable development as well as economic gain and improve environmental quality. This is achieved through the exchange of water and energy, and the supply of treated byproducts of one industry that form either raw materials or an energy source for another at a low cost.
Kalundborg Symbiosis is the best example of industrial ecosystems, it is an eco-industrial park that lies 120 km west of Copenhagen in Denmark. This industrial ecosystem started out as a single power station and evolved over time to form an industrial group of companies that rely on each to operate.
The main members of this eco-industrial park are:
• Asnaes, a coal-fired power station that generates electricity.
• Statoil’s oil refinery.
• Novo Nordisk’s pharmaceuticals plant and Novozymes, an enzyme plant.
• Gyproc, Scandinavia’s largest plasterboard manufacturer.
• The municipality of Kalundborg, which distributes water, electricity and district heating to around 20,000 people.
• Kara Novoren, a waste treatment company.
The symbiosis has grown over the years to include partners from other districts, as well as farmers.
The excess heat generated by the power station is used to supply homes with heat, and the steam generated by the power plant is supplied to Novo Nordisk’s and statoil’s factories for their operation, one of the power plant’s byproducts contains gypsum, which is sold to Gyproc to produce wall boards, the fly ash and clinker produced by the power plant is also sold to a cement manufacturer to be used in road building and cement production.
The surplus gas from statoil’s refinery is supplied to the Gyproc and the power plant as a low cost energy source. After the treatment of Novo Nordisk’s byproducts, the resulting residue is rich in nutrients, which is then utilized by farmers as a fertilizer. Statoil delivers cooling water to Asnaes which is used as boiler feed water.

The establishment of such sustainable development has resulted in great improvements such as pollution avoidance as well as pollution treatment both exhibited in the supply of excess heat, treatment of byproducts to be used as raw materials for other factories and the reuse of waste water. These improvements include, but are not limited to, reducing the annual CO2 emission by 240.000 tons, saving 3 million cubic meters of water through recycling and reuse, and recycling 150.000 tons of gypsum to replace imports of natural gypsum.
This being said, we can clearly achieve sustainable economic green growth, by preventing environmental degradation and enhancing the quality of life through the use of innovative frameworks and employment of energy efficient business plans that take into account the environmental impact of industries.

The establishment of industrial ecosystems, however, can face some challenges. Such as the absence of cooperation among businesses to benefit from one another, the absence of best available technologies due to the lack of finances, long payback time and access to knowledge. The absence of incentives to increase resource efficiency, and at times, the cost of extracting raw materials from their natural resources is less than the cost of treating byproducts to produce these materials. These challenges can be overcome by creating an information network that bridges gaps between firms and matches waste streams to the right resource demand, setting incentives for industrial ecosystems and incorporating available resources into the process of product design.

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