The role of industrial actors in the circular economy for critical raw materials: A framework with case studies across a range of industries

Alexander Cimprich, Steven Young, Dieuwertje Schrijvers, Anthony Ku, Christian Hagelüken, Patrice Christmann, Roderick Eggert, Komal Habib, Atsufumi Hirohata, Alan Hurd, Min-Ha Lee, David Peck, Evi Petavratzi, Luis Tercero Espinoza, Patrick Wäger, Alessandra Hool

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In this article, we explore concrete examples of circularity strategies for critical raw materials (CRMs) in commercial settings. We propose a company-level framework for systematically evaluating circularity strategies (e.g., materials recycling, product reuse, and product or component lifetime extension) in specific applications of CRMs from the perspectives of specific industrial actors. This framework is applied in qualitative analyses – informed by relevant literature and expert consultation – of five case studies across a range of industries: (1) rhenium in high-pressure turbine components, (2) platinum group metals in industrial catalysts for chemical processing and oil refining, (3) rare-earth permanent magnets in computer hard disk drives, (4) various CRMs in consumer electronics, and (5) helium in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Drawing from these case studies, three broader observations can be made about company circularity strategies for CRMs. Firstly, there are multiple, partly competing motivations that influence the adoption of circularity strategies, including cost savings, supply security, and external stakeholder pressure. Secondly, business models and value-chain structure play a major role in the implementation of circularity strategies; business-to-business models appear to be more conducive to circularity than business-to-consumer models. Finally, it is important to distinguish between closed-loop circularity, in which material flows are contained within the “focal” actor’s system boundary, and open-loop circularity, in which material flows cross the system boundary, as the latter has limited potential for mitigating materials criticality from the perspective of the focal actor.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMineral Economics
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022

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