The Transition from a Linear to Circular Economy: An Innovation System Analysis of the Composites Industry
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In the contemporary ‘take-make-dispose’ economy, significant amounts and types of resources are not recycled or re-used in industrial production processes. This is also the case in the composites industry, which is experiencing a worldwide economic boom due to increased usage of composite materials in wind-energy, maritime and automotive applications. Although much has been written about the benefits of an economic system that circulates materials in closed-loops (i.e. Circular Economy), very little is known about the driving and blocking factors that determine the development process from a linear towards a circular production model. The latest insights from innovation studies propose that such sustainable industrial transformations are influenced by how the surrounding system – the Technological Innovation System (TIS) – is structured and functions. In this thesis, a TIS-approach is used to study the Innovation System around the recycling and/or-re-use of composites in the period 2015-2016. Consequently it is one of the first times TIS-research goes beyond the diffusion of technological innovations to study the development process of a sustainable industrial transformation. Through a case study several obstacles for the development of a circular production model are identified: deficient policies at the system level that are poorly aligned with (inter)national CE ambitions; limited market demand for composite recyclate due to costs and quality restrictions of various recycling technologies; and the unavailability of financial resources to develop the physical infrastructure that is necessary to carry out activities related to recycling and/or re-use technologies. Overcoming the barriers that hinder further development of a circular production model is not an easy task, but policymakers may address the identified obstacles by the deployment of policy instruments that address the outlined systemic challenges.