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N. J Bartie, A. A Llamas, M. Heibeck, M. Fröhling, O. Volkova, and M. A Reuter (2020)

The simulation-based analysis of the resource efficiency of the circular economy–the enabling role of metallurgical infrastructure

Mineral Processing and Extractive Metallurgy: Transactions of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, 129:229-249.

Process metallurgy is a key enabler and the heart of the Circular Economy (CE). This paper shows the state-of-the-art approach to understanding the resource efficiency of very large-scale CE systems. Process simulation permits system-wide exergy analysis also linked to environmental footprinting. It is shown that digital twins of large CE systems can be created and their resource efficiencies quantified. This approach provides the basis for detailed estimation of financial expenditures as well as high-impact CE system innovation. The cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic technology life cycle, which brings several metal infrastructures into play, is studied. The results show that considerable work remains to optimise the CdTe system. Low exergy efficiencies resulting specifically from energy-intensive processes highlight areas with the greatest renewables-based improvement potential. This detail sheds light on the true performance of the CE and the inconvenient truth that it cannot be fully realised but only driven to its thermodynamic limits.

Circular economy, digital twin, exergy, life cycle assessment, metallurgy, photovoltaics, resource efficiency, sustainability

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