Industrial symbiosis can close the loop!
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam- The world is one family. This Vedantic thought has ensured holistic development of civilizations. And therefore, resulted in a harmonious co-existence of mankind over several centuries in the Indian subcontinent. There is much to learn from it for thriving even in the industrialized world where resource exploitation for leading a comfortable life has become a straightforward concept. Actions of every individual and every industry can sustain or torment life on earth. It’s time that our industries come together and adapt to a symbiotic relationship with the aim of improving cross industry resource efficiency through the commercial trading of materials, energy, water, logistics and expertise. Such symbiotic exchanges will yield a collective benefit greater than the sum of individual benefits alone and ensure a booming circular economy.
Precise technical term for symbiotic relationship of industries is “Industrial Ecology”. It conceptualizes industry as a man-made ecosystem that operates in a similar way to natural ecosystems, where the waste or by-product of one process is used as an input into another process. Industrial ecology interacts with natural ecosystems and attempts to move from a linear to cyclical or closed loop system. Like natural ecosystems, industrial ecology is in a continual state of flux. Industrial ecology is the science of material and energy flows, where waste within industrial cycles serves as a raw material for a subsequent process. Production processes are designed in such a way that they resemble ecological processes. Industrial ecology has been implemented successfully at few locations across India already but needs to be propelled into mainstream concepts to reap the environmental benefits.
As an illustration of an industrial ecology initiative in India, let’s analyse a case of a zero-discharge paper mill from Tamil Nadu. To cope with the resource crunch, the paper mill decided to diversify its raw material source and integrate waste bagasse from the sugar mill. They went a step further and established a sugar cultivation operation and a sugar mill to strengthen the core business. The industries coordinated with local farmers to cultivate sugarcane and eucalyptus such that the farmers can get assured profits for their produce and the paper and sugar mills can get the feedstock. The paper and sugar mills also shared the infrastructure like the boilers and effluent treatment facilities. In this case, the supply chains between the community stakeholders are convoluted. The farmers supply the sugarcane required for the sugar production and eucalyptus for paper production. The residues after the harvest are also taken up by the industries as combustible fuel for boilers. The sugar mill generates bagasse and molasse as waste. The bagasse is taken by the paper mill as a resource and molasse is used to manufacture ethanol as fuel to run the operations. Finally, both the sugar and paper mill treat their effluent in a shared facility and clean water is used for irrigation to grow sugarcane and eucalyptus round the year. This system has enabled economic equity and ensured sustainable development of all the community stakeholders.
The industrial ecology model like the one mentioned above resembles the socialism model but it can only be driven by sustainable profits for each stakeholder. It needs to be ensured while creating industrial ecosystems that each stakeholder in the loop have access to desired resources, equitable share in profits and is not left forsaken to deal with his own waste. The model relies on the accurate process data of each stakeholder in the loop and can result in a debacle if the data used for design of the ecosystem is erroneous. A waste audit that considers the material and energy balance across the entire operation must be conducted by every industry desirous of entering a symbiotic relationship with other stakeholders. If the waste data is established aptly, the industrial symbiosis pathway can lead to infinite possibilities.
Industries must adopt a 3I approach of Identify-Investigate-Invest to form symbiotic relationships. Identify the waste stream from every process such that a marketable product can be manufactured from it or the waste stream can act as a feedstock for alternative processes thereby adding value to the overall ecosystem. Investigate the variability in the physicochemical properties of the generated waste and the seasonal variance if any. Invest in symbiotic relationship such that there will be an optimum utilization of the resources and maximum revenue generation. If Waste is a failure of our Imagination, then it's time, we take reasonable responsibility for our failure and act in union. Because, alone we can do little, but together we can do so much!
Dr. Saurabh C Patankar &
Mr. Kunal K Godambe
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