Open Innovation and Sustainability in the industry

The concept of 'sustainable development' is widely known, the infamous image of the three converging circles with the words 'social', 'economic', and 'environmental' comes pretty quickly to mind, doesn't it? Even though these three aspects are the pillars, the actual concept is more profound, almost like philosophy or way of life that companies have the responsibility to apply in their processes.  As a matter of fact, finding this balance between the three pillars is not easy. However, society demands that industrial, mining, and construction operations respect and protect the environment while generating benefit, improving the country's economy and respecting every member of society.  Other trends like Circular Economy support sustainable development, as seen in these success cases.   Recent technological development has been key to overcome these barriers. For instance, the birth, development, cost reduction, and expansion of renewable energies help to reduce CO2, the development of industrial electric vehicle enables the reduction of diesel consumption, task automation improves the safety and conditions for workers, etc.  However, technology also has its limitations. Sometimes technological development could not solve tech complexities or lacks the required maturity for the cost to allow immediate implementation. For these reasons, big companies are embracing more modern and agile methodologies such as open innovation to overcome these barriers. Here are 5 sustainability cases successfully solved by using open innovation methods:

Safety and Productivity in the Paper and Forestry Industry

No worker should lift heavyweights in an industrial plant. More specifically, in many countries, the weight a worker can lift is limited to 25 kg since it is both exhausting and harmful.  For this reason, Forsac, a subsidiary of Empresas CMPC, one of the biggest companies of the paper and forestry sector in Chile, decided to look for a cost-efficient solution to help workers handling heavy cardboard tubes (up to 50 kg).  The operations went as follows: the tubes were picked up at the end of the manufacturing line, manually placed vertically or horizontally on a pallet and secured with duct tape before. Then they were taken to the drying section. The new required system had to give a solution to the bottleneck that was the drying of the tubes. Finally, ennomotive managed this open innovation challenge and found a solution that improved safety and productivity at a very low investment. The winner was Maksym Gaievskyi, a Ukranian mechanical engineer.

Repurposing Waste from Mining

The hydrometallurgical mining processes generate a type of waste called tailings, mainly left unused in landfills, which has a serious environmental impact. A leading company in raw materials extraction, storage and manufacturing of by-products wanted to reduce this impact by repurposing the tailings.  To that end, in August 2018, this company launched, together with ennomotive, a challenge to find applications for these materials. The composition was mainly silica and smaller amounts of titanium oxide, calcium oxide, magnesium oxide, aluminum oxide, among others.  This was no easy task due to the low metal concentration and the lack of heat value, a true challenge from the economic perspective. The idea was to repurpose the granulometry as much as possible.  However, this challenge managed to spike the participation rate with over 70 participants. Some proposed applications were brand new and others were already well-known. Finally, 2 potential opportunities have been identified for the construction and energy industries: one is a prototype and the other one is already in the market.

Clean Energy Efficiency and Protection of the Natural River Course

Run-of-river hydropower plants need a small reservoir to control the upstream flow. In these reservoirs, especially in areas with a high concentration of sand and clay, sediments accumulate, reducing the regulation volume. This phenomenon has a direct impact on the ability to generate variable-source renewable energy and its management is not simple, from an environmental point of view.  A leading hydropower generation company in South America had a reservoir with this problem. During the summer season, sediments took up to 60% of the total volume. Besides, the cleaning solutions that involved dredging were costly and did not solve the problem forever.  For this reason, new alternatives to reduce the sediment accumulation in the reservoirs were sought for, this time through an innovation contest launched in September 2018. The goal was to find or develop new processes or technologies that kept at least 70% of the volume throughout the year. In addition, the solutions had to be respectful with the natural conditions of the river course regarding flows and sediment concentration.  With more than 80 participants from all around the world, three finalists were selected. The final winner was the Argentinian engineer Leonardo Guzmán, whose solution adapts a technology already used in similar de-sanding processes in other industries.

Water Efficiency in the Steel Industry

Water is used as a cooling liquid in the steel manufacturing sector. For the last few decades, after an increase in environmental awareness, industrial processes evolve towards a more environmentally friendly production, sometimes related to water consumption.  In August 2016, a steel products manufacturer and supplier contacted ennomotive to improve the efficiency of water consumption in one of its factories in South America. The challenge was to maximize the amount of recovered water in the cooling towers and reduce the required amount of water, especially during the summer and the river drought.  After 4 months, 3 solutions were developed by engineers from Spain, Italy, and Egypt. The best solution was able to recover up to 4,5 m3/h of lost water.

Energy Efficiency in the Industrial Sector

The soda ash production process has high water and energy consumption. CIECH, a leading company in the sector, wants its process to be as sustainable as possible by recovering heat/energy from the resulting waste.  In fact, per each ton of soda ash, 8 m3 of liquid mud is produced after distillation, which amounts to a 800 m3/h flow. The temperature of the flow generally varies from 100 to 115 ºC.  Furthermore, heat exchange standard technologies were not suitable because part of the inorganic salts in the solution would precipitate upon cooling. This is why CIECH needs an innovative solution to capture the energy lost in the waste and become more energy efficient.  The recovered energy is intended to generate electricity, feed a cooling system and/or be repurposed in the soda ash production process. This challenge is currently in Round 1 and has over 150 participants from all over the world competing for 20,000 EUR in prizes.    If your company wants to push forward sustainable development but there are some challenges, contact us and we can help you combine open innovation and sustainability.