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Adapting to the circular economy.

20 July 2017

The compressed air industry has had an excellent record of minimising energy consumption through design and servicing, but now it is time for a step change as the EU commission pushes industry towards resource efficiency and the circular economy.  Marion Beaver, Technical Officer at BCAS takes a look at what it means moving forwards.

Energy efficiency has been at the top of the compressed air industry agenda for several years now.  The past year has seen BCAS actively engaged with Pneurop about EU policy for compressed air and wider business issues common to the industrial sector.  

In air compressors, Pneurop Committee 2 formed a Joint Working Group (JWG) to address the Ecodesign of compressors – LOT 31.

Change is in the air

The emphasis is all set to change as far as the EU Commission is concerned. All Ecodesign and Energy labelling measures have slowed as it reconsiders whether this is the best approach. Instead there will be a greater focus on resource efficiency and not purely on energy efficiency.

This is seen with CEN and CENELEC having a JWG 10: ‘Energy-Related Products – Material Efficiency Aspects for Ecodesign’. This move, towards what is known as the circular economy, takes into account all the impacts of a product from cradle to grave; it recognises that the world’s resources are finite and the throwaway society is not sustainable in the long term.

It means that customers will be given far more information about the whole life cost and environmental impact of goods and services and there will be incentives to consider whole life ownership. The new procurement standard published in April this year; ISO 20400:2017 – 'Sustainable Procurement – Guidance' shows the increasing importance of purchasing as a key activity in improving productivity and sustainability.

This emphasis on whole life costing will affect compressed air systems far more than energy labelling, which to date has been the main focus of time and effort within Lot 31.  As with other industries, the compressed air sector will need to rethink its business model based on ever increasing sales and shift to extending the lifetime of equipment.

A recent communication from the Commission about the Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019 provides some interesting insight: “The possibility to repair, remanufacture or recycle a product and its components and materials depends in large part on the initial design of the product. It is therefore crucial that these aspects are taken into account when investigating possible Ecodesign implementing measures.”

It goes onto to explore the possibility of introducing product specific requirements for factors such as durability, repairability, upgradeability, design for disassembly, ease of reuse and recycling and the list goes on. Clearly the focus is on addressing every aspect of a product’s life cycle.

This shows that future innovations in terms of research and development might be better directed to designs that allow simpler servicing, disassembling, repurposing parts and minimising waste during disposal. It will also place greater importance on the availability and economic feasibility of spare parts and make it easier for machines to be upgraded as technology advances, instead of the current tendency for wholesale disposal.

We are entering a period of significant change within industry, one that recognises the importance of our environment. BCAS members have always been at the forefront of this technology for the design, installation and ongoing service of compressed air systems, so I have every confidence that they will lead the way in this period of change.

As a member of Orgalime, the Engineering Industries Association and Pneurop, BCAS provides a voice and has an input into these changes in EU Directives.  The Society is also a source of information and advice to help its members comply and be competitive.