Advancing the U.S. toward a circular economy is a complex puzzle, but one that the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership established by the Energy Department, was built to solve. On April 28, the institute announced its fifth request for proposals, representing a $45 million investment in the research, development, and demonstration of technologies to sustain American manufacturing and accelerate the U.S.’s transition to a circular economy.
“[REMADE’s] goal is to ensure we’re providing viable technology solutions that can make a difference for our industry, instead of a research project that sits on the shelf somewhere,” says Nabil Nasr, REMADE’s founding CEO. Founded in 2017, REMADE (Reducing EMbodied-Energy And Decreasing Emissions) assembles representatives from across the supply chain—manufacturers, recyclers, trade associations, academia, and national laboratories—to create projects that increase jobs, reduce embodied energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase the supply and use of recycled materials. A technological solution that doesn’t involve input from those directly affected by the issue is less effective than a solution where all interested parties bring their experience, opinions, and expertise to the table, Nasr notes.
For its fifth RFP, REMADE seeks proposals for industry-led, large-scale transformational projects that address issues across the materials supply chain. Projects can focus on recycling and recovery of plastics, metals, fibers, and electronics, or address the recovery and remanufacturing of durable goods and components. “Transformational projects seek to solve a large-scale problem that includes the entire value chain,” Nasr says. “While traditional projects seek to address a specific problem that is clearly identified.”
REMADE is also looking for traditional projects to complement its existing portfolio. These proposals can focus on creating logistics models to improve materials recovery and recycling; increasing the circularity of metal alloys, identifying automation solutions to improve recycling economics; creating design tools for remanufacturing and recovery; using recycled and cross-industry materials in manufacturing, introducing condition assessment and process technologies in remanufacturing; and projects targeting materials with low recycling rates like No. 3-7 plastics.
REMADE encourages its member companies to come forward with ideas regarding industry-wide problems. If the company does not have the technology to address a problem, REMADE would step in to assist. “We would help get the right people involved in the project that could work with the company on the technology,” Nasr explains. The institute hosts events where members can meet with representatives from universities, national labs, and other organizations to discuss different areas of the industry. “We also bring in organizations to share their technology with members,” Nasr says. “Afterwards, we give people the opportunity to reach out to these organizations” for follow-up conversations that will hopefully lead to project teams.
Though industry members may not provide the technological solutions themselves, they’re a vital piece of the puzzle, as they bring industry expertise and experience to the table. Nasr notes how Adam Shine, vice president of Sunnking, has played an impactful role in several REMADE projects. “[Shine has] participated in a lot of the discussions, learning about opportunities to connect to organizations that can provide solutions, and participating in projects. Though they’re not developing the technology, Shine is helping guide the development and identifying what would be useful for Sunnking,” Nasr says.
REMADE has allocated $1 million for education and workforce development. These projects must develop short courses to educate, train, and develop incumbent workers in reuse, remanufacturing, recovery, and recycling. Workforce development is “one of the exciting areas of development for the Institute,” Nasr says. REMADE installed a new learning-management system for its members to easily log in and take any courses that interest them. REMADE also has certification programs, webinars, and training activities. Just as it encourages members to propose project ideas, REMADE also looks for feedback on workforce and education programs. “If people from the industry feel there’s a need for certain areas or think of an area that isn’t well covered, we’d love to hear about them,” Nasr says.
REMADE’s effort to reduce carbon emissions aligns with the focus of the Biden administration. On April 22, President Joe Biden announced a new target for the U.S. to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels on economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. To solve the problem you have to address it at its roots—changing the manufacturing industry itself. “If you look at the national goals related to the Paris Agreement or other similar climate change agreements, there’s no way you can reach those goals without addressing industrial development,” Nasr says. Renewable energy can only do so much on its own. According to Nasr, renewable energy can address about 55% of the problem. The other 45% comes from sources like industrial development. The recycling industry is a predominant piece of the puzzle. “The recycling industry has a huge impact not just on climate change but also on reducing reliance on raw materials and virgin materials,” Nasr says.
ISRI has been involved with REMADE since its inception and is a partner in one of the projects from the institute’s fourth round of funding. “ISRI is a wonderful organization with terrific members,” Nasr says. “We look forward to building more collaborations with ISRI and providing more value to members.”