Knipex, an international pliers manufacturer, demonstrated some of the challenges related to transitioning to a circular economy. Knipex' metal pliers have plastic handles, which, for safety and durability reasons, need to be attached to the pliers as long and as tightly as possible. How these pliers and handles can be kept in circulation, nonetheless, was one of the conversation topics during the visit.
The international guests also learned how Knipex implements its sustainability strategy. Energy efficiency and resource efficiency are systematically increased through a wide range of organizational measures and investments. Self-generated solar power supplies, among other things, the company's own 13 electric vehicle charging points. Moreover, Knipex is a pilot partner for the first wind turbine designed to generate electricity from gusty winds. In cooperation with Circular Valley® startup Plastic Fischer, Knipex helps to remove plastics from rivers, and it runs an extensive project to increase biodiversity on its eight-hectare company site.
The visit to the waste-to-energy plant operated by Abfallwirtschaftsgesellschaft Wuppertal (AWG) focused on the last point of the value chain, which can, however, also be seen as the first. At first, a waste-to-energy-plant may sound like the opposite of a circular economy. But the thermal treatment of waste is very much a part of it, as the startups learned. For instance, in addition to electricity and district heating, AWG also produces hydrogen, which enables public buses in Wuppertal to travel with virtually zero emissions. Thanks to the district heating supply from the plant, a Wuppertal coal-fired power plant was phased-out in 2018. The environment is thus spared several 100,000 tons of CO2 every year.
As the excursion showed, AWG also takes care of what remains after the thermal treatment of the waste - the slag. Slag is a valuable residue, as it contains up to ten percent secondary raw materials such as iron, copper and aluminum. Every year, around 12,000 tons of metals are extracted from the slag and re-introduced into the various value chains. This way, AWG conserves primary resources, energy consumption and the climate.
One of the trips took the participants of the fourth batch to a company that had participated in the third batch of the accelerator program: Carboliq in Ennigerloh. In Ennigerloh, Caboliq's recycling plant liquefies solid hydrocarbons. Since the group of startups visiting the site included experts in plastic recycling, great discussions at eye-level with Carboliq Managing Director Christian Haupts took place. This provided new ideas and perspectives for both sides.
The second topic discussed during the visit: the issue of raw materials. In a way, waste is Carboliq's raw material because it is turned back into recyclables that others can then use as the basis for their products. This is one important contribution to a circular economy, not only because demand for plastics will continue to grow, but also because 50 percent of all polymer waste is currently incinerated. Consequently, this field trip also highlighted the importance of collecting as purely as possible.
The great importance of greening the environment, which was also a topic at Lhosit and Knipex, was explored in great depth by the Circular Valley® startups at Leonhards. Among other things, the family-owned company specializes in facade and roof greening. In Düsseldorf, it planted eight kilometers of hornbeam hedges on the step-like facade of the so-called Kö-Bogen II. The benefit of this: the facade would otherwise heat up to 70 degrees Celsius when exposed to sunlight, however, the hedge prevents this by acting as a heat buffer for the urban climate.
Since water treatment is one of the main topics in the current batch, the startups also discussed irrigation-related matters with the representatives of Leonhards.
And so another circle was closed during the excursions.