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Location: Home > Research Areas > Pollution Ecology and Environmental Management
Circular Economy and Industrial Ecology

Regional circular economy development. Regional economic development in China needs to adopt an integrated resource management model to improve overall eco-efficiency and reduce emissions. This reflects three major challenges facing China today, including shortage of resources, environmental pollution and coping with climate change. An integrated resource management model can help identify key opportunities for industrial symbiosis and quantify the potential effects of various resource and environmental management policies so that appropriate decisions can be made to promote sustainable regional economic development.

Our research group proposed an integrated regional circular economy model that can be applied to explore the complex interrelationships of different economic sectors to water, energy and resource consumption. Such a model can identify key factors that may impede the sustainable development of regional circular economy and was applied in both Shenyang and Dalian. This system can simulate the quantitative effects of different economic policies.

We also explored the roles of different companies within a particular industrial complex, clarified how industrial diversity can enhance sustainable development and analyzed the benefits of improving recycling efficiency of materials and reducing solid wastes. In so doing, we constructed a network model for regional industrial symbiosis that aims at minimizing total cost and identifying the optimal radii for collection of recyclable wastes. Based upon these research findings, we established site selection criteria and management measures for waste treatment and recycling centers in order that appropriate recycling technologies and policies can be adopted in light of local realities. This may contribute to avoiding unwise investments, improving resource use efficiency, supporting the development of recycling businesses and facilitating the construction of a regional network for industrial symbiosis.

Performance evaluation of regional circular economy. Fostering a strong circular economy is one effective strategy for China to mitigate resource shortages, reduce environmental emissions and respond to climate change. However, how to evaluate overall eco-efficiency and identify optimal development pathways in different regions is still a major challenge as a basis for appropriate policy making. To address these challenges in China, our research group proposed an evaluation method based on emergy analysis. Such a method has been applied in evaluating natural ecosystems, but when applied in an industrial context it confronts a number of difficulties in calculating the emergy transformity for different wastes, especially for wastes composed of synthetic materials. By considering the physical and chemical properties of different wastes, we proposed methods for calculating their transformity and established a holistic framework for evaluating the overall eco-efficiency of a particular region in China. We also designed a set of indicators to evaluate the structural and functional features of industrial ecosystems. Such indicators can help identify key problems in the development of a regional circular economy and evaluate the relative contributions of different recycling regimes. Such a method for evaluation is anchored in a solid theoretical basis for guiding policies that may lead to national industrial symbiosis and sustainable development of industrial ecosystems.

Low carbon economy. Global climate change requires different regions to adopt strategies for a low carbon economy by considering local conditions, optimizing regional energy infrastructure, and reducing total energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions. China has an energy structure based on fossil fuels (especially coal) and now produces the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. As a result, the country is facing substantial international pressure to reduce emissions. Thus it is critical to adopt a feasible pathway for low carbon development. Utilizing life cycle analysis, input-output analysis and decomposition analysis methods, and by adopting the method proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), our research group systematically conducted analysis on low carbon development in China by considering both "Tiao" (industrial sectors) and "Kuai" (regional perspectives). Our analysis now covers the entire country, including provinces, urban and industrial parks, as well as key economic sectors.

At the level of industrial sector, both production and consumption sides have been studied and policies for reducing emissions in key sectors have been proposed. For example, industries such as cement and steel/iron in the supply chain for construction have been identified as sources of significant emissions. Our study on the steel/iron sector found that reconfiguration of production processes saved energy and reduced emissions. For the power generation sector, our study recognized that regional disparities exist in power generation and consumption, with developed regions often shifting their emission burdens to developing ones. Such findings can help in the formulation of more rational mitigation policies for the power generation sector. With respect to the solar sector, our research findings have revealed that it is necessary to establish a carbon trade mechanism among different regions.

From a regional perspective, we utilized the LMDI method to map the evolution of regional carbon emissions from 1997-2009 and identified the key driving forces for such emissions so that science-based options can be presented for rationally allocating emission quotas to different regions. We then chose four municipalities ¾ Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing ¾ to conduct more detailed studies and found that disparities in regional emissions are due primarily to differences in industrial structures, energy structure and economic functions of the different municipalities. In addition, a more detailed study for the city of Shenyang provided a comprehensive method for the inventory of urban carbon emissions, particularly for the transportation sector. Moreover, we quantified the effects of promoting ground source heat pumps in Shenyang on reducing carbon emissions so that city managers could identify more opportunities for utilizing renewable and sustainable energy sources. We also proposed a hybrid evaluation method to track the carbon footprint at the industrial park level by conducting a case study in Shenyang. Such a method can reflect the carbon footprints from the entire life cycle of materials by considering upstream, on-site and downstream emissions, as well as waste treatment and depreciation in the value of materials. This provides a holistic approach for auditing carbon emissions from different companies in the industrial park and facilitates the adoption of more effective measures for reducing carbon emissions.

The results from research by the scientists in the Institute’s Pollution Ecology and Environmental Management Unit have been published in high-profile journals such as Nature, Science, Environmental Science and Technology, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Electrochimica Acta, Environment International, Chemical Geology, the Journal of Hazardous Materials, and Water Research. To date 11 books have been published. We have received numerous awards: the Second-Class Award of National Science and Technology Progress and seven awards at the provincial or ministry level, including a First-Class Award of Natural Sciences, a First-Class Award for Technological Invention, and other awards for technology transfer and innovation.

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