Our focus is on cutting edge research that is strategic, pushes the boundaries, and creates real tangible impact. Over the years, we have done research in a variety of topical areas, some of which are making a comeback again. You can read more about them in our past projects section. Our current projects are focused in three main technology domains:
Have you ever thought about how much material and energy went in making a product that you are about to throw away? Since 1992, our group has worked on issues related product recycling, recovery, remanufacture, reuse, etc. We call it re-X for short because there are many things you can do with a product at the end of its life. With the global economy expanding, even common materials like copper and steel are becoming more expensive. Recycling is always an option, but some products have such a high diversity of materials that separating them is a real challenge. For some products, remanufacturing the product or parts of it may be an option. Furniture can be refurbished and put to use again. Industrial machinery is often recovered and remanufactured by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or a third party. And many engineering students are familiar with direct reuse of products by getting a part from a scrapyard to repair their car. For many companies, considering what to do with the product is not an option anymore but a necessity because the European Union has created directives that cover what needs to be done with automotive and electrical equipment, among others (ELV and WEEE directives).
Sustainable Mobility & Transportation
Imagine a world where you can select your destination, time you need to be there, etc., and something or somebody will get you there without you having to drive. Fantasy? Maybe, maybe not. Together with Ford Motor Company, we are working on re-defining mobility and transportation in urban regions (see Megacity Mobility project in Ford Motor Company Sustainability Report). It is not only limited to people transportation, but we also work on goods traffic. Products have to be moved around and perhaps even more so if we start recycling and reusing them. Our work ranges from identifying and assessing impacts of transportation to alternative fuel technologies to identifying new mobility infrastructures and vehicle designs to innovative packaging designs.
Factories of the Future
To make products, you need manufacturing facilities. Many people see factories as polluters, but in many cases they are very clean. But clean does not necessarily mean sustainable. And we should not eliminate our factories, because we need them for local economic prosperity as well as recycling. The ultimate sustainable what we call “factory of the future” would be non-polluting, use renewable energy, and replenish any materials it consumed in a closed-loop fashion. Key elements to achieving this vision are benchmarks, assessment tools, and innovative manufacturing solutions and technologies. Over the years, we have worked with Interface, Ford Motor Company and others to help them move towards this goal by researching and developing tools and technologies needed to enable companies to create such sustainable manufacturing operations.
How does this all tie together, you may wonder? Think about it this way: we need to identify new uses for our products at the end of their lives, develop the technologies and facilities to process them, and create mobility options to move the products, materials and people who make it all happen, all in a sustainable manner.