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Industrial ecology is a truly operational component of  sustainable development. It aims to break with the classic linear approach of economical activities that do integrate neither the limited amount of resources nor the incapacity of the planet to absorb the totality of our wastes.

At first, industrial ecology was an English expression, where “industrial” must be interpreted like an adjective representing economical activities as a whole (industry, agriculture, trade, transport, etc.). Therefore, industrial ecology prefers a systemic approach of activities inspired by natural ecosystems. It integrates the limited amount of resources and the need to lower the impacts of human activities on the environment. Industrial ecology also allows economy stimulation. On one hand, it is about optimizing the management of material and energy flows through the setting of synergies and mutualizations of these flows. On the other hand, it aims to stimulate the creation of recycling, re-use, valorization, etc. activity.

 

Mechanism of natural ecosystems

 

Linear mechanism of classic "industrial" systems

 

Cycle mechanism of eco-industrial systems

 

The main stake about industrial ecology is the improvement of the use of resources in order to end in a “win-win” situation between economy and environment. Effectively, putting in place such approach generates more wealth while reducing the impact of economical activities on the environment. Four important principles allow responding properly to this stake:

puce

Systematically value wastes: by giving them an economic value, it becomes more interesting to value them, following the example of natural ecosystems inside of which the waste of one becomes the resource of another.

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Minimize losses by dissipation of products during their whole lifecycle (pesticides, solvents, etc.).

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Dematerialize the economy by the minimization of the flows of matter while assuring at least equal services (economy of functionality, etc.).

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Decarbonize energy that, for more than one and a half century, is mainly obtained from fossil fuel, responsible for numerous problems such as the global warming, black tides, etc.

 

 

Example

 

Industrial ecology can be set between many economical actors as well as inside a company. It is the case of AT France, a food industry company of Troyes (France). The business of the LEMELLE family used, before the realization of the TEVE project (Water Treatment & Energetic Valorization), only fossil energy and had to pay to treat and dispose its effluents and co-products (fattened water, animal wastes, etc.).

 

Initial situation of the company

Today, the treatment of fattened water generates a waste source of energy that, added to the co-products, is partially replacing the fossil fuel. In addition, the excess of steam produced has allowed to install a laundry to clean the employees’ clothes.

 

Present situation of the company, after having applied the TEVE project

This project needed an investment of approximately 900 k€ for the water treatment and the boiler, and of 200 k€ for the laundry, for a 100% gain in waste knackery and 30% in gas consumption. Except the lowering of the impacts on the environment, this approach of industrial ecology has, among other things, allowed to save 15 k€/year comparing to a standard laundry activity.