Circular economy

The industrial park: an unexpected asset to the circular economy

Matthieu Charest Les Affaires | Updated on January 08, 2018

Containers received and shipped from the industrial park and port of BécancourCREDIT: Photo taken from the website of the Société du parc industrial and port of Bécancour.

Overview of the industrial park and port of BécancourCREDIT: Photo taken from the website of the Société du parc industrial and port of Bécancour.

It doesn’t get much more depressing than an industrial park. Factories and warehouses positioned alongside one another, hardly creating the buzz of Las Vegas. Yet dig a little deeper and these are places that are brimming with interest. Beyond their importance to the economy, these industrial clusters are becoming significant for their role in ensuring a longer life for resources.

By enabling each resource to be used to its full potential, this idea of creating industrial symbiosis between manufacturers is becoming more and more attractive to “those industries that are dependent on raw materials,” explains Luce Beaulieu, Coordinator at the EDDEC Institute for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy, located in Montreal. The manufacturers clustered in industrial parks can play a big role in this, by pooling resources, including equipment such as fleets of trucks or heavy machinery. They can even take this a step further, by setting up a system of industrial synergy: bringing together companies that exchange materials and even human resources with each other, or that interconnect within the same supply chain – thus recreating an ecosystem.

An exchange of residual products

When located within close proximity of each other, manufacturers can consider exchanging residual products. “It could be plastic, board, drive belts, really anything related to commercial or industrial activities”, says Claude Maheu-Picard, Technical Director at the Centre for Technological Transfer in Industrial Ecology (CTTEI). She adds that, “the primary motivation for companies is that this system is good for them financially. The economic incentive is core.”

According to Maheu-Picard, this type of synergy is helping to extend the lifecycle of products. “It reduces the use of resources, boosts recycling rates, it puts less pressure on the environment and increases the lifespan of landfill sites.”

Since Quebec province is immense; its surface area is equivalent to around five times that of Germany, the concentration of industry in these parks ensures a reduction in transport costs, and a concurrent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Bécancour: a thriving example of industrial synergy

The Société du parc industriel et portuaire de Bécancour (SPIPB) develops and operates an industrial park and port facility situated halfway between Quebec City and Montreal. This state-owned waterfront industrial park, “is one of the first projects we oversaw”, Claude Maheu-Picard says. “Companies have set up there in order to benefit from exchanges, from resources made available by other companies.”

Maxime Veillette, Director of Environment, Port Operations and Security at the SPIPB confirms this. “The fact that many companies have set up here can be explained by the incentive to make savings.” As an example, the company Olin manufactures chlorine-based products; a process which generates hydrogen as a by-product. Hydrogen is known for being highly combustible.

Consequently, a manufacturer and distributor called Arkema, “came here because of Olin. Arkema makes peroxide and therefore needs hydrogen. Before, Olin used to simply burn the hydrogen,” Veillette explains. “Then the multinational firm Air Liquide moved to the park in order to stabilise the streams of hydrogen.”

Veillette relates that another company makes metallic bricks. They were able to recover waste vegetable oil from another manufacturer in order to create a new binder for their products.

Such industrial synergies are thus enabling innovation, as well as ensuring savings for the firms involved and an extended life cycle for resources.

Just one obstacle remains. The trade secret. “Many companies don’t want to open their books,” Maxime Veillette reveals. “It takes some convincing to get them to speak. It’s understandable that they’re worried, they’re not used to it.” But once the trust has been built, the rewards make the effort worthwhile, and everyone comes out a winner.

Published on October 27, 2017

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