How manufacturing is discovering new virtuous circles as it moves toward a more circular economy

How manufacturing is discovering new virtuous circles as it moves toward a more circular economy

Innovative manufacturers are finding ways to make their own processes and the products of customers more sustainable.

BY Rob Pegoraro

Simple economics have been pushing manufacturers to find less energy-intensive ways to make things, and companies that make the machinery to power a greener economy are benefiting too. “You go where the dollars go,” sums up Elfrun von Koeller, an analyst with Boston Consulting Group. “Trillions of dollars of value creation will move into renewable spaces.”

Take the oldest enterprise on Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in manufacturing, Timken. The Ohio-based ball-bearings firm, founded in 1899, has leveraged learnings in metallurgy to develop a custom steel alloy—which it hardens in a “heat treating” process that relies on electricity instead of fossil-fueled furnaces, and which can itself be made from 100% recycled steel—optimized for use in increasingly giant offshore wind turbines.

Nucor, at a different stage in the steel supply chain, has only been working to decarbonize different facets of its operation but has developed its own steel alloy for wind-turbine use—and those wind farms can then power the electric-arc furnaces in Nucor’s mills.

And one of the younger firms on this list, Redwood Materials, has positioned itself in the middle of the battery market to collect spent EV batteries and extract raw materials for use in future EVs. That gives carmakers a break from having to outsource mining to overseas sources that have a history of falling short of U.S. environmental and labor standards, but it also stands to lower the cost of new EVs.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Pegoraro writes about computers, gadgets, telecom, social media, apps, and other things that beep or blink. He has met most of the founders of the Internet and once received a single-word e-mail reply from Steve Jobs. 


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