VIVAE context, positioning and objectives

VIVAE: InnoVatIve life cycles to keep the VAlue of power Electronics

Des cycles de VIe innovants pour conserver la VAleur de l’Electronique de puissance

This project will contribute to the CE10 ANR objective “to promote a vision and a systemic organization of the industry, for a development process integrating the life-cycle dimensions of the products and value networks”, in relation to the breaking axis “green and socially responsible factory”.

Objectives and Research Hypothesis of the ANR Research Project

To cope with the Paris agreements signed in 2016 (Cop21) our civilizations must reduce by 40% carbon emissions by 2030, i.e. a 5% reduction per year for the next 10 years and even later for almost a half century. This massive challenge embraces all sectors of the industries, transport, health, energy production, storage, usage (etc.), and must consider as well the infrastructure’s environmental impact based on electronic equipment containing some precious valuable resources. VIVAE project is focused on the life and the value extension of Power Electronics (PE) appliances used for renewable energy production and its storage offering a high-quality energy. The industry’s capacity to manage some energy production systems’ end-of-life, such as Photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind turbine systems may be increasing, even if some technical and organizational improvements are required. Discarded PE converters–mainly inverters–are therefore following WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) streams. However, the PE converters significantly differ from the regular PCB (Printed Circuit Board) found in WEEE. Components and subsystems are implemented with an inherent value that is wasted with the system obsolescence. A closer technical focus on a variety of PE systems shows that similar functions can be found in several PE product families.

Compared to microelectronics components, the PE converters rely on electrical energy switching, patterning and filtering. The high voltages and currents induce respectively specific insulation constraints as well as efficient current paths. Filtering is based on electromagnetic and electrostatic energy storage. Compared to microelectronics where bits are stored at the electron spin scale, the energy is carried out and stored in volumes of conductive, semi-conductive, dielectric, and magnetic materials. While digital electronics energy to operate is rather decreasing with microelectronics, by contrast, PE converters handle an increasing amount of energy. This functionality is a key enabler for all renewable energies, as well as for promoting any electric based mobility systems. To this extend the volume of components and materials involved in PE are therefore not surprisingly growing exponentially, even though the power densities of individual units is growing up. This raises the pressure on key materials such as copper. Copper plays a key role in ensuring any power conversion. Following-up with this example of material scarcity, the NegaWatt scenario (2019) argues about the coming peak of its production and consumption by the end of the century in France [1].

Ensuring its circularity through reuse and recycling is a necessity. Fortunately, copper confers high recycling property even if losses occur at various life cycle stages relying on its functionality. As presented in detail by Klose and Peuliuk (2021), several policy instruments to support the performance of electronic sector reuse and recycling are crucial. This paper is not specifically targeting PE even if the industry is already discussing about the issue of resource scarcity in all kind of electronics components. Unfortunately, copper is literally integrated in PE components in a highly heterogeneous manner, gaging its extraction to be complex. The opportunity to reuse directly the copper-based components would significantly reduce losses. This forthcoming reality opens opportunities to optimize technically the functional value of PE (sub-)components during their usage and possibly re-usage, as well as revising their quality to be wasted.

[1] Ass. négaWatt 2019, Scénario négaWatt pour l’industrie française à l’horizon 2050

The aim of VIVAE project is thus to investigate:

(1) the key factors enabling to retain the remaining value of the PE converters in energy systems and,

(2) the PE converter technical and functional specificities to design their life cycle efficiently.

In this context, any PE converter remaining value captured in an electronic equipment usually discarded would be characterized by its singularities: item scale/size, design integration, functional alteration, dependence to other parts, etc. VIVAE R&D consortium is chosen to be relevant for investigating several scenarios, so as to technically save the remaining value of PE for renewable energy applications and therefore to prevent such equipment from being totally recycled after a first use.

Four complementary scenarios have been considered by the consortium to address the research and development opportunities targeted:

a – To enable the “maintainability” of the PE device and support its process (technical and economical guaranty).

b – To enable the device integration into a second life cycle, potentially with lighter functional performance or additional operational constraints–called the “reuse” strategy schemes.

c – To support the remaining valued (sub-)component extraction from the PE device before being discarded, and reintroduced it in the value chain, e.g.: as a spare part, as a renewed component in the manufacture process; called “remanufacturing” strategy schemes.

d – To “extract/recycle” from the device some specific material flows without having to carry out additional operation.

The industry is urged today to design repairable goods, whereas no ecosystem and no technology are yet operational to enable this in PE. The PE equipment are still considered as subsystems of wider ones–entirely replaced if damaged. The French AGEC 2020 regulation [2] therefore promotes the products extension lifespan. This encourages repair schemes and maintenance obligations, as well as the development of circular economy strategies. VIVAE has the ambition to proactively support this transition by taking this goal for an opportunity.

To achieve objectives (1) and (2) VIVAE planes to

  • technically study some PE devices to prevent them from being replaced and recycled in case of a functional failure;
  • model the process, with relevant indicators to characterize and monitor the performance of the value chain able to support (a-c) scenarios;
  • provide specific and technical design recommendations integrated in a systemic and transverse multicriteria method supporting the development process of each scenarios, and preventing as much as possible from the unwanted environmental damage to be generated at some step or during some industrial processes.

Figure 1, shows the general organization of the project to achieve those objectives

Figure 1 : VIVAE Work Package Organization and Involved Partners

[2]LOI n° 2020-105 du 10 février 2020; https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000041553759

b. Position of the Project as it Relates to the State of the Art

The Global e-waste Monitor 2020 estimates that the volume of e-waste (i.e. WEEE) generated in 2019 is close to 54 million tons, an increase of almost 10 million tons compared to 2014 (+21% in 5 years)[3]. According to the UN report, 74 million tons of e-waste could be reach in 2030 – the fastest growth in the world among all household waste categories. Europeans generate an average of 16.6 kg/year/ha of WEEE. France is the fifth largest generator of e-waste in the world with almost 21kg/year/ha, compared to the worldwide average of 7.3kg/year/ha/WEEE. The e-waste increases proportionally to the consumption rate of Electronic and Electrical Equipment (EEE). They are designed for a short lifespan with limited possibilities offered for repairing them.

However the electrical equipment are becoming crucial within the democratization of connected objects usage, including the Internet of Things (IoT), the rise of the electric mobility, the industry 4.0 development, the Information Technology (IT) equipment increasing demand related to teleworking and home schooling forced by the 2019 health crisis. Several material supply sources are becoming scarce [4] and in some cases have almost dried-up [5]. The obsolescence of such equipment accelerates the accumulation of e-wastes in the coming years. The small equipment counted for 17.4 million tons in 2019, large one for 13.1 million tons, and heat exchange equipment for 10.8 million tons. Displays and monitors, lamps, small IT and telecommunications equipment accounted for 6.7 million tons, 4.7 million tons and 0.9 million tons respectively [7]. In 2019, only 17.4% of WEEE was collected and recycled [7]. The collection rate in 2018 was near 35% in Europe and 44.8% in France, for a recycling rate of 82% and a recovery rate of 90% [6]. This results to $57 billion of precious metals and other high-value materials that have been incinerated instead of recycled [7] in 2018.

As introduced previously this increasing e-waste stream is mostly due to the equipment obsolescence and carried by their characteristic data (Product Change Notification (PCN), End of Line (EOL), Last Buy Date or Last Ship Date) and a lack in standardization in PE systems.

Several actions would reduce this obsolescence depending on the type of component concerned:

  • Reasoning with “equivalence”: consists in looking for an equivalent equipment to the obsolete one by using the “cross references” of manufacturers (substitution);
  • Targeting “sourcing”: consists in looking for a new equipment, by redesigning the systems/products containing the obsolete ones. This usually leads to additional product supply delays, increasing the management and the supply related costs, as well as rescheduling the required qualification tests.

The price for new electronic equipment may vary according to his market value and the price for a repaired equipment varies as well within its residual value. Meeting supply platforms, and demand platform are nowadays used for that type of retailers’ market. The manufacturers and the distributors/brokers of WEEE (or second hand EEE) offer services to help customers coping with the predicted obsolescence of the given equipment. This process globally extends the EEE shelf life. So-called “brokers” provide to customers a reliable and functionally equivalent component (inspected). The framework to control the growing market generated by this obsolescence in electronics the number of brokers is still increasing. In both cases, if a given equipment has no functional equivalent in the market it will be scrapped. Whereas the upper system lifespan may last much longer than the included (potentially sooner obsolete) equipment (a few decades for railways, aerospace, automobiles, etc.). To this paradox is added the recycling scheme promoted as a solution for the end-of-life treatment of WEEE.

WEEE contain toxic substances for the human brain and/or the coordination system. Several toxic substances increase the global warming [8] effect. Approximately 98 million tons of CO2 equivalents were released into the atmosphere from discarded refrigerators and air conditioners in 2019 – 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The WEEE collection and recycling is a complex operation due to: (1) the WEEE inherent toxicity, (2) the lack of appropriate structure to deal with heavy metals generated in the air, with the toxic substances discharged into water and soil, and (3) the treatment complexity of specific alloys composed of dozens of different metals, difficult to isolate and recover in their original state.

Such recycling chains issues are currently countered by exporting WEEE to Asian and West African countries. The lack of

appropriate means in exportation countries often causes health and additional environmental damages over-there

despite the Basel Convention [9].

France should manage the EEE obsolescence to reduce this waste stream and avoid this worldwide impact. The following strategies are therefore proposed by AGEC [10] (Anti Gaspillage pour une Economie Circulaire):

(1) eco-design sustainable, repairable and recyclable products;

(2) increase the percentage of repaired and of reconditioned fractions of appliances;

(3) improve the product recycling rate by raising the consumers’ awareness and by facilitating the WEEE collection;

(3) combat WEEE illegal treatments by reinforcing formal and local ones. In (1) and (2) repairing and dis-assembling for saving (sub-)components (e.g. power converters, RAM or transistors) lead to new business opportunities. Service orientation supports companies in this scheme can be a source of innovative activities generating new revenues. In the automotive sector, for instance, on-board electronics cover 40% of the total vehicle price (20% in the early 2000s [11]). The market for repairing cars in Europe has soared from 5,000 parts in 2010 to 30,000 parts in 2019. The cost is reduced by a factor 4 by repairing electronic parts in cars. Providing remanufactured electronic components [12] almost technically identical to new ones is also globally reducing electronics obsolescence. Designing a modular product architecture supports its dis-assembly potential. A standardized design can additionally facilitate the (sub-) components’ connectivity by defining a regular physical interface between them. Modular (eco) designed products supported by a service product orientation business model have the potential to support the required shift toward a service-oriented system in power electronics. This system has the theoretical potential to reduce the renewable rate of products consumption in the society–rather measured at a micro economic level, and for specific sectors. Several practical cases characterize product service systems (cf. illustrations).

[3] Forti V., Baldé C.P., Kuehr R., Bel G. The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential. United Nations University(UNU)/United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) – co-hosted SCYCLE Programme, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

[4] About material scarcity: https://blog.matric.com/electronic-component-shortages-update

[5] Evidence of lacking resources: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d1be1b43-e18f-11e8-b690-01aa75ed71a1/languageen/format-PDF/source-80004733

[6] Rapport annuel du registre des déchets d’équipements électriques et électroniques, 2018, ADEME

[7] https://news.un.org/fr/story/2020/07/1072262

[8] https://news.un.org/fr/story/2020/07/1072262

First family case: the manufacturer remains the owner of the product/system. This supports a ‘circular economy’ scheme. The product containing electronics is collected at different periods: in the use phase, during maintenance, or when breakdowns occur. The repairing activity is supported by the manufacturer–qualified to choose the right protocols required and to maintain technically the product functionality. Wrong manipulations that could damage other parts of the product/system may therefore be avoided in that case. A subset of the product/system can also be upgraded by repairing an equipment or replacing a functional module. All functional sub-assemblies can be as well separated and reused in a remanufactured system of the same or different types.

Second family case: a personalized business offer supported by sufficient ‘block’ product module are provided to the product user to deliver a service. The system complexity may be globally reduced. The resources consumption is generally less than by buying products fulfilling the same functionality over a period. This strategy tends towards an Economy of

Functionality, which “… consists in providing companies, individuals or territories with integrated solutions of services and goods based on the sale of a performance of use or a use and not on the simple sale of goods. These solutions must allow for less consumption of natural resources in a circular economy perspective, an increase in people’s well-being and economic development.” (translated from [ADEME, ATEMIS, P.VUIDEL, B.PASQUELIN 2017: Towards an economy of functionality with high environmental and social value in 2050] [13]). The Economy of Functionality supports the different actors’ responsibility in preventing the product obsolescence. This strategy therefore focuses on reducing the resource and usage consumption. The WEEE may be reduced if this strategy can replace the over increasing consumption scheme of current businesses, and consequently could reduce the collection rate of WEEE in medium to long term. In reality, the situation is part of the complexity of our worldwide economy. However, this economic strategy is nonetheless a lever to improve manufacturer (or designers) ability to repair or dismantle, and consequently improve the end of life process performance (time, tools and machines required). The recovered product could better maintain their intrinsic functionality, their reliability, and therefore lifetime. Designing of repair/ recover modules or components / recycle are design strategies based on a multi-criteria and systemic evaluations including technical, delay, environmental and cost parameters–central in the research domain of “integrated design for life cycle engineering”.

Figure 3: 7 pillars of the circular economy of french national agency for energy transition ADEME [14]

In accordance with the French national agency for energy transition promoted strategy (Fig. 3)[14] and with the European strategy of circular economy, the VIVAE project plans to act directly on: i) design, ii) production and remanufacturing, iii) consumption – reuse and repair, and iv) recycling (for component recovery and reuse rather than material recycling) – cf. Fig. 4. Products, firms, and resources are directly connected as defined by Hidetaka et al. (2019), opening to the economy of functionality. The VIVAE project addresses the technical gap between the potential of eco-designed electronics product, including their residual values at each step of their multiple life cycles (reuse, repair, restore, remanufacture, recycle), including as well the related recovery solutions, and the product-service-systems business improvements potentials to foster our society in a circular economy scheme. The major innovations come from standardized – modular proposals coupled with a PSS and environmental justification to define innovative design rules of the PE systems and its functional components.

Research initiated by the consortium

The VIVAE consortium combines researchers (G-SCOP, G2ELab and I2M) and industries (EATON and OSCARO Power) conferring expertise in a complementary way in the eco-design of power electronics product (designing for reuse, repair, restore, remanufacture, recycle), in recovery manufacturing technologies and production chains, and in businesses enabling our society moving toward circular economy. Research findings have been published in the core activities constituting the expertise basis of the consortium. Scenario a to d (Fig. 4) have been addressed during the last twenty years by Prof. Zwolinski and Prof. Perry (i.e. remanufacturing and upgrading [Gehin 2008], product service system design [Maussang 2009], EEE recycling [Alonso 2016], design for second life [Bauer 2020], immortal products [Evrard 2021], recycling processes with the Recycling Box – MTB Recycling [15] [Grimaud 2018b – 2019] [Horta 2020]). Recently, several projects have had the ambition to reflect on the conditions for setting up circular industry systems: very applied projects such as the AQUA project[16], which aimed at the remanufacturing by a retailer of water purification equipment for individuals, and more academic projects such as the Cross disciplinary project CRCULAR [17], funded by the Grenoble IDEX, aiming at aims at developing reliable circular industrial systems able to transform post-used products in new high added value products. The research has moved from the ecodesign integration and end-of-life issues in engineering toward a wider integrative perimeter space embracing socio-technical issues inherent to product system services. Methods and tools for Reuse, Repair, Remanufacturing (etc.) have been developed to support the value chain stakeholders in addressing those challenges in the core of their expertise. Modular and standardized design and manufacturing of power electronics converters have been addressed in the last decade by Dr. Crébier and Prof. Lembeye. The specificities of PE exemplified in Fig. 4 opens to specialisation of the a-to-d scenarios.

A research master project initiated in 2019 has explored these scenarios. The PhD work of B. Rahmani has followed to contribute specifically to design PE based products for modularity and standardization in these scenario based contexts supporting the circular economy vision to tackle.

Figure 4 : VIVAE Scope: a-d scenario studied; Image source taken from the PE life cycle scheme of B. Rahmani PhD work co-supervised between G-SCOP and G2Elab, that will be presented during PCIM Europe 3-7 May 2021 International Conference website: https://pcim.mesago.com/nuernberg/en.html

This research collaboration has strengthen the integration of the a-to-d scenarios issues into PE product design. While numerous research questions have arisen between researchers, additional interest and technical issues have been brought from the private sectors, supported by the institutions. VIVAE is enhancing those key research questions with the industries directly impacted by them. Industrial case studies and research action with engineering practitioners leaded by researchers (including PhDs and Post Doc) are the wheels of the project.

[9] See the Basel Convention web site: http://www.basel.int/

[10] https://www.ecologie.gouv.fr/loi-anti-gaspillage-economie-circulaire-1

[11] https://www.caradisiac.com/un-peu-moins-de-la-moitie-du-prix-d-une-auto-vient-de-l-electronique-183042.htm

[12] https://pro.largus.fr/actualites/reparer-lelectronique-plutot-que-la-jeter-10417390.html

[13] Available in french: https://www.atemis-lir.fr/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/prospective_ef_201705_synthese.pdf

[14] https://www.metabolic.nl/news/the-seven-pillars-of-the-circular-economy/

[15] https://www.mtb-recycling.fr/en/box-en/

[16]https://www.aqua-assainissement.info/pieces-detachees-entretien-microstation-aqua-assainissement-recoit-le-prix-eco-innovez-2018/

[17] https://circular.univ-grenoble-alpes.fr/