Power Electronics is a key player toward a more renewable energy mix in our modern societies. Power electronics (PE) interfaces advanced renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, photovoltaic panels but also electrochemical storage facilities such as Li-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. It has been a key player in air conditioning efficiency improvement with variable speed control. It is today in the heart of the electric mobility, at all scale, from the E-bikes to E-trucks, E-buses and of course EVs and HEVs. Tomorrow, PE will become essential for grid stability and grid forming, having to take over the important inertia required for the grid satisfactory operation, previously handled by large size generators. Huge amount of converters are going to be designed, manufactured and implemented. We are urged to consider their end of life.
The main impact of this project is to give some standards methods, and technical product orientations design strategies to support circular economy and value saving (including resource) in PE integrated systems. As introduced in the previous sections, PE components are simultaneously common to all sectors and are pillars of the electric solutions to capture renewable energy. They contain rare, critics, scarce materials. They are part of the billion tons of WEEE generated each year on earth and they are designed to be obsolete. According to the contacted industrial actors, the standardisation is a technically realistic way to address this systemic issue. Such design strategy is not yet operational in electric system design. Saving components from the waste stream they are subject to when obsolete, constitutes a huge market potential in a depletion flows scheme.
We have already exchanged with Orange and RTE during an open discussion during a research workshop on electronic recovery in January 2021 (organised with the French Network Ecodesign of Sustainable Products EcoSD).
Here are some key messages from the discussions:
“Recovering components for 2nd life is of big business interest for long life products that support ICT technologies. Moreover, it is a key element to support energy and ICT deployments in many developing countries. Asian brokers already work on these products flows and service-systems businesses. With very little European actors, Standards and functional component strategy will help longer life for electric and electronic equipment thanks to upgrading and repair actions.” M. Vautier (Expert Energy & Environment ORANGE)
“the energy transport networks are based on electrical power converters. Maintaining long life systems needs to access to former components hard to get on the market. The maintenance services, as well as the related experts are already recovering components from the old systems to support some preventive maintenance on the network. There is a massive demand in components, no longer available in a classic market. Brokers or manufactured-components-on-demand are some options. The costs and the durability of the repair solution are prior evaluated to decide if a complete replacement will be (economically) preferable. Repair or replace is therefore a complex interrelated economic and technical question. A service oriented approach has the potential to support us evaluate the best options presented to us.” G. Busato (in charge of Ecodesign – R&D Environment at RTE France)
Recently contacted during a workshop where the opportunity to reintroduce PE second hand subsystems and components in the supply chain prior full recycling was presented, some French eco-organism representative have declared a real interest in terms of new business models addressed in VIVAE. E. Carteron from Ecosystem and R. Ronceray from Ecologic would be interested by evaluating the project concept and objectives viability, including collecting higher values than material flows from WEEE output, opening to new markets.
The project could significantly influence the business model of national PE traditional key players, involved (or not) in the project.
OSCARO Power is looking to strengthen its relation with its customers, in order to follow them and to create a long-term relation, allowing to update and up-scale their solution. M. Perrin, deputy director of OSCARLab was mentioning the business opportunities and stakes, jumping existing PV panel installations, from production to self-consumption. Our project will bring the opportunity to see how the collected equipment could bring some benefit. J. Dalban, previously in charge of circular economy and sustainability at Eaton was interested in introducing second components and subsystems if and only if they are certified. Our project will contribute in identifying the parameters and their acquisition toward the “reconditioning” and certification of second hand sub systems and components, answering a critical but essential need from a well-known well-established manufacturer.
At the CEFEM Company, J. Fangier, Vice-president and CTO, specialised in passive power components and power converters design and manufacturing, is highly interested in developing a companion business, such as a “state of health” tracking system and maintenance service to add value and competitiveness to its product catalogue. He plans to work on component monitoring, data collection and data analysis. Our project will bring to companies such as CEFEM, some complementary input in the granularity as well as the methodology to identify from which component class and value, such industrial objectives are feasible.
Authorities are introducing continuously regulations toward repair, circularity and second hand deployment. Companies and institutions are strengthening to support the development of localised and territorial benefit, product services, new business models, as well as environmental burden reduction. Several working groups are initiated around life cycle assessment with the focus of PE. M. Rio and J-Ch. Crébier are involved in an emerging initiative from the automotive industry. This group addresses this LCA topic well known by some members of the mechanical domain but still poorly integrated among the different domain experts intervening during the electric vehicle process development. Major parts of PE in this emerging market are disseminated in the traction inverter, the grid interface (battery charger), the utility converters (12V supply, air conditioning, car actuators, etc.). Addressing the a-to-d scenario in the coming market of electric mobility is therefore a necessity for industries to avoid uncontrolled market scheme leaded by brokers (or other niche industries) that would address prior to them the issue of material scarcity, and WEEE generations.
For all these perspectives and ongoing initiatives, this project will bring an additional input to collectively move toward sustainability in the XXI century.
Dissemination and Vulgarization
The PhD students and post-doc will present their works in international conferences related to the domain of Integrated Design, Electronics and circular economy focused on life cycle engineering (CIRP LCE, CIRP Design, Ecodesign, ICED as well as, Elec Goes Green for instance). At least two international conference per PhD student are expected to disseminate research findings and to communicate with the academic and industrial communities. Two publication in A rank international Journals are targeted per PhDs, and at least one per Post Doc, on their related research results. The journals targeted are Resources Conservation and Recycling, Journal of Cleaner Production, Engineering Design, Journal of Power Electronic.
At the national level this project will contribute to the French EcoSD Network (Ecoconception de Systèmes Durables:
Ecodesign of Sustainable Systems) research seminaries, and in the national S-mart network supporting the future of industry, as well as the GDR SAGIP. In addition, the working groups in which the consortium members (academics and industry partners) are actively contributing to by their own activities will be opportunities to exchange, challenge, communicate the ongoing research material.
To collect the vision from education side, we interviewed students in engineering schools. They are a majority to be aware of the planetary boundaries. They are interested for being actors of a-to-c scenarios. They want to design products and technologies in accordance with the environmental issues. They are ashamed by the poor end-of-life management of our appliances and goods due to this over-consumption rate society. At the university level, as an example sustainable engineering are integrated in courses in many degrees, in particular in G-INP for one full semester. In addition, researchers and teachers collective are being constituted at a local and national level in France, with raising concerns about Electronics obsolescence. As researchers in the domain of sustainability and in electronics, we are very solicited with this raising issue in our society.
Many opportunities are created in our society to disseminate research findings contributing to avoid electronic wastes, and support eco-design Power Electronic based product systems, aligned with the Paris agreement, the Circular Economy European roadmap, as well as the French strategy toward sustainability.