REMADE - A Dynamic Techno-economic Systems Modeling Framework for U.S. Fiber Recycling

Project Overview

The recycling of recovered fibers results in significant resource and CO2 emissions savings compared to primary feedstocks.  With recent dramatic changes in the global recovered fiber markets, triggered in large part by Chinese import restrictions, considerable focus is being placed on process innovations to improve both U.S. fiber recycling rates and recycled fiber quality.  These efforts have the potential to make large contributions to U.S. national energy and resource conservation goals. To help guide this transition, this project develops a generalizable system dynamics modeling framework to assess the profitability and net energy, CO2 emissions, and resource saving benefits of U.S. fiber recycling systems under different economic, technological, and scrap market assumptions. The framework provides a virtual testbed to identifying pathways for the U.S. fiber recycling industry – and specifically for paper and paperboard – to improve its long-term profitability and increase its environmental benefits.  The model aligns with key REMADE Technical Performance Metrics (TPMs), explore resilience to volatility in scrap quantities, quality, markets, and prices, and consider changes to current and future recycling capacities and technologies for increasing domestic fiber recycling by 15% or more. Methods draw from the fields of system dynamics modeling, unit process modeling, techno-economic analysis (TEA), and life-cycle assessment (LCA) to provide a full accounting of system costs (e.g., transport, labor, capital investments, fuel, etc.) and mass, energy, and CO2 emissions balances across the U.S. fiber recycling system for comparison to virgin fiber production pathways. Modeling considerations include scrap generation grades, quality, and contamination from select pre- and post-consumer sources, collection, sorting, cleaning, byproduct and recycling processes, import/export options, and recycled material disposition. The project is a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara, Yale University, Northwestern University, and the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Within the project, Yale researchers work on system characterization, model data collection, model development, scenario analysis, user interface, and technology transition tasks.