All of us want a sustainable development. At the same time we want competitive industry. Ecodesign is one way of achieving both at the same time by using life cycle thinking. Welcome to this webpage, where you can learn more about Ecodesign and find different competences within Swerea who can help your company reach competitiveness in a sustainable society.
An essential part of Swerea Ecodesign is to combine competence in Energy, CSR and Environment with technical competence. We aim to apply life cycle perspective and a holistic view in our projects. This enables creating solutions that are optimal from both the technical, economical and sustainability viewpoint. Swerea provides experts in the areas Energy, CSR and Environment, who can either independently or in collaboration with different colleagues support product and process development.
Energy is needed in all life cycle steps, raw material production, manufacturing, use and end of life, and we know that energy use is dominating the negative impact on climate. One can work with energy in several different ways: by minimizing the energy consumption in production, but also by selecting energy sources with low environmental impact, such as hydro-, solar or wind power. Reduction of energy consumption leads to lower environmental impact as well as lower costs. If a company wants to tell their customers about the energy use of their products, an energy declaration could be a good option.
Energy efficiency (Swerea IVF)
Energy efficiency (Swerea Swecast)
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), means that a company takes responsibility not only for its own business and profitability, but also for how it affects people and the environment, doing more than the law requires minimizing negative effects or maximizing positive effects on society and environment. It is usually said that CSR stands on three legs, Ethics, Economy and Environment. There is a standard on CSR, ISO 26000. For businesses, it is important to work with CSR in three steps: analyse, correct (if necessary) and tell. Efforts can be published in a sustainability report.
Corporate Social Responsibility
One way to get a good overview of the environmental impact of different components or life cycle stages is to do a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). It is often used as a basis for product development and can also lead to an environmental product declaration. For businesses, it is also important to keep track of the various laws that affect them from an environmental perspective, for example concerning use of chemicals and limit values for emissions.
Composites from renewable resources
Swerea holds expertise on raw materials and material production for metals, composites, plastics, ceramics and textiles. Many of our ongoing projects are aiming at minimizing the environmental impact, such as projects to minimize CO2 emissions in steel production and to develop bio-based composites.
Alloys are materials, often metals, where many different constituents are mixed to create new properties. For example brass is harder than the components it is made from, copper and zinc.
Environmental impact from alloys depends on which basic materials they are made from. Sometimes, more noble alloys such as stainless steel have high environmental impact in the manufacturing stage but their durability provides long lifetime for the final product. In these situations the importance of studying the whole lifecycle of a product when making material selection becomes obvious. High-strength alloys, opens up the possibility to make lighter components which is important for reduction of the overall environmental impact of many products, especially in the automotive industry.
Making of alloys
Composites are materials where different constituents are combined in order to achieve a material with properties that none of the constituents can provide alone. One type of composite material is polymeric fibre composites, where synthetic or natural fibres are used as the reinforcement and a polymer is used as the matrix to distribute the load and keep the fibres in place. Examples of such composites are glass fibre reinforced polyester (frequently used in boat hulls), carbon fibre reinforced epoxy (in airplanes), and bio-based composites (often used in the interior of cars, door panels, etc.).
The environmental impact from composite production varies greatly. Large amounts of energy are needed to produce many fibre types, especially carbon fibres. Furthermore, the most commonly used resins originate from fossil resources.
Characterisation and tests of composite materials
Steel is the most common metal alloy consisting primarily of iron and small amounts of carbon and variable proportion of a number of other metals, such as chromium and nickel, which give steel different properties. Steel is one of Sweden's main exports, and it is used in many applications. It should be noted that the properties of the steel is created partly by the constituent materials, but also of steel production in itself, where high strength steel has developed significantly lately. Much of the environmental impact of steel originates from mining and energy use during processing.
Process and alloy development
Minerals are materials present in bedrock. These can be used as such or as building blocks in metals, ceramics and plastics.
Their environmental impact depends on their energy use, how large the useful fraction in their naturally occurring state is, and how it is mined (open pit or underground). It is also important that many strategic substances are rare and/or valuable and therefore mining can cause conflicts. Furthermore the fact that they are rare and /or valuable should be a strong incitement for recycling.
Characterisation of materials
Mineral transforms to metal
The majority of plastics is derived from fossil feedstock (e.g. oil) and polymerized using various additives to modify their properties. Plastics can also be derived from renewable resources like starch or fatty acids from for example corn or wood. A distinction is made between thermoplastics which can be re-melted and thermoset resins which cannot be re-melted.
The environmental impact from plastics originates partly from carbon dioxide emissions due to the use of fossil raw materials, but also from the additives included, such as plasticizers and flame retardants. For example, PVC, a frequently used plastic, is often supplemented with a variety of plasticizers to achieve properties that the basic polymer cannot offer. These additives often have a negative environmental impact.
Quality assurance and corrosion of polymeric materials
Metals are elements mined from bedrock or sea water, which are often found in the form of minerals from which the element must be extracted.
The environmental impact from metals depends on the metals availability, the energy and land use required for mining and extraction, and possible leakage of toxic substances during ore extraction and/or enrichment. Another important aspect is that many strategic metals are rare and/or valuable and therefore mining can cause conflicts. Examples of this are the tungsten and gold mining in the Congo in Africa. The availability of metals is an important issue for the international community; some important metals are only available in limited quantities. Furthermore the fact that they are rare and /or valuable should be a strong incitement for recycling. Metals are 100% recyclable, and the use of recycled metals gives much less environmental impact than using virgin material.
Analysis of metals and determination of trace elements
Materials and Materials Technology
Making of metals
Textile fibres are made from renewable resources, as well as from fossil resources (petrochemicals). Cotton, viscose and linen are examples of textile fibres made from renewables. Polyester fibres and nylon fibres are examples of textile fibres made from petrochemicals. The environmental impact from fibre production can originate in the use of fertilizers and water during cultivation but also from use of energy- and fossil resources.
Swerea works with a variety of manufacturing processes, such as casting, forming, joining and weaving for many industries. Energy consumption in production is in focus for Swerea, especially for casting and surface treatment.
Casting is based on melting of metal which is then poured into a mold having the final part appearance. The casting can produce either a finished product or an intermediate that is a component intended for further processing for example by machining. One of the most significant advantages of casting is its ability to eliminate or at least greatly reduce the need for subsequent machining as products with complicated design can be manufactured in a simple way. For casting, the energy is often the dominant environmental aspect. Here, it is important for maximizing the overall yield of the process that the minimum amount of molten metal is used for making details. To get a good quality or manageable melt chemical additives are often used. Due to that, casting can cause hazardous waste which has to be handled. Residues from the casting process mainly consist of sand and slag. By using waste products as a resource can reduce environmental problems.
Ceramics are manufactured by compacting a powder or powder mixture to a body which is then sintered, burnt, at high temperature. For porcelain and other ceramics, the powders consist of natural minerals. For technical ceramics specially prepared powder of high purity are used, which in turn can be manufactured by one or more minerals. Environmental impact is caused by the mining of raw materials, production of specific powders and the manufacture of ceramics. Since different ceramics require different types of raw materials, manufacturing and sintering conditions, the environmental impact vary. An important environmental aspect at manufacturing of ceramics is dust, which particles can have nano size and therefore can be very dangerous to humans.
High temperature ceramics
In production of final products, various components are often assembled. This can be done by using joints which can be opened, such as bolts or various types of snap fasteners, or by joints which are not intended to be disconnected, for example welding, punch riveting, friction stir welding, adhesive bonding and soldering. The environmental impact of joining depends for example on the energy consumed and the chemicals used. Joining also affects the possibilities to separate different types of materials and therefore it affects recycling, which in many cases is the most significant aspect.
Textiles are made in several steps. First, the fibers are produced, then dyed and spun into yarn. The yarn is woven, knitted or crocheted into fabrics or products. The fabrics are cut and made into finished garments or other textile applications.
The environmental impact from textile production is largely dependent on energy consumption and the chemicals used in the various processes. Water is also in many cases significant during textile production, which can cause even larger impact on the places that naturally do not have much good fresh water. Most textiles are produced far away from Sweden, and environmental problems from production are often substantial, for example textile dyeing in India. From a sustainability point of view, it is also important to be aware of how working conditions and social issues are handled in the countries where textiles are manufactured.
In electronics, a very wide variety of materials are needed to create the required functions. Electronics are produced by first making circuit boards, often using epoxy with the addition of flame retardants and copper, and then adding components, usually by soldering them into circuits. Many strategic, rare, valuable and / or toxic materials are used in electronics. Therefore, EU legislation for electronics has been established.
The environmental impact from electronics depends on the substances they contain. From overall perspective energy consumption of the final products significantly contributes to the environmental impact. For products which are widely used like computers, energy use is the dominant environmental aspect. From sustainability point of view, it is also important to be aware of how working conditions and social issues are handled in the countries where electronics are manufactured.
Material choice and testing of contacts and components
Composite products are manufactured by mixing different materials, mainly reinforcing fibres and matrix. This can be done in various ways but the most frequently used route for thermoset-based composites is to prepare a preform of fabrics and impregnate it with a resin. For thermoplastic-based composites, the most common method is to mix fibres and plastics directly in an extrusion process.
One important environmental aspect applying to thermoset resins is the use of solvents which contribute to photochemical smog.
Metal components are made by first creating the geometry needed in processes such as sheet metal forming, stamping, casting, forging or extrusion, after which material modifications through different types of heat treatment, such as hardening, is often applied. The final step is often a coating to give the component good appearance and a prolonged lifetime.
In most cases, the environmental impact of manufacturing of metal components depends on the energy usage for each process. Processes in which large quantities of material must be heated, such as casting, consumes lots of energy. Surface treatment processes often involve use of chemicals such as chromium or solvents. This can have significant environmental impacts, depending on selection and quantity of chemicals used.
Sheet moulding and machining
The use of a product has often a very large influence on the overall environmental impact of a product. Issues such as energy use, durability and corrosion are areas where Swerea holds extensive expertise.
During the time a product is used, it can consume energy and / or other commodities. This often increases the environmental impact of the product, and for many active devices (computers, cars, etc.), it is the dominant environmental aspect.
The function of a product / service is crucial for its environmental impact; good function usually gives a lower environmental impact. Sometimes it is possible to create the desired function with novel solutions, for example, using beetles instead of chemicals to control insect pests. Many times one can optimize the function of a product by working with design and product development in close collaboration with the product / service users.
Product development (Swerea IVF)
Product development (Swerea Swecast)
Product development (Swerea Sicomp)
To maintain products can require travel service, spare parts, energy, and more. This may induce a significant environmental impact for certain product groups. Smart solutions to minimize maintenance can reduce environmental impact, for example, adding functions in the product that signals when maintenance is needed or developing a full offering where function, service and products are combined in clever ways.
The lifetime of a product depends obviously on how long it lasts, but also on how long it is used before it is disposed. A longer lifetime is often better for the environment. Deterioration, for example corrosion, is one reason to discard a product thus corrosion protection can lead to reduced environmental impact. Other means to extend the lifetime of a product are timeless design, build the product of modules, and other ways that make it possible to easily upgrade and / or repair a product.
Longterm characteristics of composites
Corrosion in automotives
End of life
Swerea works with the recycling of materials, such as waste from production, sand from foundries and used cables and monitors. We also work with remanufacturing, utilizing worn-out products in new and alternative applications. One focus is recycling in steel industry and foundries.
To process various materials in the best way, products must be possible to disassemble and separate into individual component materials. This can be done either by designing products in a sensible way or by developing processes for sorting. Process related residues should be kept separated in order to facilitate reuse and/or recycling.
Recycling is a way to bring important materials back to the production cycle. This is particularly important for products that contain rare, toxic and / or valuable materials, such as electronics. It must be possible to disassemble products and separate different materials, appropriate processes for recycling must exist and systems for collecting and sorting materials must be in place for recycling to work optimally. Internal recycling of process related residues is often the optimal way both in terms of environment and economy.
Recycling, metals and minerals
Reuse of components or products is often the best option from an environmental point of view. This may be possible if the product design is such that you can repair and / or upgrade the products. To make reuse possible may require that business models are applied that take this option into account.
Re-use, metals ans minerals
Some materials can be melted and used in new products. For metals, this means no loss in quality, as long as different metals are not mixed. For thermoplastics remelting involves chain scission which means that long polymer chains are broken, and the quality is slightly reduced. This is why one often mixes recycled (re-melted) material with virgin material. Materials that do not melt can sometimes be separated by means of pyrolysis, such as fibrous composites where both fibres and chemicals are reclaimed. The environmental impact from thermal processes can be caused by energy consumption, but in some processes it is possible to recover energy from the material in the thermal process. Installations for thermal processing are subjected to high stresses. Their durability is entirely dependent on their corrosion resistance.
Heat treatment, castings
Swerea invests in Ecodesign as a joint offer from our different institutes. The purpose is to develop processes and products with maximum performance but minimal environmental impact. The aim is to help Swedish industry to deliver processes and products that combine profitability, quality and sustainability; thus, making industry competitive in a sustainable society.
One of the strengths in Swerea’s venture is that we can combine our expertise in technical areas, such as materials technology, corrosion, casting and textile manufacturing, with skills in areas related to sustainability such as life cycle assessments (LCA), different chemicals’ impact and social issues to name a few. This way it is possible to identify which components and/or life cycle steps that have a large environmental impact and to find good technical solutions to improve them. Furthermore, we can help with different kind of environmental product declarations.