Author:Kasper Ampe (Ghent University)
Paper short abstract:
The Dutch Energy & Resource factory aims to enable a transition towards resource recovery and the circular economy in the wastewater system. However, technological, social and political factors intertwine in such a shift, this case study aims to understand how this innovation journey is given shape.
Paper long abstract:
The wastewater system is an essential part of society and over the last few years an evolution is noticeable towards resource recovery from wastewater, usually framed as part of a broader transition towards a circular economy. From the literature on socio-technical transitions we know that such an evolution develops through an interplay of technological and societal factors. This paper presents a case of how such dynamics intertwine in the Dutch wastewater sector, where the first steps towards a circular economy are being undertaken.
In particular, the paper focuses on what is currently one of the most important projects in this evolution, the Energy & Resource Factory (ERF). The water authorities have set up the ERF with the slogan "from a technology push towards a market pull" (EFGF, 2017, p. 13). According to the initiative, markets should be created, legislation should be changed and the current largescale and centralised system should be optimised.
However, studies on the circular economy suggest that this transition is problematic (Hobson & Lynch, 2016; Lazarevic & Valve, 2017). The literature on sustainable innovation journeys helps to understand the factors that influence the choices, growth and direction of the ERF and how such a journey is shaped. Actors, interactions and practices influence contexts and vice versa and, in particular, over time ideas stabilise and institutionalise within the context which then guides further choices and selections (Geels, Hekkert, & Jacobsson, 2008; Rip, 2012). To understand this journey we employ qualitative research methods such as documents analysis and interviews.
Encounters with and for circular economy initiatives