Progress towards a circular economy in materials to decarbonize electricity and mobility

Dustin Mulvaney, Ryan M. Richards, Morgan D. Bazilian, Erin Hensley, Greg Clough, Seetharaman Sridhar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Over 90% of the global economy continues to use natural resources unsustainably. The linear “take-make-toss” approach to materials use still prevails over circular economy and industrial ecology ideas in practice. The shift to renewable energy is one step towards building an economy on more circular material flows. But the materials needed to decarbonize electricity and mobility are supplied by mining and extractives industries, places where impacts from natural resource extraction can be most severe. Manufacturers of wind turbines, photovoltaics, batteries and vehicles—critical technologies to the clean energy transition—still primarily rely on feedstocks and inputs from natural resources as opposed to waste for processing and production. Similarly, robust and complete end-of-life (EoL) management strategies are not well developed for these materials. This review synthesizes progress towards a circular economy—reducing impacts from resource extraction, metallurgy, manufacturing, and waste disposal, and resource recovery—in key materials needed to decarbonize electricity and mobility. Efforts to manufacture by principles of sustainable design to reclaim the recycling value of EoL product waste are complicated by new materials and increasingly complex composites. Dialog and collaboration about trends in materials use and waste flows that span extractive industry scientists and professionals to product designers and recyclers will be critical to spurring the technological and policy innovations needed to encourage more progress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110604
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Circular economy
  • Extractive industries
  • Green design
  • Recycling
  • Renewable energy
  • Zero waste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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