Circular Economy Challenge

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is committing $50 million through its new Circular Economy Challenge to accelerate the province’s transition towards a low-emissions economy. The investment from the Government of Alberta is focused on advancing innovations that will reduce the impacts of material production, processing, and disposal, and support economic diversification.

Funding is sourced from the Government of Alberta’s Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund. ERA launched the Circular Economy Challenge at GLOBE Forum on Wednesday, March 30, 2022.

Circular Economy solutions can contribute to widespread environmental, economic, and social benefits by reducing the impacts of material production, processing, and disposal and supporting economic diversification into lower-emissions products. Funding can accelerate the transition to a circular economy and keep valuable materials out of landfills while driving investment in our province, bolstering economic activity, creating jobs, and reducing emissions.

Successful applicants are eligible for up to $10 million with a minimum request of $500,000. ERA will match private contributions to a single project for up to 50 per cent of the project’s eligible expenses. The application deadline is Thursday, May 26, 2022, at 5 p.m. (MST). Late submissions will not be accepted. ERA’s Steve MacDonald, CEO, Mark Summers, Chief Strategy Officer, and Justin Wheler, Executive Director of Technology and Innovation, hosted an informational webinar on Thursday, April 14, 2022, at 9 a.m. (MST).

CORRECTION: The Circular Economy Challenge webinar incorrectly identified the page length of the submitted Expressions of Interest document as 8 letter-sized pages instead of 10. Please review section 4.4 of the Guidelines for more information. 

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Applications are invited for projects at the stages of field pilot, demonstration, or first-of-kind commercial implementation. The $50 Circular Economy Challenge is open to new builds, retrofits, and projects that have been previously initiated but have stalled due to the current economic situation. The maximum length for projects is three years from initiation.  Projects may involve components outside of Alberta, but all technology demonstration and deployment activities must occur in the province.

WHO SHOULD APPLY

Innovators, technology developers, Indigenous communities, industrial facility owners and operators, industrial associations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), research and development organizations, universities, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, government research labs, and individuals are invited to apply.

Partnerships are encouraged. Consortiums help attract and retain highly skilled workers, increase Alberta’s innovation capacity, engage local communities, and leverage complementary resources. Applicants are encouraged to partner with Alberta’s post-secondary and research institutions, Indigenous communities, co-operative organizations, and municipalities where they can.

FOCUS AREAS

Projects of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Novel solutions for treatment and upcycling of wastewater and solid wastes; waste-to-value-add products (e.g.: upcycling of agriculture, forestry, construction, municipal, and mining wastes).
  • Novel mineral sources (e.g.: lithium brines, carbonates, etc.) and high-value material extraction from waste streams/products (e.g.: tailings, fly ash, lignin, etc.)
  • Metals and minerals recycling and reuse.
  • Innovative solutions for agriculture/food waste reduction and/or upcycling (e.g.: fertilizer production from waste).
  • Advanced plastics recycling and circular plastics technologies.
  • Green materials (e.g., hemp, novel forest products, novel cement chemistries, novel plastics, etc.)
  • Feedstock substitution (e.g.: biogenic inputs, material recovery, industrial symbiosis, etc.)
  • Advanced manufacturing including digitization and automation of product manufacturing and logistics.
  • Carbon dioxide conversion or utilization.

APPROVAL PROCESS

Submissions will be selected through ERA’s competitive review process. A team of experts in science, engineering, business development, commercialization, financing, and GHG quantification will conduct an independent, rigorous, transparent review overseen by a Fairness Monitor.

PROJECT DEVELOPMENT STAGE

Expressions of interest were invited for innovation to the stages of field piloting, commercial demonstration, or first-of-kind commercial implementation, as described below:

  • Field Pilot: At this stage, the technology or innovation is ready to be field-tested in an operational environment. Projects in this category include scale-up of prototypes to representative pilot scale and subsequent in-field testing of pilot units.
  • Commercial Demonstration: At this stage of development, the technology or innovation is approaching the final commercial product and representative systems have been built. Projects in this category include the demonstration of near- or fully-commercial scale systems in an operational environment.
  • First-of-Kind Commercial Implementation: At this stage, the technology is ready for first-of-kind commercial deployment. Projects in this category will involve the design, construction, and operation of the technology in its final commercial form, with the intent to operate the technology for its full commercial life.

BACKGROUND

Waste has been identified as a global problem. Our economic system functions mainly in a linear fashion: natural resources are extracted and processed into products that are used once before being discarded at end-of-life. This has led to issues including rapid exhaustion of landfill space, accumulation of waste products in the environment, depletion of finite resources, and increasing socioeconomic costs. Production of new goods requires energy and resource inputs with associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and products that degrade in landfills or the environment producing GHGs, including methane and other pollutants.

A key solution proposed for these issues is a Circular Economy. A circular economy is designed to significantly reduce waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. Product lifecycles are extended by reuse, recycling, upcycling, resource recovery, and low-impact design. Circular Economy is a cradle-to-cradle approach improving material repurposing, reuse, recovery, and regeneration within supply chains, helping to reduce extraction and consumption of virgin materials in favour of waste recovery and recycling. It is a complex challenge that requires systemic change; innovations in technologies, products, and process; and cross-sector collaboration.

Globally, the circular economy is poised to unlock $4.5 trillion of economic growth by 2030, and as much as $25 trillion by 2050, according to research by Accenture Strategy for the book, Waste to Wealth. By boosting companies’ competitiveness and profitability, the circular economy will make global supply chains more resilient, significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and create over a million jobs in the next decade.