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Biological transformation of manufacturing as a pathway towards environmental sustainability

Calling for systemic thinking
: Herrmann, Christoph; Cerdas, Felipe; Abraham, Tim; Büth, Lennart; Mennenga, Mark


CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 34 (2021), pp.157-170
ISSN: 1755-5817
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IST ()
biologicalisation of manufacturing; environmental sustainability; life cycle engineering

The biologicalisation of manufacturing is increasingly seen as a promising strategy towards sustainable, value-added manufacturing. Numerous examples of manufacturing technologies have been developed in the last years based on biologicalisation principles. Moreover, diverse approaches have emerged guiding the development of technologies which might potentially support such strategies. While biologicalisation strategies in manufacturing might lead to an increased resources efficiency, these are and remain human-made activities which imply an inherent and complex interaction with the natural environment. This paper aims at introducing the field of environmental sustainability in the current discussion on the biologicalisation of manufacturing. The strategies and technologies being developed in this field need to be thoroughly analysed using systemic and life cycle thinking. In this paper, we argue that biologicalisation strategies might lead to an absolute contribution towards environmental sustainability. Additionally, the paper proposes a screening approach to guide the analysis of the effects of biologicalisation strategies to the environment and the development of further engineering strategies to put them on a more environmentally consistent track. We then apply a method developed to review some of the related technologies. Although some of the technologies might potentially lead to a significant contribution in terms of environmental sustainability, there is still a methodological gap to support the prioritization of efforts and the (life cycle) engineering and development of such strategies and technologies. We therefore call for a systemic consideration when analysing the opportunities and risks implied by such strategies.