Research team

Product development

Expertise

Design for a circular economy | ecodesign | design for sustainability Specific interest in circular plastics usage and designing out single use plastics In detail: - smart material selection, user-centered material characteristics, material identity of new materials (e. g. biomaterials, recycled plastics), material attachment - sustainable product experience, product lifetime extension, product service systems, sustainable behaviour, in-usage quality, sustainable alternatives for single use - closing the loop: product end of life management, product reuse, component reuse, recycling, composting, plastic soup - qualitative life cycle analysis to identify and map ciruclar optimisation opportunities

Attractive maintenance to extend product lifetime: Exploration of the designerly opportunities from a user-centred perspective. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

Within the current linear economy, resources are rapidly depleting. Products with a short lifetime are often discarded for various reasons without being used to their full potential. The objective of this research is to investigate the opportunities to lengthen the lifetime of products through maintenance and repair, from the users' perspective. We focus on products in the cycling context with a short lifetime (such as cycling parts, clothing and helmets, drink bottles, …) to narrow the field and provide an innovative design context with a wide variety of products and innovation (design and production) in Flanders. Starting from a literature review, a theoretical framework will be compiled that encompasses both product attributes and psychological-ownership variables, which influence the willingness of a user to lengthen their products' lifetime. Influences of these variables will be explored through qualitative and quantitative research. Next, the relations between these variables, as well as their effect on the actions of users will be investigated. Using the results from these research steps, four products from the cycling industry will be redesigned to facilitate optimal maintenance and repair intentions for users. The effect of these optimisations will be analysed through qualitative research, such as concept tests and in-depth interviews. Together with innovative managers/designers in the cycling industry as well as other related industries, the implications of such new products will be analysed and viable strategies explored. The aimed outcome of this research project consists of the following: (i) a fundamental understanding of the motivations of users to lengthen the lifetime of their product through maintenance and repair, (ii) strategies for designers to optimize products and create attractive maintenance and repair actions and (iii) learnings, strategies and models for businesses/manufacturers to address changes in their industry as a result of implementation of these guidelines.

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Sustainable perception and material experience as drivers for increased material attachment and product longevity: towards extended plastics identity for a circular economy. 01/05/2021 - 30/04/2023

Abstract

The current transition towards on circular economy comes along with an increased attention to material choice and selection, both in the production of raw materials and in the impact on future generated waste. Literature indicates that consumers develop stronger attachments to products (and its materials) with an identity that is congruent to their own. People exhibit more protective behaviours to products to which they are attached and will try to postpone their replacement as long as possible, this product lifetime extension is key to achieve circularity and value retention. Any physical interaction with products is done through its materials. Materials are essential building blocks of products and have a strong influence on product appearance, but also on the product's functionality, symbolic meaning, and overall sensory product experience. Materials should thus be considered from both a functional or technical and a user-centred or experiential perspective. Consequently, an all-encompassing understanding of materials is needed that does not only include material characterization knowledge on technical properties and functionality that can be found in datasheets based on standardized tests (technical characterization). In addition to economic and ecological characteristics, the experience and perception of materials should be considered as well (experiential characterization) to increase commercial success of both products and materials. Nowadays, raised by the growing insights in the harm that our current plastics consumption causes, virgin plastic products materials perceived by some societal groups as practically reprehensible and some (e.g. plastic bags, straws) are/ get banned accordingly. This increases the search for new and alternative sustainable materials, such as natural materials and bioplastics, but also recycled plastics. Nowadays, virgin plastics or even recycled plastics are not always perceived in a positive way by either its industrial users (e.g. material engineers and designers) or by consumers when embodied in daily products. In order to re-appreciate these valuable unique materials, research urgently needs to support the purposeful use of plastics design for long-lived solutions, in contrast to the multitude of current single-use products. In this context, a large gap is detected in data from experiential material characterization that is equally important as technical material data. Building upon our previous work, we aim to set-up a straightforward framework for experiential material characterization that incorporates physical, standard material demonstrator forms (to control experimental conditions over various plastic materials) and a set of experiential material qualities for characterization by consumers (and designers). Next, data collection experiments will be set up with specific materials and users in order to investigate the mediating effect of a material's experience and sustainable perception on material attachment and product lifetime extension. This framework enables us to set the basis for further research projects in collaboration with specific industries of whom many are situated in Flanders, i.e. on the one hand with producers of virgin plastics (e.g. BASF, Total, Borealis, Ineos Styrolution, Exxonmobil, Lanxess, Kaneka), bioplastics (e.g. ALPAGRO packaging, B4Plastics, but also many of the virgin plastics producers), and recycled plastics (e.g. SUEZ-QCP, Eco-oh!, Vanheede), and on the other hand with design agencies (such as edmire, Pilipili, Voxdale, Verhaert, Pars Pro Toto), producers of (durable) plastic products (such as Tupperware, P&G, Samsonite), and the SIM-Flanders research centre. During the project, the various options for further valorisation will be explored, such as Horizon Europe, VLAIO O&O and VLAIO innovation mandate.

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Mivas circular: linking social economy and circular economy in the packaging sector 04/01/2021 - 03/01/2025

Abstract

MIVAS CIRCULAIR is researching the role of the social economy in the circular economy and vice versa. How can participation in the circular economy secure social employment towards the future? How can social enterprises (sheltered workplaces) contribute to the implementation of the circular economy in Flanders? A specific case is detailed in the packaging economy in whom the company Mivas is active.

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Enviromics - Integrated Technologies in EcoSystems 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2026

Abstract

Enviromics is a multidisciplinary consortium of UAntwerpen researchers across the board of environmental sciences and technologies. Through impactful fundamental advances and interdisciplinary approaches across biology, (bio)chemistry and (bio)engineering, the consortium offers bio based solutions to ecosystem challenges by a strong interaction between three pillars (i) Environmental applications and nature based solutions, (ii) Sensing and analysis of chemicals and environments and (iii) Microbial technology and biomaterials, supported by sustainable product development and technology assessment. Through a renewed and tighter focus the ENVIROMICS consortium now signs for a leaner and more dynamic shape. Through intensified collaborations with different stakeholders, both national and international, the leverage for creating enhanced business and societal impact is reinforced. The consortium is strongly managed by a team of two highly profiled researchers partnered by an IOF manager and a project manager with clearly defined tasks and in close contact with the consortium members and the central Valorisation Unit of the university. The consortium has a strong and growing IP position, mainly on environmental/electrochemical sensing and microbial probiotics, two key points of the research and applications program. One spinoff was created in 2017 and two more will be setup in the coming three years. The direct interaction with product developers ensures delivering high TRL products. Next to a growing portfolio of industrial contracts, we create tangible societal impact, when relevant including citizen science approaches. Through the stronger leverage created by the new structure and partnerships we will develop both intertwined branches significantly.

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Design for a Circular Economy: How to design optimal plastics usage in a circular economy 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

Did you know that metal straws are actually environmentally not better than plastic ones? As a design researcher I'm interested in supporting the transition of the plastics industry towards a circular economy from a human-centred perspective. Meaning, that it does not help to forbid the usage of straws if they are simply replaced by other materials without influence on motivation of behaviour change. We have to design new ways of experiencing the same drinking consumption or change people's motivation towards reuse. Research is needed to investigate the opportunities to redesign the usage of these valuable unique materials.

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Products as enablers for pro-environmental behaviour: investigation of reusable alternatives for single-use plastics. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Recently, the European Union decided on a ban for several types of single-use plastics by 2021 and a considerable reduction of many more. By then, good alternatives for these products are desired. As a response to this ban and to consumers' avoidance of plastic litter, (new and existing) reusable alternative products come into scope. Existing examples of replacement products of single-use plastics include reusable straws, reusable shopping bags, reusable vegetable bags, reusable lunch wraps/boxes, menstrual cups, washable diapers, safety razors, reusable coffee travel cups, reusable cotton buds… . These products offer good alternatives to reduce our environmental impact, but only if they are used in the proper manner. Due to their characteristics of reusability and longevity, they need to be stronger, thicker and consist of more material or other materials that have a larger impact during production (such as metal or glass). Based on different LCA studies, the example of a single-use LDPE bag learns us that in order to be environmentally better for climate change: cotton bags should have to be reused 52 times (organic cotton: 149 times), paper bags: 43 times; PP woven bags: 5 times; and PET bags: 8 times. Clearly, if these products are used in the same manner as single-use products, the environmental impact will be even worse. For some alternatives, the question arise if this is at all possible. In this research project, we will study of the long(er) term usage of these reusable alternatives, in order to investigate what motivates or demotivates people to keep on using these products. Long-term is defined as the usage time that starts from the time that equals the similar climate change impact. In addition, there is interest in gaining insights as to the effect of the usage of these types of products on the general attempt towards sustainable living. Understanding the driving variables towards adopting reusable alternatives will form the basis to set up a model on how products or product service systems can influence the long-term product interaction and motivate sustainable living.

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Border detection of illicit drugs and precursors by highly accurate electrosensors (BorderSens). 01/09/2019 - 31/08/2023

Abstract

Combining robust sensor technologies with the inherent advantages of electrochemical strategies, nano-molecularly imprinted polymers, and multivariate and pattern data analysis, BorderSens will enable highly accurate selective detection of trace levels of illicit drugs and precursors. With borders being important gateways for the entrance of illicit drugs and their precursors, custom and border control authorities are facing pertaining challenges to detect such dangerous substances and safeguard the public. The main challenges posed by currently used on-site methods to detect illicit drugs and precursors are low accuracy, in the case of colour tests, and high cost and low portability, in the case of spectroscopic tests. In the light of a pressing need for better drug test systems at EU borders, the ultimate research aim of the BorderSens is to develop a portable, wireless single prototype device with the capability to quickly test for different types of drugs, precursors and adulterants/cutting agents, with outstanding accuracy and reduced false positives and false negatives. BorderSens will demonstrate the innovative technological solutions at seven demonstrations sites at EU borders with end-users and ensure exploitation plans guaranteeing strong impact. BorderSens brings together universities, a big manufacturer of electrochemical sensors, a specialised SME, ten endusers i.e. forensic institutes, police forces and border authorities, and a high quality external advisory board, to provide an excellent scientific-technical perspective and a straightforward exploitation route, with great impact on the safety of EU citizens.

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Plastic pellets: detection, quantification and evolution of plastic pellet flow in Antwerp Harbour (Port of the Future) 01/02/2020 - 30/06/2021

Abstract

In this project, the University of Antwerp, want to make a thorough analysis together with the Port Authority of the various steps of the handling and transport process that lead to the loss and distribution of the plastic pellets in the port. In this way we arrive at a dynamic heat map of pellet loss in function of time and place. These insights ensure that not only the places of loss and risks are mapped, but also insights into potential intervention points and solutions. This must be achieved by bringing together the available expertise and knowledge within the companies, the port and the university. In a first phase, the existing situation is analyzed and mapped out, and in a second phase, targeted solutions are formulated, with the ultimate aim being to reduce losses to zero and limit the existing and future impact on the environment as much as possible.

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Project website

Induce circularity in critical consumables: understanding the variables in chemical labs. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2020

Abstract

Yearly, an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of lab plastic waste is created in research labs worldwide. Reducing the plastic consumables in the chemistry sector has a significant impact on the reduction of the total amount of waste. Currently, most lab consumables are only used once and then disposed as hazardous waste. This project aims to support the chemistry sector to grow towards a circular economy, which is one of the pillars of Essenscia, the Belgian federation for chemistry and life sciences industry. Within this transition, the objective is to design out waste. The research proposal aims to develop a theoretical framework on how to deal with the variables that influence the design and implementation of replacing consumables by longer-living alternatives. The resulting conclusions will be of importance for production industry of chemical equipment as well as chemical labs (including procurement) and the recycling sector. The research is structured towards identification, influence and relation of (i) the material variables, (ii) design variables, (iii) usage variables, and (iv) context variables. In a first phase a wide exploration will be performed, to achieve this six research groups are willing to collaborate. In the next phases, the focus will be on each group of variables, in the pre-determined order mentioned before. The results of these foci will build upon each other to come together in a complete theory including all the variables.

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    Leisure time in a circle: how can we make the province's leisure time offer fit even better in a circular economic model. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

    Abstract

    With its recreation facilities the province of Antwerp addresses a basic need (wellbeing, health and leisure). The challenge that is central to this research project is to turn these into 'smart' facilities that create value for different stakeholders and adapt it to a circular economic paradigm. Based on insights from consumer behaviour, product-service design and social sciences, we aim for a research design in which different stakeholders co-create a sustainable (planet, profit, people) leisure model with a 'provincial domain' as case study.

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    Narcoreader: product development. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2019

    Abstract

    Detection and identification of illegal drugs is a major task of both police and customs officials in order to prevent circulation and dealing in our society. An optimal test is crucial to support this process. Within the AXES research group, a new method was developed to achieve a fast and accurate detection of cocaine at low cost, using an electrochemical sensor. By using this method, the limitations and restrictions of existing tests can be tackled (i.e. interpretation sensitivity, false positives/negatives, and environmental influences). The developed technique is currently operational in a lab setting, but needs to be adjusted and translated to be effective on location. Currently, within other projects, the method is optimized to achieve multi-drug detection. This POC project focusses on the development of a user-friendly and wearable device for drug detection that can be used by different authorities without scientific knowledge or training. By means of methods from Product Development, the current lab setting will be translated into a usable product for reliable testing (in typical Belgian whether conditions, wearing gloves, in an environment where no tables or other surfaces are available). The project includes thorough testing and verification with future end users.

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      Urban pre-Composter, decentralized pre-treatment of organic waste. 03/03/2018 - 30/04/2018

      Abstract

      The Urban pre-Composter is a public underground system that is used to collect organic waste in an urban context. The added value of this innovative concept is the ability to pretreat the waste in order to reduce its volume. Consequently, less transportation is needed to carry this waste. This directly implies that the environmental impact on these cities will be reduced, and in addition on social domain, the concept reduced the amount of hindrance and annoyance that is currently related to waste collection. During this project the aim is to convert and improve the design into a verified installation concept that can be commercialized.

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      Development and validation of a new framework for the integration of technical and consumer-experience-based materials selection throughout the design process. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

      Abstract

      With the emergence of new materials, the available set of materials is rapidly growing both in type and number, each with their own characteristics and applications. Hence, materials selection in product design is a complex and costly process. Since people interact with materials through products, the products' materials should not only meet technical qualifications, but also appeal to the senses of the consumer, attribute specific meanings, provoke intended emotions, and be context-specific. Consequently, industrial design engineers should be supported in integrating these different material understandings, and especially in taking the consumer perspective into account. This research will focus on closing the knowledge gap in continuous materials selection support - customised to the evolving multidisciplinary needs of industrial design engineering - throughout the entire design process, with special focus upon consumer-centred aspects of design. The success of new products depends upon their adoption by end consumers and, therefore, particular attention should be paid to designing products in such a way that they appeal to these consumers and their consumption context [1]. The overall research objective is to develop and test a generic framework to support early (new) materials decisions, integrating technical and consumer-experiential aspects. The conceptual basis of the study project combines two methodologies: 'Research in Design Context' and 'Design Inclusive Research', that provide frameworks in which 'design' is considered as an evolving research process to arrive at a new product that is both technically optimal and consumer-centred. A stepwise research design combines existing data (literature review), consumer insights (workshops), insights in motives and criteria for material choices (qualitative research, quantitative model building with professionals) and case studies (validating of the methodology with companies) The research project thus attempts to provide and test a methodology to bridge the current technical - consumer-experiential imbalance in industrial design engineering and to enhance the consumer perspective in this process. It can also improve the adoption of new materials and products. The theoretical and methodological contribution is that the project aims at developing and testing a new framework for materials selection in the design process that integrates both perspectives, for an increased adoption of newly developed products in the market place. A combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches and inductive and deductive reasoning in a mixed methods approach is used.

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      Supporting co-creation to reduce street litter in Zemst 07/11/2016 - 12/12/2016

      Abstract

      Within the project " street litter along slow roads", the municipality of Zemst requested our support to organise a cocreation session with its citizens. The session included a 2 day workshop focusing on problem definition and idea generation during the first session and problem selection and implementation during the second session. The project fits within the 'ideate for sustainability' service provision goal of the research group.

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      Urban pre-Composter, decentralized pre-treatment of organic waste. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017

      Abstract

      The Urban pre-Composter is a public underground system that is used to collect organic waste in an urban context. The added value of this innovative concept is the ability to pretreat the waste in order to reduce its volume. Consequently, less transportation is needed to carry this waste. This directly implies that the environmental impact on these cities will be reduced, and in addition on social domain, the concept reduced the amount of hindrance and annoyance that is currently related to waste collection. During this project the aim is to convert and improve the design into a verified installation concept that can be commercialized.

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      Design from Recycling. 01/11/2015 - 31/10/2017

      Abstract

      The aim of the Design from recycling-project is to provide the necessary information for the Flemish SMEs and to support the design of product that are manufactured from recycled plastics. Additionally, the project also focuses on determining the sustainability level of these products. The target groups are on the one hand the Flemish companies involved in developing and manufacturing plastic products and on the other hand recyclers of plastics. Design FROM recycling is not the same as the already well known Design FOR Recycling, in which the focus is on designing recyclable products. The main research questions are: a) How do we design specifically with and for recycled plastics? b) How do we efficiently match recycled material flows and potential products? c) what is the added value of products made from recycled materials (compared to virgin materials) in terms of eco-efficiency and resource efficiency?

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