AMS Circular City research programme



In Circular Cities, resources that drive human activities are by definition regenerative rather than linear or degenerative: be it energy, water, materials, nutrients or clean air. Meaning the focus shifts from gradual destruction of resource-value – “take, make, waste” – to value-creation through models based on cascades and cycles. In order to establish such regenerative resource flows that retain or increase value in cities’ subsystems there is dire need for new concepts as well as rigorous and critical testing of existing ones: both at an academic and practical level. This relates for example to aligning & connecting flows, exploring shared value models, implementing smart sensing technologies, identifying negative external effects etc. The impact on how cities are conceived, materialized and operationalized in a circular framework can hardly be overstated. Some impacts can be imagined, based on current knowledge, but others can at best be anticipated. This is due to cities being complex, adaptive systems in which “an increasing number of independent variables begin interacting in interdependent and unpredictable ways” [Sanders 2008]. The implications of a circular agenda are thus significant, and we only just begin to fathom the magnitude. Moreover, there is a proliferation of different interpretations concerning the meaning of ‘circular’. Some interpretations are essentially linear processes made more efficient, whereas other interpretations may seem ‘too holistic to succeed’. Accommodating circular processes in all their diversity means that potential contradictions in the actions we take need careful consideration. The abovementioned notions resonate in the Circular City research program through three, strongly interrelated subthemes: materials & buildings, nutrients recovery, and urban energy systems. Each subtheme has its own research priorities, informed by the interplay between city, society and science, and rooted in the definition that circular cities are cities that understand, establish, monitor and control circular economy principles in an urban context, whilst realizing the vision of a resilient, future-proof city. An important focus within the theme of materials & buildings is on materials temporarily stored in built constructions for diverging periods of time. Including the question how to streamline supply, demand and conversion processes of those materials, components and buildings. The 2nd theme concerns nutrient recovery from (waste) water streams. At stake are methods and systems to better reutilize nutrients, materials and energy in water flows, as well as the integration of wastewater treatment systems on different scales in urban regions. The 3rd theme centres on the transition to renewable energy sources and its infrastructural implications, dealing with increased variability in consumption, storage and production at multiple scales, and concerning multiple energy products and services. This theme accentuates innovation in systems engineering & integration, energy storage, and ICT, adopting a citizen perspective.

Starting from specific “living labs” in Amsterdam and its Metropolitan area, AMS aims for bringing innovations to scale, whilst accelerating circular city development in general. Questions to be addressed are for example: Which environmental, economical and social opportunities and barriers do we face with regard to the Amsterdam context? And what generic lessons can be drawn? What are the trade offs between central and decentralized solutions? What synergistic potential exists between various resource flows and how to tap into it? Why do data play such an important role and how do we obtain and manage those data?

Materials & buildings
Resource depletion and waste generation are two phenomena that, due to their non-regenerative and polluting character, hinder healthy and sustainable development of urban environments. A shift from linear to circular resource management offers a potential solution, but demands new production and consumption models. Not least with regard to buildings and infrastructures.

To establish circular, regenerative material flows that retain or increase value in a metropolitan region, there is dire need for rigorous and critical testing of concepts, both conceptually and applied, at an academic and practical level. Moreover, ‘embodied’ resource use – upstream and downstream – is often externalized, but has to be taken into account as well.

The main focus of this theme is on materials that are ‘stored’ in built constructions for medium/long periods of time, but also short cycle materials, such as solid waste flows, are part of the scope.

From these challenges three perspectives and scale levels are distinguished:

• (Building) Design for circularity: intention, duration, flexibility, disassembly, and re-assembly, Additive Manufacturing and Material Studies (multi-LCAs)
• Circular neighbourhoods: closing & connecting loops locally > linked with Governance & Living Labs
• Resource management and urban mining: mapping and managing storage and circulation of materials in the built environment

Developing and implementing technological innovations and value models for society as well as public or private organisations, through e.g.

• Circular supply networks,
• Resource recovery,
• Product-life extension,
• Sharing platforms,
• Product Service Systems

Project examples: PUMA, 3D printing in the Circular City, Urban Pulse

Nutrients recovery
Decentralised sanitation systems can play an important role in circular cities, with regard to resilient and cost-effective wastewater treatment systems, whilst valorising the wastewater flow through recovery of phosphates and other nutrients, biogas production, clean water, etc.

Furthermore, it has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and improve urban quality as perceived by the community. However, assessing this potential requires further study and practical experience. Moreover, different solutions, on various scale levels, need to be taken into account from a circular perspective, such as the opportunities of end-of-pipe propositions.

• Effective Phosphate Recycling + associated products (water, heat, etc.), Impact on local crop (food?) production, Social cohesion and community building
• Medium to large scale wastewater refining & valorisation

Urban energy systems
The transition to renewable energy sources requires smarter energy infrastructures that are able to deal with increased variability in consumption, storage and production at multiple scales. AMS focuses on innovation in ICT, energy systems engineering and integration, energy storage, while adopting a citizen perspective. In urban environments, renewable energy generation will especially become more important, with it’s own opportunities, challenges, and limitations, given by the urban settings.

Reliable and sustainable energy systems for the urban environment, suiting with the changing needs of urban living. Shift from top-down to decentralized energy generation.

The value case & impact
• Energy systems based on renewables > less dependency on fossil fuels
• Sustainable energy systems > future proof
• Decentralized energy systems > power to the people

Project examples: BIES, DC SMART, Saving Energy when others pay the bill, URSES

Main Research Infrastructure/Living Labs in Amsterdam
Buiksloterham, Amsterdam Zuid-Oost, ArenA, Haarlemmermeer, and Floriade Almere.

How to participate?
AMS Institute is always looking for relevant partners to co-create with in this research programme, or to start now projects with in line of one of the Circular City subthemes.

Interested to join? Please contact us!

Circular City: Bob Geldermans
Circular City Materials & buildings: Virpi Heybroek
Circular City Nutrients recovery: Jeroen Sluijsmans
Circular City Urban energy systems: Saskia Timmer

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