top of page

Circular Economy

On this Project:


Melissa M. Bilec



Slowing Resource Loops

Design for slowing resource loops includes design for longer-life and product life extension. In design for longer life, one aims to create more robust products with longer viable service lives, while also creating designs to which consumers become emotionally attached. Product life extension can be achieved through several strategies: (a) Design for ease of maintenance and repair, (b) Design for upgradability and adaptability, (c) Design for standardization and compatibility, and (d) Design for dis- and re-assembly (see figure below).

We address slowing resource loops through design for standardization and enabling a new business model to support extending product value. We argue that we cannot create a circular economy without a clear system for asset and material tracking.  One promising solution to asset and materials tracking is blockchain.  

Blockchain offers an approach that can greatly facilitate retention of value within the circular economy. It is an encrypted peer-to-peer network that promises enhanced trust, security, and reduced transaction costs. Each block contains a set of data and is represented by a unique cryptographic hash (a digital fingerprint). The header for each data block stores the hash for the previous block, thus creating a “chain” of encrypted data. 

There are significant opportunities in employing circular economy and blockchain in the building and construction sector. One could track the materials in the buildings, the quality of the materials, and then potential materials available during deconstruction, with buildings serving as ‘material banks.’  We are exploring how to integrate CE in existing building technologies and platforms, such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and Building Information Models (BIM).  We propose the development of the Blockchain Enabled Asset Tracking System (BEATS), in which circular economy goals are realized through superposition of the database onto life cycle stages (see figure above). We plan to illustrate how BEATS can be operationalized, with building-level data  from UPitt and Mascaro Contruction.


On This Project:

Associated Publications

Berry, B., Farber, B., Cruz Rios, F., Haedicke, M. Chakraborty, S., Lowder, S.S., Bilec, M.M., Isenhour, C. (2021). “Just by Design? Exploring justice as a multidimensional concept in US circular economy discourse.” Local Environment.


Zappitelli, J., Smith, E., Padgett, K., Bilec, M.M., Babbitt, C., Khanna, V. (2021). “Quantifying Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Embodied in Global Primary Plastic Trade Network.”  ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 9, 44, 14927–14936.


Cruz Rios, F., Panic, S.+, Grau, D., Khanna, V., Zappitelli, J., Bilec, M.M.* (2022).  “Exploring circular economies in the built environment from a complex systems perspective: A systematic review and conceptual model at the city scale.” Sustainable Cities and Society, 80(May 2022):103411.

Cruz Rios, F., Grau, D., Bilec, M.M.* (2021). "Barriers and Enablers to Circular Building Design in the US: An empirical study." ASCE Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 147(10):04021117.

Babbitt, C., Althaf, S., Cruz Rios, F., Bilec, M.M., Graedel, T.E. (2021).  “The role of design in circular economy solutions for critical materials.” One Earth, 4(3), 353-362.

Copeland, S., & Bilec, M. M. (2020). "Building as Material Banks Using RFID and Building Information Modeling in a Circular Economy." 27th CIRP Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) Conference. Grenoble, France.

bottom of page