top of page

Circular Economy

On this Project:


Melissa M. Bilec



Closing Resource Loops

Closing resource loops involves either creating products and components that can be easily and safely absorbed by the biosphere, or creating items that while they cannot be released to the ecosystem, can be easily recycled to high-value uses. As such, closing loops involves (a) Design for a biological cycle, (b) Design for a technological cycle, (c) Design for disassembly and reassembly. 

We address closing resource loops and design for disassembly by addressing the technical and scientific challenge of how we formulate, produce, and use material resources to reduce consumption and its environmental impact while also creating new ways to cycle these resources back into use at end-of-life, while considering the environmental impacts.  Plastic products are a key case study, with an emphasis on molecularly-designed products for disassembly, and reuse, while also considering associated economic, business, and environmental drivers and barriers, via the new general equilibrium behavioral-economic model that incorporates insights from psychology and anthropology and consider non-optimizing, highly socialized behavior. We address the societal challenge of global plastic waste. 


We are specifically focusing our technical challenge on thermosets: co-PI Eric Beckman is working to create an inherently recyclable thermoset composite system. Thermosets can be polymers, plastics, and/or resins hardened by curing.  Thermosets produce intractable products that cannot be reprocessed, nor can the individual components be separated for reuse. Thus, this significant market ends up as waste.  Thermosets span many household products such as polyurethane (e.g., shoe soles and foams) and melamine resins (e.g., hard surfaces), to industrial products that include windmill blades or aerospace designs. In the built environment, thermosets are often found in insulation systems, adhesives, coatings and paints, and fiber composites.  We aim to investigate this product from the molecule to the product to the sector (see figure below).

While we are focusing on plastic reformulations, many of these same ideas can be applied across products and sectors, including other products in the construction sector.


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