Top 10Publicationsof 2022

With this selection of its ten most important scientific, peer-reviewed publications in 2022, the Wuppertal Institute aims to provide an insight into the state of its internationally perceived research work against the background of its transdisciplinary research approach.

Climate, energy and resource transition

Wiebke Hagedorn, Sebastian Jäger, Lucas Wieczorek, Philipp Kronenberg, Kathrin Greiff, Sebastian L. Weber, Arne Röttger (2022). More than recycling: the potential of the circular economy shown by a case study of the metal working industry

In: Journal of Cleaner Production 377, 134439

The steel industry is responsible for a quarter of all industrial greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the environmental savings are mainly due to steel recycling. Besides recycling, the circular economy offers strategies to increase material efficiency and thus decrease the primary raw material demand. However, the potentials remain unexploited because circular economy concepts with a higher degree of circularity are not considered. The presented case study of an industrial machining knife illustrates how the production process can be improved by implementing various circular strategies. The environmental performance is analyzed by calculating and comparing the carbon footprint, the cumulative energy demand and the material footprint, and the material efficiency indicator. The results show that the implementation of the three overarching strategies of the circular economy - narrowing, closing, and slowing - contributes to a significant increase in material efficiency. The implementation also has a positive effect on the overall environmental performance. The circular production processes require less energy and resources and cause fewer emissions. Auxiliary processes such as additional transport routes are relevant, as they can reduce or even overcompensate for savings. These processes must be adequately considered and designed.

Clemens Schneider (2022). Steel manufacturing clusters in a hydrogen economy: simulation of changes in location and vertical integration of steel production in Northwestern Europe

In: Journal of Cleaner Production 341, 130913

With the move to a hydrogen-based primary steel production envisioned for the near future in Europe, existing regional industrial clusters lose major assets. Such a restructuring of industries may result in a new geographical distribution of the steel industry and also to another quality of vertical integration at sites. Both implications could turn out as drivers or barriers to invest in new technologies and are thus important in respect to vertical integration of sites and to regional policy. This paper describes an approach to model production stock invest for the steel industries in North-Western Europe. Current spatial structures are reproduced with capacity, technical and energy efficiency data on the level of single facilities like blast furnaces. With the model developed both investments in specific technologies and at specific production sites can be modeled. The model is used to simulate different possible future scenarios. The case with a clear move to hydrogen-based production is compared to a reference scenario without technological shift. The scenarios show that existing trends like movement of production to the coast may be accelerated by the new technology but that sites in the hinterland can also adapt to a hydrogen economy. Possible effects of business cycles or a circular economy on regional value chains are explored with a Monte-Carlo analysis.

Philipp Bendix, Hermann Achenbach, Petra Weißhaupt, Daniela Eckert, Ines Oehme, Holger Berg (2022). Circular economy for durable products and materials: the recycling of plastic building products in Germany – status quo, potentials and recommendations

In: Journal of Material Cycles and Waste management 24, S. 1432-1443

The construction sector is the second largest area for the application for plastics. Due to the long life times of construction products, the implementation of the circular economy faces its own challenges. To investigate this challenge, the study covers a market study for Germany, voluntary take-back and recycling schemes of construction products, as well as the use of plastic recyclates in construction products. In addition, plastic packaging of construction products is covered. Opportunities and barriers to the use of recycled plastics in construction products are derived from the intersection of available technologies, recyclate supply, and technical requirements for construction products. The report concludes with recommendations to various stakeholders on how to promote the use of recyclates in construction products and their packaging. Important points here are the introduction of a recyclate quota for films as construction product packaging and the description of recycling possibilities and recyclate content in the technical documentation of construction products.

Lukas Hermwille, Stefan Lechtenböhmer, Max Åhman, Harro van Asselt, Chris Bataille, Stefan Kronshage, Annika Tönjes, Manfred Fischedick, Sebastian Oberthür, Amit Garg, Catherine Hall, Patrick Jochem, Clemens Schneider, Ryna Cui, Wolfgang Obergassel, Panagiotis Fragkos, Saritha Sudharmma Vishwanathan, Hilton Trollip (2022). A Climate club to decarbonize the global steel industry (comment)

In: Nature Climate Change 12, S. 494-496

Steel is an essential part of modern economies, both as a component of many end-use products and embedded in infrastructures that support global societies. The steel sector requires a profound transformation, as current technologies offer only limited mitigation potential for CO2 emissions. This is proving difficult, among other things, because transforming the production process toward decarbonization neither lowers production costs nor increases product quality and thus does not create incentives for corresponding investments. Due to the interconnectedness of the steel industry in the context of foreign trade as well as climate treaties on the macro level, an ambitious decarbonization policy will also have an international impact. Thus, decarbonization of global steel production could be facilitated by a sectoral climate club engaged in intensive transnational cooperation by addressing technical, economic, and political uncertainties. The authors examine global trends, such as the commitment of major steel producers to the net-zero emissions target, policy change in industrialised countries, and green steel production projects. They conclude that a climate club could set credible long-term goals through international cooperation, backed by strong government commitment and appropriate policies. The member countries of such a club should define national transformation pathways that lead to CO2 neutrality by 2050 globally and much sooner in industrialized countries.

Wolfgang Obergassel, Steffen Bauer, Lukas Hermwille, Stefan C. Aykut, Idil Boran, Sander Chan, Carolin Fraude, Richard J. T. Klein, Kathleen A. Mar (2022). From regime-building to implementation: harnessing the UN climate conferences to drive climate action

In: WIREs Climate Change 13, e797

The gap between the internationally agreed climate objectives and tangible emissions reductions looms large. The authors explore how the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Conference of the Parties (COP), could develop to promote more effective climate policy. The authors argue that promoting implementation of climate action could benefit from focusing more on individual sectoral systems, particularly for mitigation. The authors consider five key governance functions of international institutions to discuss how the COP and the sessions it convenes could advance implementation of the Paris Agreement: guidance and signal, rules and standards, transparency and accountability, means of implementation, and knowledge and learning. In addition, the authors consider the role of the COP and its sessions as mega-events of global climate policy. They identify opportunities for promoting sectoral climate action across all five governance functions and for both the COP as a formal body and the COP sessions as conducive events. Harnessing these opportunities would require stronger involvement of national ministries in addition to the ministries of foreign affairs and environment that traditionally run the COP process, as well as stronger involvement of non-Party stakeholders within formal COP processes.

Modelling and transdisciplinary methods

Hans Christian Gils, Hedda Gardian, Martin Kittel, Wolf-Peter Schill, Alexander Zerrahn, Alexander Murmann, Jann Launer, Alexander Fehler, Felix Gaumnitz, Jonas van Ouwerkerk, Christian Bußar, Jennifer Mikurda, Laura Torralba-Díaz, Tomke Janßen, Christine Krüger (2022). Modeling flexibility in energy systems: comparison of power sector models based on simplified test cases

In: Renewable and sustainable Energy Reviews 158, 111995

Model-based scenario analyses of future energy systems often come to deviating results and conclusions when different models are used. This may be caused by heterogeneous input data and by inherent differences in model formulations. The representation of technologies for the conversion, storage, use, and transport of energy is usually stylised in comprehensive system models in order to limit the size of the mathematical problem, and may substantially differ between models. This paper presents a systematic comparison of nine power sector models with sector coupling. The authors analyze the impact of differences in the representation of technologies, optimization approaches, and further model features on model outcomes. The comparison uses fully harmonised input data and highly simplified system configurations to isolate and quantify model-specific effects. The authors identify structural differences in terms of the optimization approach between the models. Furthermore, they find substantial differences in technology modeling primarily for battery electric vehicles, reservoir hydro power, power transmission, and demand response. These depend largely on the specific focus of the models. In model analyses where these technologies are a relevant factor, it is therefore important to be aware of potential effects of the chosen modeling approach. For the detailed analysis of the effect of individual differences in technology modeling and model features, the chosen approach of highly simplified test cases is suitable, as it allows to isolate the effects of model-specific differences on results. However, it strongly limits the model's degrees of freedom, which reduces its suitability for the evaluation of fundamentally different modeling approaches.

Jens Teubler, Sebastian Schuster (2022). Causal strands for social bonds: a case study on the credibility of claims from impact reporting

In: Sustainability 14, 12633

The study investigates if causal claims based on a theory-of-change approach for impact reporting are credible. The authors use their most recent impact report for a Social Bond to show how theory-based logic models can be used to map the sustainability claims of issuers to quantifiable indicators. A single project family (homeownership loans) is then used as a case study to test the underlying hypotheses of the sustainability claims. By applying Bayes Theorem, evidence for and against the claims is weighted to calculate the degree to which the belief in the claims is warranted. The authors found that only one out of three claims describe a probable cause–effect chain for social benefits from the loans. The other two claims either require more primary data to be corroborated or should be re-defined to link the intervention more closely and robustly with the overarching societal goals. However, all previous reported indicators are below the thresholds of the most conservative estimates for fractions of beneficiaries in the paper at hand. The authors conclude that the combination of a Theory-of-Change with a Bayesian Analysis is an effective way to test the plausibility of sustainability claims and to mitigate biases.

Consumer behaviour

Sebastian Schuster, Melanie Speck, Erica van Herpen, Felix Buchborn, Nina Langen, Mariam Nikravech, Shantanu Mullick, Tilman Eichstädt, Yulia Chikhalova, Emma Budiansky, Tobias Engelmann, Manuel Bickel (2022). Do meal boxes reduce food waste from households?

In: Journal of Cleaner Production 375, 134001

Household food waste is determined by a complex set of routinised behaviors, and disruption of these routines may allow for a decrease in this vast amount of food waste. The current study examines such a disruption of household routines: the meal box. The potential of meal boxes to diminish different types of household food waste is investigated for the first time, across different countries. After providing a framework comparing the effects of different types of meals on food waste, the authors subsequently examine the effects of subscription-based food supply (i.e., meal boxes) on total meal waste as well as on the different types of food waste: preparation, cooking, and plate waste. Our dataset contains 8747 meal observations from 955 households in six countries. Results from a Bayesian multilevel hurdle-lognormal model with random intercept show that, overall, meal boxes reduce total meal waste in comparison to traditionally cooked dinners (38% reduction). Meal boxes especially lower the occurrence and amount of pan-and-pot food that is wasted (i.e., cooking waste), and also lower the amount of meal preparation waste, yet lead to a higher occurrence of both preparation and plate waste compared to traditional meals. This shows how differences between meals affect household food waste, something that has received little prior research attention. Furthermore, whereas most prior research has focused on overall household food waste, our study illustrates that distinguishing between different types of household food waste can provide important new insights.

Chun Xia-Bauer, Florin Vondung, Stefan Thomas, Raphael Moser (2022). Business model innovations for renewable energy prosumer development in Germany

In: Sustainability 14, 7545

In Germany, the number of renewable energy prosumers has increased rapidly since 2000. However, the development of prosumers has faced and will continue to face various economic, social, and technological challenges, which have triggered the emergence of a number of innovative business models (BM). This paper enriches the empirical basis for prosumer-oriented BMs by investigating two BM innovations in Germany (peer-to-peer electricity trading (P2P) electricity trading and aggregation of small-size prosumers) drawing on business models and socio-technical transition theories. A mix of qualitative data collection methods, including document analysis and semi-structured expert interviews, was applied. The authors found that while both BMs can potentially address the challenges associated with renewable energy prosumer development in Germany, small-scale prosumers’ participation in both BMs has been limited so far. The authors identified various internal and external drivers and barriers for scaling up these BMs for prosumer development in Germany. Despite these barriers, both aggregation and centralised P2P targeting prosumers may potentially be also taken up by incumbent market actors such as utilities. Decentralised P2P on the other hand still faces significant internal and external barriers for upscaling. Based on the analysis, the paper provides policy recommendations with respect to the identified drivers and barriers. From a theoretical perspective, our findings provide further evidence to challenge the dichotomous understanding of niche actors and incumbents, the latter of which are often theorised to be resistant to radical innovations.

Große-Kreul, Felix (2022). What will drive household adoption of smart energy? Insights from a consumer acceptance study in Germany

In: Utilities Policies 75, 101333

Although smart energy technologies (SETs) can fulfill multiple tasks in increasingly decarbonised and digitalised energy systems, market diffusion is still limited. This study investigates which beliefs influence consumers' intention to adopt two smart-energy offerings, whether the rapid growth of the smart home market will now drive SET adoption, and if consumer-driven diffusion will lead to sustainability potentials being realised. Building on the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT2), a technology acceptance model, the author proposed a new theoretical model and conducted a survey with 700 people on consumer acceptance in Germany. The results suggest that a growing smart home market will not increase the acceptance of smart energy technologies (SET) and that "adjustable green default settings" should be introduced.

Further Top Ten

The annual selection of important scientific publications is available here for the following years:

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