Innovation

Partnership brings traceability software to circular polymers and chemicals value chain

Finnish oil-refiner Neste has partnered with Netherlands-based startup Circularise to bring its traceability software into circular polymers and chemicals supply chains. The collaboration will establish digital solutions to trace renewable and recycled material flows, providing increased transparency along the value chain.

Digital product passports in Circularise’s system
The digital twin

Circularise’s blockchain-based supply chain traceability software creates a ‘digital twin’ for the physical material being traced. The startup told Resource: “Digital twin is a broad term for a live digital representation of a physical system.

“It is a term commonly used in engineering when software is used to control a physical system. The idea being you create a digital clone of a physical system which you control and then the physical system is altered to reflect this.

The twin stores information on the used materials throughout the value chain, enabling all parties to keep track of the material. This, Circularise says, allows them to verify where materials came from, and how and where they were processed. The digital twin can also provide information on sustainability data such as the carbon footprint of the materials or products made from them.

Circularise continued: “Regarding the information [we] helps companies share, some call it a digital record or a digital twin, but the phrase which is becoming more popular and more closely represents what we do is a digital product passport.

“EU regulation is laying the groundwork to prescribe digital product passports in verticals such as EV batteries, construction and textiles (see the proposed ecodesign regulation update). This is designed to be a decentralised record which provides insight into the overall impact of a product, how to repair it, how to recycle it, key compliance information etc.

“The goal of digital product passports is to help consumers to make informed buying decisions, to facilitate more efficient end of life processing of products, and to accelerate industry transformation to more sustainable and circular practices.”

Uploading and storing data

According to Circularise, data can be uploaded in two ways: either manually using our software dashboard, or automatically via an API into the company's ERP system.

The startup explained: “Given the range of types of data our customers are tracking, and the different stages of the supply chain we work with, the types of people who interact with the system also vary. The digital record must first be created, ideally at the raw material stage of the supply chain.

“Relevant data that the raw material supplier is responsible for is then added to the record, which is stored on the public blockchain (a decentralised system). Once the company sends the product to their customer, they then also send over the digital record, so ownership of data shadows the ownership of the record product.

“The process of updating the digital product passport with operational data then continues until you have a record of the impact of the whole finished product.”

Circularise detailed the verification process: “[It] depends on the product and the information being uploaded. For something like material composition, the bill of materials (BOM) is used as a reference.

“The BOM data stays local on the company's system, but we create a proof from this data relating to the particular claim they want to make (e.g. contains 30 per cent bio-based plastic) which is then uploaded to the digital record stored on the public blockchain.

“We are also working with certification bodies to assign certificates they have awarded to facilities/ products, to the digital record which is tied to a distinct physical product. Auditors can also reference the digital record on the blockchain when conducting an assessment to ensure reality is reflected in the digital record.”

Accessing the software

According to the startup, information can be accessed by ‘anyone with an account and an internet connection’ via the software’s dashboard. The information that an individual can see is ‘selectively determined by those that have uploaded each piece of information’.

Circularise told Resource: “Companies can choose to be totally transparent if they wish and have all information publicly available, they can share data selectively with value chain members, or keep insights private and only available upon request. This allows key insights to be obtained by those who need it, without sharing all data publicly and compromising proprietary data.”

The partnership's goal is to help consumers make informed purchases, to facilitate more efficient end of life processing of products, and to accelerate industry transformation to more sustainable and circular practices.

Within the polymers and chemicals industry, materials undergo various processing steps, often being blended and co-processed with other materials – a factor that heightened the value in providing increased visibility, for Neste and Circularise.

In providing these details within the data-based supply chain, it is hoped that the visibility provided will strengthen trust in sustainable solutions.

Isabella Tonaco, Vice President Strategy Execution and Marketing at Neste, commented: “It’s usually very easy to claim sustainability, but very often, it’s not easy at all to back these claims.

“Yet, trust and credibility are crucial factors when it comes to sustainability. Being able to track and trace all the materials going into a product provides a solid basis for gaining that trust and credibility.

“We are looking forward to working with Circularise to provide the polymers and chemicals industry with a traceability solution to bring the necessary transparency into value chains.”