Researchers gather for symposium on ecology

While students were at home enjoying a few last days of idleness and professors were preparing for the beginning of the semester, researchers from around the world gathered on Science Hill to talk about the ways that industries can work together like an ecosystem.

The Yale Center for Industrial Ecology sponsored the Industrial Symbiosis Research Symposium Jan. 7-9 at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Industrial symbiosis, which is a topic within industrial ecology, is the concept of industries interacting in many of the same ways as an ecological system.

“Industrial Symbiosis is when a network of firms find mutual benefit including the exchange of resources, and those resources are water, energy and materials. The way to think about it is that one company’s waste becomes another company’s feedstock,” said Marian Chertow, an assistant professor at the environment school who chaired this event. “This has a lot of benefits – it can create jobs, it increases cooperation among different firms and entities, and it decreases environmental impacts.”

The symposium brought together 33 researchers from 14 countries representing Europe, North America and Asia in the first academic discussion on industrial symbiosis. All the participants were invited to attend due to their academic interest in the field of analyzing industrial symbiosis. This field is relatively new, even though practical examples of industrial symbiosis have existed for some time, said Thomas Graedel, a professor of industrial ecology at the environment school and the director of Yale’s Center for Industrial Ecology. Michelle Portlock, the program coordinator for the Center for Industrial Ecology, said nearly all of the researchers invited attended the symposium, which targeted a potential community of researchers.

“My main intent is to build a research community in industrial symbiosis,” Chertow said. “We’re trying to create a research agenda and to inspire each other to do research in these areas and do it collaboratively.”

The symposium was composed of lectures about industrial symbiosis in various parts of the world, as well as modeling, planning, multi-scale analysis, and economic and business strategy combined with break-out sessions for the attendees to further discuss the presentations. Portlock described the break-out sessions as the “heart of the program.”

“They were excellent,” said attendee Reid Lifset, who is the editor of the Journal of Industrial Ecology and an associate research scholar at the environment school. “It’s a really smart group of people, very knowledgeable in this area, who had previously had only limited opportunity to interact. The break-out groups were great because there was a lot of chemistry, a lot of excitement.”

Many of the attendees said the symposium was helpful in creating a sense of community amongst the researchers and were pleased with the timeliness of the event. Lifset said there was an outstanding representation of the top of the field and the time was ripe for an event like the symposium to bring the researchers together. The participants also said they were pleased with the amount of both networking and work that was accomplished at the symposium.

“I’ve been to a lot of these kinds of things, and I thought this was as hardworking and enthusiastic a workshop as I’ve seen,” Graedel said.

Both the planners and participants said they felt overall the symposium had been a success in accomplishing its goal of creating a stronger base for academic research in industrial symbiosis.

“It’s been a successful program in really starting to build this community of researchers and actually this is really going to be seen as the start of something,” Portlock said. “There is another symposium like this that is being planned for next year in Denmark, so this is kind of the kickoff to other gatherings of this type.”

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