A Dynamic Technoeconomic Systems Modeling Framework for U.S. Fiber Recycling

Project: Research project

Project Details


The recycling of recovered fibers results in significant resource and CO2 emissions savings compared to primary feedstocks. With recent dramatic changes in the global recovered fiber markets, triggered in large part by Chinese import restrictions, considerable focus is being placed on process innovations and new technologies to improve both U.S. fiber recycling rates and recycled fiber quality. These efforts have the potential to make large contributions to U.S. national energy and resource conservation goals. For example, a 15% increase in U.S. paper and paperboard recycling would yield energy and CO2 emissions savings comparable to a similar increase in recycling rates of metals, and larger than for plastic. To help guide this transition, this project will develop a generalizable dynamic systems modeling framework to assess the profitability and net energy, CO2 emissions, and resource saving benefits of U.S. fiber recycling systems under different economic, technological, and scrap market assumptions. The framework will provide a virtual and scalable testbed to identifying pathways for the US fiber recycling industry – and specifically for paper and paperboard – to improve its long-term profitability and maximize its environmental benefits. The model will align with key REMADE Technical Performance Metrics (TPMs) by exploring resilience to volatility in scrap quantities, quality, markets, and prices, and will consider both current and future domestic recycling capacities and technologies at both national and local levels. Methods will draw from the fields of material and energy flow analysis (MEFA), trade flow analysis, technoeconomic analysis (TEA), life-cycle analysis (LCA), and energy systems modeling to provide a full accounting of unit process costs (e.g., transport, labor, capital investments, fuel, etc.) and mass, energy, and CO2 emissions balances across the U.S. fiber recycling system. System boundaries will include scrap generation, grades, quality, and contamination from various post- and pre-consumer sources, collection, sorting, cleaning, byproduct, and recycling processes, import and export activities, and recycled material disposition. The framework will evaluate both existing and prospective unit processes, and allow for user-defined system parameters (e.g., scrap market prices, trading partners, unit costs, contamination levels) to enable exploration of different scenarios for reaching REMADE’s 5- and 10-year national goals. It will also be designed with a user-friendly interface to facilitate use by REMADE partners, and with a modeling structure that can be readily expanded to other REMADE materials streams of interest in the future. The project team is uniquely qualified to develop the framework, and includes experts in process and plant TEA, LCA, and scenario modeling from Northwestern University, recycling industry and data experts from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), and experts in MEFA, international scrap markets and policy, TEA, econometrics, and material recovery facility (MRF) processes from Yale University. The specific deliverables of this project will include the dynamic systems model, a user-friendly interface for REMADE project partners, model input datasets that characterize the economic and technical aspects of unit processes associated with current and prospective US fiber recycling system capacities and configurations, and a user manual. Furthermore, several scenario exercises will be conducted to: (1) demonstrate the utility of the framework; (2) explore TPM sensit
Effective start/end date10/1/2012/31/21


  • Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance Corp. (SA-19-25//DE-EE0007897)
  • Department of Energy (SA-19-25//DE-EE0007897)


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