You are here : Home > Strategic Research > Circular Economy

Circular Economy


Published on 13 March 2024


​​Reuse and reconquer

​CEA-Liten is contributing to an environmentally friendly circular economy characterized by rapidly changing markets. Our multiple solutions span eco-design, custom parts manufacturing, safe and sustainable technology development, lifecycle analysis, recycling, and materials characterization guided by sustainability and the efficient use of resources. Our structural and mechanical characterization capabilities are essential to our work on materials. We also possess expertise in innovative processes like brazing, hot isostatic pressing (HIP), and additive manufacturing. Our objective is to push back the limits of traditional processes and obtain materials with enhanced performance.

Eco-innovative materials and processes​

At CEA-Liten we are rethinking processes to use less material without compromising performance. In some cases, performance can actually be improved compared to traditional processes. We are tackling the challenge holistically, with research addressing design, formulation, metallurgy, modeling and simulation, chemistry, and characterization. The objectives of our materials research are:

  • Reduce dependence on petroleum-based materials. The first line of defense will be bio-based materials, followed by biodegradable materials.
  • Limit the waste of costly metal powders by facilitating their reuse and by developing new high-performance alloys.
  • Develop high-performance processes for magnet manufacturing, a field we have been researching for a decade, and for hot isostatic pressing (HIP), a process we have been pioneering for many years.
  • Provide tangible solutions to the environmental challenges around materials and processes.​ ​

One of the ways we are addressing these challenges is through original microstructures and innovative processes for new alloys. The microstructure of materials can be optimized to enhance performance, second-life materials can be reused, and critical, polluting materials can be replaced with alternatives. We are working to make parts that are easy to disassemble for recycling and to enable the compatibility of heterogeneous materials for use in multi-material assemblies. Our in-house process capabilities (especially brazing and HIP) are instrumental to this research.​

We also use additive manufacturing techniques to make parts to meet our partners’ unique needs. What makes our approach so effective is that we address material, process, and design as a whole to achieve the optimal trade offs innovative manufacturing processes can bring. The advanced characterization of metals exposed to hydrogen gas, an area in which we excel, plays an important role.

This research targets flexible, adaptable, cost-effective materials and innovative processes ideal for markets like nuclear energy (SMRs in particular), automotive, human-machine interfaces, IoT, and health.

Demand for new, low-cost solutions from specific markets has driven the emergence of printed electronics on large, flexible substrates. Our printed electronics research is now expanding into conformable and stretchable components that can be integrated onto objects with a variety of shapes. One example is a recently developed gecko-inspired conductive dry adhesive that can be repositioned on different surfaces of any size. ​ ​


Chemistry and recycling​


We have outlined two specific road maps for the treatment and recycling of materials:

  • Critical materials used in energy technologies (spent Li-ion electric vehicle batteries).
  • Low-environmental-impact polymers.

Our goals are to develop modular processes that can be used on materials from different sources and support the transition to electric mobility. For Li-ion batteries, for example, we are focusing on the treatment and recycling of lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel.

Fuel cells containing platinum and fluorinated materials, solar panels containing silver and silicon, electronic waste containing gold, and rare-earth magnets from electric motors are a few of the use cases we are investigating. The objective is to obtain recycled materials that are pure enough to be reused in the original processes in a closed loop. We prioritize the recycling of products developed at the CEA, leveraging our in-depth knowledge of the different process steps to reduce environmental impacts in line with our eco-innovation strategy.

Our polymer treatment and recycling activities focus on materials from the energy and mobility industries and on the development of low-environmental-impact polymers. Thermoset polymers and thermoplastics are our two focus areas. We are looking at recycling polymers into a new product family, vitrimers, which are much more recyclable; and the development and formulation of bio-based polymers.​

Our expertise in materials, eco-design, and related processes is fundamental to our strategy, positioning us as a partner of choice for value-added applications like the 3D printing of original parts for electric motors, innovative custom manufacturing processes, and the recycling of materials to support the circular economy.​