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Circular Economy

Circular knowledge institutes

The following overview contains a selection of universities and research centres with expertise in the field of circular economics. In addition to a brief introduction, the research themes are listed and offered as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), if there are any.

For a comparable overview of universities of applied sciences, see the Lectors Platform Circular Economy (in Dutch).

Wageningen University & Research

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Within the research theme ‘Circular & Biobased Economy’, Wageningen University & Research is engaged in developing solutions to make the circular and biobased economy a reality. Wageningen University also has its own testing and experimentation area in Lelystad, called Acrres (Application Centre for Renewable Resources). Research is being carried out here into sustainable energy and the reuse of materials.

Themes – The research on ‘Circular & Biobased Economy’ is divided into 6 themes: 1) Waste as raw material, 2) Policies, chains and society, 3) Biobased products & markets, 4) Biorefinery, 5) Soil and 6) Renewable and raw materials.

MOOCs – The university offers a so-called MicroMaster with four MOOCs on the circular economy. This series of MOOCs is called Business and Economics for a Circular Economy.

More information on the website of Wageningen University & Research

Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability

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The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability is a multidisciplinary research and education centre in which three Dutch universities join forces: Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam. The centre works with scientists and public and private organisations to formulate societal challenges and to develop science-based and innovative solutions for the transition to a circular economy. It is currently one of the largest centres of circular economy in the Netherlands.

Themes – The knowledge institution divides its research and education activities into three major hubs: 1) The Inclusive City Hub: focused on an inclusive society, 2) The Resilient City Hub: sustainable urban development and 3) The Greenport Hub: feeding a growing population.

MOOCs – The centre offers two different MOOCS, namely the MOOC Circular Economy: an Introduction and the MOOC Waste Management and Critical Raw Materials.

More information on the website of the LDE Center of Sustainability

CE Delft

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CE Delft is an independent research and consultancy firm. The institute is a leader in the field of energy, transport and raw materials, and has been giving advice in these fields for more than 40 years, in order to contribute to a more sustainable society.

Themes – The institute focuses on 5 areas of expertise: 1) Fuels & Cities, 2) Energy, 3) Economy, 4) Chain Analysis and 5) Traffic & Transport. The studies are very practical in nature, with the institute working closely with partners in the field.

More information on the CE Delft website

TU Delft: Circular Delft

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Circular Delft is a platform within TU Delft with the ambition to make the university a Dutch hotspot for the Circular Economy. The platform consists of a group of professors, (PhD) students and other partners. Circular Delft’s research focuses on the field of product design, with the aim of stimulating circular thinking in architecture. Circular Delft develops methods and tools that contribute to this.

Circular Delft is linked to three faculties, all of which are involved in a different focus area with regard to CE: 1) Design Engineering, 2) Industrial Design and 3) Product Innovation Management.

Themes – These three faculties conduct research into eight different themes, including 3D printing and recycling. Several studies are ongoing, such as the European Remanufacturing Network, a two-year study on European activities in the field of reuse of materials.

MOOCs – TU Delft offers four MOOCs that explicitly relate to the circular economy. These are: Circular Economy: An IntroductionSustainable Packaging in a Circular EconomyCircular Economy for a Sustainable Built Environment and Engineering Design for a Circular Economy.

More information on the website of Circular Delft.

Erasmus University: DRIFT

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Drift is a member of the Erasmus University Rotterdam and is a leading institute for research into and for sustainability transitions. The institute’s main focus is on mobilising social resources to understand and facilitate new ways of thinking, acting and organising contemporary transitions.

Themes – Major social themes within DRIFT are agency, power and honesty. A well-known example where DRIFT is investigating this is at the Port of Rotterdam, where they are experimenting with innovation for a more sustainable port.

More information on the DRIFT website.

Leiden University: Centre for Environmental Sciences (CML)

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The Centre for Environmental Sciences (CML) is a member of Leiden University. This 40 year old institute has the ambition to develop excellent strategic and quantitative research. In addition, it offers education in the field of sustainability in relation to governance, natural resources and biodiversity.

Themes – The CML focuses specifically on two research areas: 1) Environmental biology – understanding the impact of human behaviour on biodiversity and natural resources that contribute to optimal conservation and 2) Industrial ecology – developing tools for policy making for sustainable production and consumption.

MOOCs – Rene Kleijn, professor at the institute, has co-developed a MOOC that focuses on the reuse of metals: Wheels of Metals: Urban Mining for a Circular Economy.

More information on the website of the CML.

Utrecht University: Copernicus Institute

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The Copernicus Institute is affiliated with the University of Utrecht. The institute’s research contributes to a sustainable society by offering high quality knowledge in political and private decision-making. The emphasis is on the sustainable development objectives of the United Nations.

Themes – Copernicus’ research covers four areas of expertise, namely: 1) Energy and Resource, 2) Environmental Science, 3) Environmental Governance and 4) Innovation Studies.

More information on the website of the Copernicus Institute.

University of Groningen (RUG)

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The research profile of the RUG consists of the research themes of the faculties and the three social themes of the university: Healthy Ageing, Energy and Sustainable Society. These themes are closely interlinked and reinforce each other. In this way, the RUG actively contributes to solving the major issues in society.

Themes – Research within the Sustainable Society theme is broad and focuses on various topics, including energy, democracy and governance and sustainable landscape changes.

More information on the website of the University of Groningen

Maastricht University: School of Business and Economics

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Research at Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics focuses on stimulating interdisciplinary work that looks beyond the existing boundaries, in order to create room for joint solutions. There are a total of seven research themes, one of which focuses on sustainability.

Themes – Within the theme of sustainability, two studies have been carried out on the circular economy. The research focuses on impactful investments in which people are stimulated to think in a sustainable way and in which this contributes to the social interest. The study ‘Circular Economy Policy in China and Europe’ examines the extent to which people invest in sustainable solutions and what the effect of this is on society.

More information on the website of the School of Business and Economics

Radboud University and Radboud UMC

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The Radboud University and the Radboud UMC do not have a department that carries out specific research into CE. However, the Radboud University’s Faculty of Management Sciences does have a strong focus on developing sustainable business models, in close cooperation with the business community. There is also an ambitious sustainability agenda that runs up to and including 2020. The objective is to make both the university and the medical centre as sustainable as possible. To this end, they enter into many partnerships with partners. In the year 2018, four central pillars were defined, namely 1) medicines from waste water, 2) Circular Procurement, 3) Sustainable employability (of patients, among others) and 4) from waste to raw material.

More information on the website of the Radboud UMC.


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Deltares is an independently applied knowledge institute in the field of water and subsoil. The institute works worldwide on smart innovations, solutions and applications for people, the environment and society, in close cooperation with governments, companies, knowledge institutions and universities at home and abroad. With regard to Circular Economy, Deltares focuses primarily on the interrelationship between raw materials, energy and water cycles. The institute is also interested in the development of nature-based solutions.

Themes – At Deltares, research into the Circular on Economics falls mainly within the theme of ‘Ecosystems and environmental quality’. This includes, for example, the circular use of raw materials and the so-called ‘adaptive cities’.

More information on the Deltares website.


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The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Natural Sciences Research (TNO) is an independent research institute that connects people and knowledge to create innovations that sustainably strengthen the competitiveness of companies and the welfare of society. TNO’s research areas are very diverse, but have a special branch that focuses on Circular Economy & Environment. The TNO helps customers to achieve the objectives of the raw materials agreement. The emphasis of the research is therefore mainly on accelerating and giving direction to sustainability. In this way TNO wants to contribute to strengthening the gross national product and at the same time develop a healthy, safe and sustainable living environment.

Themes – TNO has seven pillars within the domain of CE. These focus, for example, on air, noise and area development. These seven pillars are spread over two expert groups: 1) Climate, air and sustainability and 2) Environmental modelling, chain analyses and quality management.

More information on the TNO website

From the Hoff Institute for Molecular Science (HIMS)

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The Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) is a research institute affiliated with the University of Amsterdam. The mission of the institute is to push the boundaries of chemistry by conducting internationally recognised scientific research that is both curious and application-oriented. The research focuses on the challenges for society and industry. To this end, the institute primarily seeks cooperation with other institutes. For example, there is a great deal of cooperation with CASA, part of the Free University.

Themes – Research focused on chemistry within the institute has four different pillars: 1) Analytical chemistry, 2) Computational chemistry, 3) Molecular photonics and 4) Sustainable chemistry, including organic synthesis and all aspects of catalysis, including homogeneous catalysis, heterogeneous catalysis, biocatalysis, organocatalysis and catalyst engineering.

More information on the website of the HIMS.

Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy (CoE BbE)

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The Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy (CoE BbE) is a collaboration between Avans Hogeschool and HZ Hogeschool. Entrepreneurs work here together with scientists, teachers and students to promote the knowledge of education and research about the biobased economy. The ambition is to renew higher professional education and to carry out applied research on this theme.

Themes – Within the expertise centre, applied research is spread over four focus areas: 1) Biobased Construction, 2) Biobased Products, 3) Biobased Energy and 4) Marine Biobased Specialities.

An example of ongoing research is the study into the materialisation of facade panels on the basis of circular residual materials such as roadside grass or textiles. In addition to research, many other activities are taking place to promote a bio-based economy. Think of a Biobased Battle, a competition between Dutch and Brazilian students who come up with innovative ideas within a defined time frame.

MOOCs – In previous years, the expertise centre organised the MOOC Biobased Economy Introduction. This MOOC has already taken place six times.

More information on the website of the Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy.

This overview has been drawn up in collaboration with Holland Circular Hotspot.