Special Issue "Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2020).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Charisios Achillas
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Logistics, Technical Educational Institute of Central Macedonia, Serres, Kilkis, Katerini, Greece
Interests: reverse logistics; circular economy; industrial symbiosis; sustainable development; biomass supply chain; bio-energy and bio-recourses
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Dionysis Bochtis
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Bio-economy and Agri-Technology (IBO), Centre for Research and Technology – Hellas (CERTH), 38333 Volos, Greece
Interests: operations management; supply chain automation; agri-business; ICT-agri; bioeconomy
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

During recent years, bio-economy strategies have been implemented and adapted internationally. In a bio-economy, materials are, to a certain extent, circular by nature. However, biomaterials may also be used in a rather linear way. Lately, a transition towards a circular economy, a more restorative and regenerative economic model, has been promoted worldwide. A circular economy offers an alternative model aimed at “doing more and better with less”. It is based on the idea that circulating matter and energy will diminish the need for new input. The concept lies in maintaining the value of products, materials, and resources for as long as possible and on the same time minimizing, or even eliminating the amount of waste produced. Focused on “closing the loops”, a circular economy is a practical solution for promoting entrepreneurial sustainability, economic growth, environmental resilience, and a better quality of life for all. The most efficient way to close resources’ loops is to find value in the waste. Different modes of resource circulation may be applied, for example, raw materials, by-products, human resources, logistics, services, waste, energy, or water.

This Special Issue seeks to contribute to the circular bio-economy agenda through enhanced scientific and multi-disciplinary knowledge, in order to boost the performance efficiency of circular business models and support decision-making within the specific field. To that end, we therefore invite papers on innovative technical developments, reviews, and case studies, which are relevant to green, closed loop, circular bio-economies.

Dr. Charisios Achillas
Dr. Dionysis Bochtis
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sustainability
  • agri-business
  • life cycle thinking
  • green production, reverse logistics
  • waste management
  • bio-resources
  • bio-energy
  • bio-economy

Published Papers (14 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Toward a Green, Closed-Loop, Circular Bioeconomy: Boosting the Performance Efficiency of Circular Business Models
Sustainability 2020, 12(23), 10142; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122310142 - 04 Dec 2020
Viewed by 481
Abstract
In recent years, bioeconomy strategies have been successfully implemented and widely adopted internationally [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
A Systemic Design Approach Applied to Rice and Wine Value Chains. The Case of the InnovaEcoFood Project in Piedmont (Italy)
Sustainability 2020, 12(21), 9272; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12219272 - 08 Nov 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 571
Abstract
Attention to food waste is an increasingly growing phenomenon today, especially in the context of a circular economy. The InnovaEcoFood project investigates the use of by-products of the Piedmontese rice and wine production chains to valorize their untapped potential in the food sector [...] Read more.
Attention to food waste is an increasingly growing phenomenon today, especially in the context of a circular economy. The InnovaEcoFood project investigates the use of by-products of the Piedmontese rice and wine production chains to valorize their untapped potential in the food sector by applying the Systemic Design approach. We collected, systematized, and visualized a range of solutions for exploiting these by-products, starting from an in-depth literature review on the two value chains. With the support of a consortium of partners from both multidisciplinary industrial and academic sectors, it was possible to validate the links that have been generated. Eventually, the project created food products that integrated these outputs as ingredients (like flour and butter) because they have antioxidant properties and are rich in proteins. InnovaEcoFood has successfully tested how value could be created from waste. Moreover, using rice hull, marc flour, and bran lipid (butter) is of immediate technical and economic feasibility. It could be considered a viable way that deserves further experimentation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceArticle
Agricultural Workforce Crisis in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Sustainability 2020, 12(19), 8212; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12198212 - 05 Oct 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1559
Abstract
COVID-19 and the restrictive measures towards containing the spread of its infections have seriously affected the agricultural workforce and jeopardized food security. The present study aims at assessing the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on agricultural labor and suggesting strategies to mitigate them. To this [...] Read more.
COVID-19 and the restrictive measures towards containing the spread of its infections have seriously affected the agricultural workforce and jeopardized food security. The present study aims at assessing the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on agricultural labor and suggesting strategies to mitigate them. To this end, after an introduction to the pandemic background, the negative consequences on agriculture and the existing mitigation policies, risks to the agricultural workers were benchmarked across the United States’ Standard Occupational Classification system. The individual tasks associated with each occupation in agricultural production were evaluated on the basis of potential COVID-19 infection risk. As criteria, the most prevalent virus transmission mechanisms were considered, namely the possibility of touching contaminated surfaces and the close proximity of workers. The higher risk occupations within the sector were identified, which facilitates the allocation of worker protection resources to the occupations where they are most needed. In particular, the results demonstrated that 50% of the agricultural workforce and 54% of the workers’ annual income are at moderate to high risk. As a consequence, a series of control measures need to be adopted so as to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the sector as well as protect farmers including physical distancing, hygiene practices, and personal protection equipment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Sustainability Assessment of Investments Based on a Multiple Criteria Methodological Framework
Sustainability 2020, 12(17), 6805; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12176805 - 21 Aug 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 656
Abstract
The assessment of an investment is currently carried out by using mainly financial tools. This work presents a new model for the assessment of the sustainability of an industrial investment and focuses on the development of a holistic framework with the use of [...] Read more.
The assessment of an investment is currently carried out by using mainly financial tools. This work presents a new model for the assessment of the sustainability of an industrial investment and focuses on the development of a holistic framework with the use of indicators. With the use of multi-criteria decision analysis, the framework evaluates a total of eighteen (18) alternative indicators in order to select the optimal bundle to be used for the assessment of future industrial investments. The proposed indicators are selected based on relevant data from the literature, taking into account the principles of prevention, planning and designing. The alternatives are assessed over four (4) criteria, namely environment, society, economy and technology, which are grounded on the principles of sustainable development. Depending on the special characteristics of the programme that is foreseen to fund the potential investments, the decision-maker is provided with a hierarchized set of indicators over which the alternative investments could be optimally assessed in parallel with widely used indicators that strictly assess economic performance. In the present work, twelve (12) different scenarios are examined, incorporating different values in the coefficients of the criteria. For the majority of the scenarios examined (a sensitivity analysis is also provided), the alternative indicator that is assessed with the highest score is “Resource Savings”, followed by “Recycling” and “Research, Innovation, Development”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
Application of Artificial Neural Networks for Natural Gas Consumption Forecasting
Sustainability 2020, 12(16), 6409; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12166409 - 09 Aug 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 968
Abstract
The present research study explores three types of neural network approaches for forecasting natural gas consumption in fifteen cities throughout Greece; a simple perceptron artificial neural network (ANN), a state-of-the-art Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM), and the proposed deep neural network (DNN). In this [...] Read more.
The present research study explores three types of neural network approaches for forecasting natural gas consumption in fifteen cities throughout Greece; a simple perceptron artificial neural network (ANN), a state-of-the-art Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM), and the proposed deep neural network (DNN). In this research paper, a DNN implementation is proposed where variables related to social aspects are introduced as inputs. These qualitative factors along with a deeper, more complex architecture are utilized for improving the forecasting ability of the proposed approach. A comparative analysis is conducted between the proposed DNN, the simple ANN, and the advantageous LSTM, with the results offering a deeper understanding the characteristics of Greek cities and the habitual patterns of their residents. The proposed implementation shows efficacy on forecasting daily values of energy consumption for up to four years. For the evaluation of the proposed approach, a real-life dataset for natural gas prediction was used. A detailed discussion is provided on the performance of the implemented approaches, the ANN and the LSTM, that are characterized as particularly accurate and effective in the literature, and the proposed DNN with the inclusion of the qualitative variables that govern human behavior, which outperforms them. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceArticle
Proposing a Paradigm Shift in Rural Electrification Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa through Agriculture
Sustainability 2020, 12(8), 3096; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083096 - 12 Apr 2020
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 1047
Abstract
Almost one billion people in the world still do not have access to electricity. Most of them live in rural areas of the developing world. Access to electricity in the rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 28%, roughly 600 million people. The [...] Read more.
Almost one billion people in the world still do not have access to electricity. Most of them live in rural areas of the developing world. Access to electricity in the rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 28%, roughly 600 million people. The financing of rural electrification is challenging and, in order to accomplish higher private sector investments, new innovative business models have to be developed. In this paper, a new approach in the financing of microgrid electrification activities is proposed and investigated. In this approach, agriculture related businesses take the lead in the electrification activities of the surrounding communities. It is shown that the high cost of rural electrification can be met through the increased value of locally produced products, and cross-subsidization can take place in order to decrease the cost of household electrification. The approach is implemented in a case study in Rwanda, through which the possibility of local agricultural cooperatives leading electrification activities is demonstrated. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
How Are Wood and Non-Wood Forest Products Utilized in the Czech Republic? A Preliminary Assessment of a Nationwide Survey on the Bioeconomy
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 566; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020566 - 11 Jan 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 946
Abstract
The Czech forests occupy 33.7% of the total country area; thus, wood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs) are important resources for the country. To date, the country has not adopted a forest bioeconomy strategy. A forest bioeconomy is defined as all activities that [...] Read more.
The Czech forests occupy 33.7% of the total country area; thus, wood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs) are important resources for the country. To date, the country has not adopted a forest bioeconomy strategy. A forest bioeconomy is defined as all activities that relate to the forest ecosystem services (FES). This study aimed to provide an initial evaluation regarding the use of forest products and related factors, and to make recommendations on developing wood consumption and promoting other FES for the adoption of a forest bioeconomy strategy in the country. The research study was part of a nationwide survey in June 2019. An online panel of 1050 respondents aged 18–65 years old was recruited based on a quota sampling procedure. Wood products were the most preferred material for furniture (96.3%) and building materials (46.3%). In total, 38.6% of Czech residents used wood as a source of energy, mostly in the form of firewood. It is challenging to switch the practice from using fossil-based heating to wood boiler energy source. The further development of wood into products with a high added value is recommended. Picking mushrooms and berries were among the popular activities in relation to NWFPs. The promotion of wood and NWFPs is encouraged, starting with increasing awareness and knowledge of the strength of the forest-based sector as a renewable energy resource and the importance of FES, using different channels as sources of information. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
Fuzzy Cognitive Map-Based Sustainable Socio-Economic Development Planning for Rural Communities
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 305; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010305 - 30 Dec 2019
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 2416
Abstract
Every development and production process needs to operate within a circular economy to keep the human being within a safe limit of the planetary boundary. Policymakers are in the quest of a powerful and easy-to-use tool for representing the perceived causal structure of [...] Read more.
Every development and production process needs to operate within a circular economy to keep the human being within a safe limit of the planetary boundary. Policymakers are in the quest of a powerful and easy-to-use tool for representing the perceived causal structure of a complex system that could help them choose and develop the right strategies. In this context, fuzzy cognitive maps (FCMs) can serve as a soft computing method for modelling human knowledge and developing quantitative dynamic models. FCM-based modelling includes the aggregation of knowledge from a variety of sources involving multiple stakeholders, thus offering a more reliable final model. The average aggregation method for weighted interconnections among concepts is widely used in FCM modelling. In this research, we applied the OWA (ordered weighted averaging) learning operators in aggregating FCM weights, assigned by various participants/ stakeholders. Our case study involves a complex phenomenon of poverty eradication and socio-economic development strategies in rural areas under the DAY-NRLM (Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission) in India. Various scenarios examining the economic sustainability and livelihood diversification of poor women in rural areas were performed using the FCM-based simulation process implemented by the “FCMWizard” tool. The objective of this study was three-fold: (i) to perform a brief comparative analysis between the proposed aggregation method called “OWA learning aggregation” and the conventional average aggregation method, (ii) to identify the significant concepts and their impact on the examined FCM model regarding poverty alleviation, and (iii) to advance the knowledge of circular economy in the context of poverty alleviation. Overall, the proposed method can support policymakers in eliciting accurate outcomes of proposed policies that deal with social resilience and sustainable socio-economic development strategies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Climate Change Adaptations in the World’s Largest Mangrove Ecosystem
Sustainability 2019, 11(23), 6655; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11236655 - 25 Nov 2019
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 1124
Abstract
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest coastal river delta and the largest uninterrupted mangrove ecosystem. A complex socio-ecological setting, coupled with disproportionately high climate-change exposure and severe ecological and social vulnerabilities, has turned it into a climate hotspot requiring well-designed adaptation interventions. We [...] Read more.
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest coastal river delta and the largest uninterrupted mangrove ecosystem. A complex socio-ecological setting, coupled with disproportionately high climate-change exposure and severe ecological and social vulnerabilities, has turned it into a climate hotspot requiring well-designed adaptation interventions. We have used the fuzzy cognitive maps (FCM)-based approach to elicit and integrate stakeholders’ perceptions regarding current climate forcing, consequent impacts, and efficacy of the existing adaptation measures. We have also undertaken climate modelling to ascertain long-term future trends of climate forcing. FCM-based simulations reveal that while existing adaptation practices provide resilience to an extent, they are grossly inadequate in the context of providing future resilience. Even well-planned adaptations may not be entirely transformative in such a fragile ecosystem. It was through FCM-based simulations that we realised that a coastal river delta in a developing nation merits special attention for climate-resilient adaptation planning and execution. Measures that are likely to enhance adaptive capabilities of the local communities include those involving gender-responsive and adaptive governance, human resource capacity building, commitments of global communities for adaptation financing, education and awareness programmes, and embedding indigenous and local knowledge into decision making. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
Impact of Ethanol Plant Location on Corn Revenues for U.S. Farmers
Sustainability 2019, 11(22), 6512; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11226512 - 19 Nov 2019
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 661
Abstract
Ethanol production has rapidly expanded over the past few years. The opening of an ethanol plant can increase local demand for corn, pressuring increases in local corn basis. But how does this affect corn contract prices and revenues? At the farm level, the [...] Read more.
Ethanol production has rapidly expanded over the past few years. The opening of an ethanol plant can increase local demand for corn, pressuring increases in local corn basis. But how does this affect corn contract prices and revenues? At the farm level, the impact of an ethanol plant on local corn contract revenues is still unknown. Data from the USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey suggests that corn contract revenues in counties with ethanol plants are higher than corn contract revenues in counties without ethanol plants at similar prices. We estimate the impact of ethanol plants on local corn contract revenues by running non-spatial and spatial difference-in-difference models. A statistically significant effect of ethanol plant location on corn contract revenues within the same county was not found, but rather a statistically significant effect of ethanol plants on corn contract revenues for farmers located in adjacent counties. Local competitive advantage, not the presence of an ethanol plant, may be the reason for observed higher revenues in counties with an ethanol plant. Therefore, policymakers should focus their resources in promoting greater efficiency in corn production to boost farmers’ revenues. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
Ammonia Volatilization Losses during Irrigation of Liquid Animal Manure
Sustainability 2019, 11(21), 6168; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11216168 - 05 Nov 2019
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 757
Abstract
Ammonia loss resulting from land application of liquid animal manure varies depending on the composition of the manure and the method used to apply manure to cropland. High levels of ammonia volatilization result in an economic loss to the farmer based on the [...] Read more.
Ammonia loss resulting from land application of liquid animal manure varies depending on the composition of the manure and the method used to apply manure to cropland. High levels of ammonia volatilization result in an economic loss to the farmer based on the value of the nitrogen and have also been shown to be a source of air pollution. Using irrigation as a method of applying liquid manure to cropland has generally been accepted as a method that increases the volatilization of ammonia. However, only three studies available in the literature measured the amount of ammonia lost during the irrigation process. Only one of the three studies concluded that ammonia loss during irrigation was significant. A pooled statistical and uncertainty analysis of the 55 available observations was performed to determine if ammonia loss occurred during irrigation of animal manure. Data on the total solids content of the manure were also included as an indicator of evaporation losses. Volatilization losses during irrigation were not found to be statistically significant, and evaporation losses were small, 2.4%, and agreed with previous studies on irrigation performance. Furthermore, the range of ammonia loss reported in previous studies was determined to be within the errors associated with the measurement of total ammoniacal nitrogen concentrations and the calculation of per cent differences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Open AccessArticle
One Concept, Many Opinions: How Scientists in Germany Think About the Concept of Bioeconomy
Sustainability 2019, 11(15), 4253; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11154253 - 06 Aug 2019
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1732
Abstract
The official bioeconomy strategies in Europe and Germany pursue a technology-based implementation pathway and stipulate a wide range of objectives to be achieved with a bio-based economy. Reviews of the scientific and societal debate have shown that the technology fix meets criticism and [...] Read more.
The official bioeconomy strategies in Europe and Germany pursue a technology-based implementation pathway and stipulate a wide range of objectives to be achieved with a bio-based economy. Reviews of the scientific and societal debate have shown that the technology fix meets criticism and that there is a controversial discussion about possible ways to shape the transition process. Against this background, an online survey was carried out among scientists involved in a regional bioeconomy research program in southern Germany in order to gain insight into their understanding of a bioeconomy. Moreover, the survey provides information about cooperation and major challenges in the future development of three biomass utilization pathways: biogas, lignocellulose, and microalgae. The analysis showed that a resource-oriented understanding of a bioeconomy is favored. The political objectives for a European bioeconomy are widely accepted, and it is expected that ongoing research can significantly contribute to achieving these goals. The two different pathways for shaping the bioeconomy that are discussed in the debate—the technology-based approach and the socio-ecological approach—are considered compatible rather than contrary. Up to now, scientific cooperation has prevailed, while cooperation with societal stakeholders and end-users has played a minor role. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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Review

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Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceReview
From Laboratory to Proximal Sensing Spectroscopy for Soil Organic Carbon Estimation—A Review
Sustainability 2020, 12(2), 443; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12020443 - 07 Jan 2020
Cited by 12 | Viewed by 1349
Abstract
Rapid and cost-effective soil properties estimations are considered imperative for the monitoring and recording of agricultural soil condition for the implementation of site-specific management practices. Conventional laboratory measurements are costly and time-consuming, and, therefore, cannot be considered appropriate for large datasets. This article [...] Read more.
Rapid and cost-effective soil properties estimations are considered imperative for the monitoring and recording of agricultural soil condition for the implementation of site-specific management practices. Conventional laboratory measurements are costly and time-consuming, and, therefore, cannot be considered appropriate for large datasets. This article reviews laboratory and proximal sensing spectroscopy in the visible and near infrared (VNIR)–short wave infrared (SWIR) wavelength region for soil organic carbon and soil organic matter estimation as an alternative to analytical chemistry measurements. The aim of this work is to report the progress made in the last decade on data preprocessing, calibration approaches, and system configurations used for VNIR-SWIR spectroscopy of soil organic carbon and soil organic matter estimation. We present and compare the results of over fifty selective studies and discuss the factors that affect the accuracy of spectroscopic measurements for both laboratory and in situ applications. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceReview
Agricultural Sustainability: A Review of Concepts and Methods
Sustainability 2019, 11(18), 5120; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11185120 - 19 Sep 2019
Cited by 20 | Viewed by 2113
Abstract
This paper presents a methodological framework for the systematic literature review of agricultural sustainability studies. The framework synthesizes all the available literature review criteria and introduces a two-level analysis facilitating systematization, data mining, and methodology analysis. The framework was implemented for the systematic [...] Read more.
This paper presents a methodological framework for the systematic literature review of agricultural sustainability studies. The framework synthesizes all the available literature review criteria and introduces a two-level analysis facilitating systematization, data mining, and methodology analysis. The framework was implemented for the systematic literature review of 38 crop agricultural sustainability assessment studies at farm-level for the last decade. The investigation of the methodologies used is of particular importance since there are no standards or norms for the sustainability assessment of farming practices. The chronological analysis revealed that the scientific community’s interest in agricultural sustainability is increasing in the last three years. The most used methods include indicator-based tools, frameworks, and indexes, followed by multicriteria methods. In the reviewed studies, stakeholder participation is proved crucial in the determination of the level of sustainability. It should also be mentioned that combinational use of methodologies is often observed, thus a clear distinction of methodologies is not always possible. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Green, Closed Loop, Circular Bio-Economy)
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