Jour E: Towards Circular Reindustrialization

Paul-François Fournier, the Executive Director of Innovation at Bpifrance, hosted a conference on April 4th during Jour E about circular reindustrialization. Eléonore Blondeau, a circular industry expert and co-founder of CSI France, and Christian Bruere, president of Mob-ion, spoke at the event.

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On Thursday, April 4, 2024, the Jour E trade show dedicated to professionals looking to make their businesses greener took place in Nantes. During this event, Paul-François Fournier, Executive Director of Innovation at Bpifrance, interviewed two industrialists committed to the cause of circular reindustrialization: Eléonore Blondeau, circular industry expert and co-founder of CSI France, and Christian Bruere, president of Mob-ion. The discussion was impactful and inspiring.

Paul-François Fournier: Can you introduce your company/association?

Eléonore Blondeau: After founding a startup specializing in packaging reuse, I co-founded the Collectif Startups Industrielles France (CSI), an association aimed at promoting industrial startups whose innovations can be scaled up. These innovations can be technological, product-based, marketing-oriented, etc. CSI communicates about these startups, their needs, and the solutions that the ecosystem can develop to meet them.

Christian Bruere: Mob-ion is a manufacturer of circularly sustainable electric scooters. We are the only certified manufacturer with a vehicle made in France that is AFNOR certified. Our scooter is cheaper because we sell the usage, not the product. It is dismantlable, durable, and highly competitive, with a rental price of 50 euros per month, all taxes included, with no hidden fees. We’ve shown that by using component law, circular economy, and usage sales, it is possible to build a very competitive French industry. Our scooter is cheaper than those from China and India in the European market. Our soon-to-be signature is: « The cheapest scooter in Europe is made in France. »

PFF: What do you mean by « circular reindustrialization »?

Eléonore Blondeau: To reindustrialize France, societal and environmental issues must be considered. We cannot industrialize anything indiscriminately; connected skateboards don’t interest me. But healthcare, education, food, housing… these are essential. Our association supports projects with a multi-criteria approach, integrating CO2 issues, material, water, energy, waste, biodiversity… throughout the entire life cycle of the product/process and its associated business model.

To compare traditional industry to circular industry, take the example of a chair that can be produced in Asia by children, in multiple materials, non-repairable, non-recyclable, sold as a single unit. But it can also be produced in France, by someone paid fairly, in mono-materials, repairable, recyclable, and sold by usage.

The chair is just one example. Today, we don’t know how to produce screws in France anymore, yet they are everywhere! To reindustrialize the country, we obviously need breakthrough innovations, but also to relocate the production of simple parts.

Christian Bruere: Among the 3Rs of environmental management, « Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, » I believe the real solution lies in reducing components. In any equipment, components that naturally have different lifespans cooperate. Chemical components like capacitors have lifespans calculated in hours, while bearings, seals, permanent magnets, and materials like copper, stainless steel, and aluminum have no limited lifespan unless subjected to high mechanical stresses. Most of the time, they simply don’t need replacing! At Mob-ion, at the end of a contract, we recover the product, dismantle it, recover 78% of its value, and reuse 62% of the components. This represents energy, resource, time, money, and logistics savings, as well as job creation and supply chain security… the list is long.

PFF: How can companies transition to this reindustrialization?

Christian Bruere: We are not the first to engage in circular reindustrialization. Farmers have been doing it for a long time with products not designed as « low tech. » Mob-ion manufactures scooters that can be disassembled without heavy tools. This requires designing in a way opposite to current practices. While car manufacturers save cents and seconds on production lines, we add euros and hours because that’s not the point.

The important thing is the total price. Let me explain. At Mob-ion, CAPEX (capital expenditures) does not impact our decisions; what interests us is the total cost of product ownership, which is the sum of CAPEX and OPEX (operating expenses). In our accounting model, we do not amortize the component charge sold but rather an annual allocation over the contract duration. As a result, we are more competitive than Indians or Chinese! Our margin is a factor of 5, while theirs is not even 2.

Component amortization, made possible by a 2016 law, is also a breakthrough. At Mob-ion, we requested an exemption to amortize components costing less than 500 euros. We fought, we won. Today we are pushing for amortization beyond 20 years, as this arbitrary duration makes no sense for a permanent magnet or copper winding, which have much longer lifespans.

PFF: To achieve circular reindustrialization, should we focus on Deeptech or low tech?

Eléonore Blondeau: Politically, we have tended to emphasize the Deeptech model while neglecting the manufacturers of simple objects, like screws. We need both disruptive and down-to-earth approaches. In France, we have plenty of ideas thanks to our R&D centers. But our inventions are industrialized in Asia or the United States, which then impose our own creations on us according to their practices! We also lose

sovereignty and supply security. We have the means to innovate, but we let it all slip away, which is frustrating!

Christian Bruere: We need Deeptech, but dedicating the majority of the 54 billion euros from the Plan France Relance 2030 to it is a mistake. Innovation is not just technological; it is also human, social, accounting, and financial… Unfortunately, our investment funds do not pay attention to non-technological disruption.

PFF: Is the ability to change our consumption habits a hindrance?

Eléonore Blondeau: There is an educational issue among consumers and providers. Circular solutions exist in France, whether digital, service-based, or industrial, but they struggle to find customers due to a lack of awareness. After the « carbon mania, » we are just starting to talk about circularity; yet the market exists. Marketing and communication need to realize this.

PFF: Any advice for rethinking one’s business in a circular way?

Eléonore Blondeau: Sustainable sourcing should be adopted before eco-designing, to then adopt the usage model – which is not new; truck rental is an old example. Finally, responsible consumption should be considered. To do this, the link between marketing and engineering teams needs to be developed. The producer and consumer share a common responsibility.

Christian Bruere: For us, recycling is an admission of failure in design. With Mob-ion, we want to reuse scooter fairings by designing them differently and using an innovative cleaning technique called aerogommage (innovative stripping) to keep them for 40 years.