The European research project CASCADES’ objective was “to define the cascading use of wood and assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of cascading, to identify and analyse the barriers preventing cascading”. As a central element of the project a wood flow analysis was conducted.

From page 26 the 2016 final report [Vis M., U. Mantau, B. Allen (Eds.) (2016) Study on the optimised cascading use of wood. No 394/PP/ENT/RCH/14/7689. Final report. Brussels 2016. 337 pages)] comes this Sankey diagram depicting wood flows in the European Union (EU-28).

All flows are in Mm³ swe (solid wood equivalent). No absolute numbers are given to quantify the flows, instead three sample arrows serve a reference to the scale (“Legend of dimensions”).

The wood biomass is either used as material (left branches) or as energy (right branch). On the material side wood industry (yellow path) and paper industry (blue path) take up most of the biomass. Residues of both industries along with a good chunk of the post-consumer paper waste are being recovered and led in a cascading loop, until they eventually shift to the energetic side.

A complex and interesting Sankey diagram with much to discover. The CASCADES report describes all the areas of the wood flow system, identifies hotspots and describes measures for optimization.

Europe’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published a new report on ‘Critical Raw Materials and the Circular Economy’ in December 2017.

The report also builds on findings from a 2015 study by BIO by Deloitte, where a Raw Material System Analysis (MSA) Framework had been introduced that “investigates the flows and stocks of 28 raw materials from ‘cradle-to-grave’, that is, across the entire material life cycle from resource extraction to materials processing to manufacturing and fabrication to use and then to collection, processing, and disposal/recycling”. I had posted about this here.

Like in the 2015 study the authors present MSAs for a number of critical materials (CRMs) within the EU-28 boundaries and are depicting them as Sankey diagrams. The authors then expand into how scarcity and price may impact certain industrial sectors or products (Automative, Electronics, Batteries, etc.). Best practices are suggested for recovering critical materials.

Here is the MSA Sankey diagram for Germanium (from page 41 of the report):


All flows are in kilograms per the reference year 2012. We can see that roughly 80.000 kg of Germanium entered the EU in the year 2012, and 15.800 kg were made available on the secondary material market within the EU.

For the individual industrial sectors, another type of figure is presented. This breakdown of how much of the CRMs is used in a specific sector gives a better understanding of the dependency on certain CRMs.

This Sankey diagram (from page 39 of the report) for the Electrical and Electronical Equipment sector shows, for example, that 87% of the Germanium (ge) entering the EU are used in the EEE sector, making it the largest consuming sector of Germanium. The remaining 13% are used in other sectors:

Crossing the information from the MSA Sankey diagams that show availability of a CRM, and the information from the Sankey diagram showing demands per sector gives a good understanding on why some materials are considered critical for industries, and measures for recovering more of them from tailings or waste are meaningful.

Source: Mathieux, F., Ardente, F., Bobba, S., Nuss, P., Blengini, G., Alves Dias, P., Blagoeva, D., Torres De Matos, C., Wittmer, D., Pavel, C., Hamor, T., Saveyn, H., Gawlik, B., Orveillon, G., Huygens, D., Garbarino, E., Tzimas, E., Bouraoui, F. and Solar, S., Critical Raw Materials and the Circular Economy – Background report. JRC Science-for-policy report, EUR 28832 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2017, ISBN 978-92-79-74282-8 doi:10.2760/378123 JRC108710.

Access JRC report here (PDF).

This week the global plastics flows topic made the news and social media with the publication of the EU Plastics Strategy and Chancellor Philip Hammond presenting the United Kingdom’s plan for tackling plastic waste.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation has long been active in research and awareness building in this field. It aims at supporting a transition to a circular economy. The foundation tweeting under @circulareconomy contributed this Sankey diagram. It is from a 2016 report they produced together with the World Economic Forum and McKinsey.

The Sankey diagram shows indeed, that “today, plastic packaging material flows are largely linear”. This beautifully crafted diagram had already caught my attention back in 2016 when I first saw it.

However, I had this subtle feeling that something was wrong here. Not regarding the content or the data … but rather that something wasn’t OK in the Sankey diagram, Just my gut feeling. Now, seeing the Sankey diagram again in the above tweet this week, I finally sat to quickly do a remake of this Sankey diagram. Here it is:

I stuck to the original layout and design as closely as possible, using the same color codes and even the white all caps font. While transfering the numbers (all percentage values, so no issue there), it immediately became clear to me what caused my irritation. Can you identify it yourself by comparing the two pics?

Won’t give it away now and wait for your comments. Will post the answers to this small ‘spot-the-difference contest’ here next week.

[Edit 24 Jan] Blog reader ‘First!’ was the first to comment and point out that the 2% recycling flow does not seem to be to scale (i.e too wide / overemphasized) in the Sankey diagram published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and possibly the same issue with the two arrows representing 14% each.

Baidu Zhidao (“Baidu Knows”) is the Chinese version of a Q&A website (like quora.com or answers.com), where users can post a question and others from the community answer it.

Here’s someone asking whether there is a China-made Sankey diagram software. This nice diagram is shown to explain what a Sankey diagram looks like. Please don’t ask me what is actually visualized here…


Source: Baidu Knows (百度知道)

The last weeks have been very busy, so I am just quickly firing off a few more Sankey diagrams from the depth of my hard disk before heading into the holiday season.

This one in German, showing the percentage breakdown of energy flows in a company. Haven’t noted the source, sorry.

I was pointed to a Sankey diagram in the Wikipedia article on ‘Income Statement’. This figure created by Adrián Chiogna. The labels are in Spanish, but one can nevertheless understand ‘Costs’, ‘Marginal Contribution’ and ‘Net Result’. Click to enlarge for details.


(Source: Wikpedia article on ‘Income Statement’, Adrián Chiogna)

This Sankey diagram can be considered a distribution diagram as it shows how net interest income and other operating income of Bank Muscat in 2011/2012 are split into operating expenses and net profit.


(Source: Times of Oman Graphics)

Only at second sight I found out that this is actually a year-on-year comparison of the figures for H1/2011 and H1/2012. The light yellow flows are for the previous year, the dark orange flows for the other year, indicating an operating profit increase of 2.6 Mio Rials.

A comparison of different Ammonia production technologies is made in a post on ‘Comparative studies of ammonia production, combining renewable hydrogen with Haber-Bosch’ by Trevor Brown on the Ammonia Industry blog.

It also features this these Sankey diagrams from an Italian research study by Fratelli et.al.


(published under CC BY 4.0)

All diagrams relate to the production of 1 kg of ammonia (NH3). The authors in their “research examined three cases for renewable hydrogen production, including biomass gasification (Case A), electrolysis of water using solar or wind power (Case B), and biogas reforming (Case C), and compared these sustainable hydrogen sources against the traditional steam methane reformation of natural gas (Case 0)”.

Blue flows represent electrical energy, red flows are heat energy, including the losses (off-heat). Green flows show chemical energy embodied in the product and the feedstock.

For the original study check Fratelli et al: A system approach in energy evaluation of different renewable energies sources integration in ammonia production plants. In: Renewable Energy, Volume 99, December 2016, Pages 472-482.