A growing world population and rising levels of prosperity are driving up the demand for materials. The international resource panel of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) calculated that “the annual resource extraction would need to triple by 2050, compared to extraction in 2000, in case levels of resource use per head for all global citizens reached the levels of current use of the average European”. We live at present with a largely linear materials economy of ‘take-make-use-dispose’: raw materials are extracted from the environment, converted into (high-tech) materials, used in products and disposed of at the end of live. However, the world has limited capacity to provide resources and absorb waste. Moreover, geopolitical developments have led to the identification of critical raw materials for Europe, USA and Japan, which are economically important and at risk of supply disruption.
Circular materials economy
In a circular materials economy waste becomes a resource. Metals have the potential to be largely reused, remanufactured, and/or recycled for an indefinite number of times. The group’s ambition is to contribute to the sustainable development of resource-efficient metal cycles in which:
1. Metal loops are closed.
2. Less metals are required in products for the same – or better - functionality than is the case currently.
3. Less energy and water consumption and land use is required for the production of metals as compared to current standards.
4. The production of metals is accompanied by less CO2-emissions and other environmental impacts than is currently the case.
1. Metals design for resource-efficiency and the circular economy
2. Substitution of critical and/or toxic alloying elements in metals
3. Sustainable metals cycles: from waste to high-value alloy
Much of the current research in the group is related to steel. A sustainable development is also about impact. The metal that is produced in the largest quantities is steel. Improvements related to steel processing are potentially impactful.
The research of this group developed from the research group ‘metals processing microstructure and properties’. The group collaborates closely with the group of ‘Metals Production, Refining and Recycling’.
Book publication about the (im)practibility of materials in a circular economy
Editor Erik Offerman
The book ‘Critical Materials: Underlying Causes and Sustainable Mitigation Strategies is available from February 2019 onwards. This theme matters to the work of every materials scientist and product developer.
‘A switch to a circular economy could be accelerated by simplifying the materials system and by carefully selecting material combinations. This is feasible by using fewer alloying elements/additives. At the moment, a relatively large number of different alloying elements/additives are being used to provide materials with the desired properties, which makes recycling of mixed-material streams more difficult. State-of-the-art insight into the microstructure (e.g. grain size and texture) of materials may be used to create materials with the same or better properties, but with fewer alloying elements/additives, which could improve recyclability. Metals are essentially easy to recycle as long as that’s been taken into account already during the design stage. That’s an entirely different way of thinking – a more holistic approach, from a systems perspective. The first step is to raise awareness. That’s one of the aims of my book, to promote awareness. ’