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From FineFuture to FINEST: Resource Supply for the Energy Transition and Sustainable Value Chains

Dirlich, S.; Schlosser, D.; Stapf, D.; Renno, A.; Gutzmer, J.


One of the biggest threats to humankind and the planet is the climate change that is propelled by excessive carbon dioxide emissions mainly being generated through combustion of fossil fuels in industry, transportation, building, etc. In order to keep the increase of the global temperature below 2K compared to pre-industrialization level, climate-neutrality becomes more and more important for nations, societies, regions, cities and companies in response to this development. In addition, a sustainable circular economy that keeps material streams in the loop as far as possible contributes to this goal. However, the transformation of the society and economy towards more sustainability requires a vast amount of resources in itself. Though resource depletion may actually not really be a challenge for many elements, in particular those elements that are required for high technology applications such as batteries for electro mobility, wind turbines, etc. are scarce, and might become even scarcer in view of the pursued expansion of sustainable and climate-neutral technologies. This is the case for example for lithium as an important raw material for batteries, but also for rare earth elements like neodymium that are required for magnets in wind turbines.
In addition, the extraction of primary ores becomes also more and more difficult due to decreasing concentrations of valuable minerals in the ore bodies in turn leading to even larger amounts of mining waste compared to the recovery of the target element. Often, a considerable part of the minerals cannot be recovered as the particles are too fine for the conventional processing technologies currently in place. In order to tackle this challenge, the Horizon 2020 project FineFuture was conducted in which experts from all over Europe collaborated to find ways to unlock the fine-grained mineral and critical raw materials resources through innovative technologies and concepts for fine particle flotation. Beside advancements in the fundamental understanding of the underlying processes in the interphases as well as the modelling of the particle flows, the pneumatic flotation technology was improved through a new design and more suitable selection of frothers and collectors resulting in higher recovery rates for certain minerals such as manganese and magnesite.
Current research going on is intended to utilize and manage finest particulate matters of anthropogenic origin. The types of finest materials considered in the FINEST project jointly conducted by HZB, HZDR, KIT, UFZ, TUBAF and UG are microplastics, mineral additives and disperse metals, which are found in waste streams such as plastics waste, external thermal insulation composite systems, light-weight shredder fractions (e.g. from electronic scrap and/or automotive recycling), etc.
The sub-project FINEST Microplastics deals with biotechnological solutions for the utilization of the microplastics fraction. Biocatalysts are to convert the plastics fraction to yield specific mono-/oligomers for product synthesis, microbial biomass amenable to further microbial fermentation and inert residues for a safe deposition.
The sub-project FINEST Mineral Additives is dedicated to finest minerals with the aim to recover mineral additives like fillers, flame retardants, pigments or heat stabilizers during chemical recycling processes. By means of pyrolysis, part of the mineral additives from external thermal insulation composite systems shall be recovered while non-separable additives shall be safely stored in recycling cement and low-grade plastics may be utilized by feeding them back into the plastics fraction.
The sub-project FINEST Disperse Metals targets at a blending and agglomeration of complex residues composing of finest particles. The pellets produced from the blended waste shall be further processed through thermal treatment in a furnace aiming at the recovery of the metallic content. The remaining residues shall be disposed of in an inert form.
These innovative approaches need to be assessed in terms of their technological, ecological, economic, and social impact in comparison to the conventional processing, but also in comparison to a mere storage, which is regularly the case for the finest particle waste up-to-date.
Finally, the transdisciplinary approach of the project shall enable a transformation of industry through “transfer via brains” in order to contribute to a circular economy and enable more sustainable value chains.

Keywords: finest particles; resource recovery; sustainable value chains; circular economy; microplastics; mineral additives; disperse metals

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    Helmholtz Energy Conference 2023, 12.-13.06.2023, Koblenz, Deutschland



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