FlexiPlant - Research Infrastructure for adaptive processing of complex raw materials

Foto: FlexiPlant Illustration 1 ©Copyright: HZDR/Sander Münster

Source: HZDR/Sander Münster


For the increasing complexity of globally generated material flows, the further development of technologies for resource recovery are essential. Especially in high-tech products such as electrical devices, vehicles or batteries, almost all elements of the periodic table can be found, which should be returned to the material cycle. Research of the sustainable use of raw materials and the closing of material cycles is an emerging field of activity that is extremely relevant, both in scientific and strategic terms. Related political guidelines can be found in the current coalition agreement as well as the German government's energy research program or the EU's Green Deal, which are intended to lead to an environmental transition and thus to climate neutrality.

Methods and processes that allow recycling in the required quality are only being tested in Europe, if any, on a laboratory or small-scale technical scale. There is currently no research infrastructure to test new and, above all, automated as well as digitalized resource technologies on a pilot scale. FlexiPlant will therefore be a globally unique research infrastructure that goes far beyond the current state of the art. The goal is to close raw material loops, maximize energy and resource efficiency, and digitally transform the entire raw materials industry.

FlexiPlant aims to achieve a paradigm shift away from process chains in which variable incoming materials are processed but high losses are caused by the occuring quality degradation (downcycling). Instead, the focus is on flexible, automated and digitalized processing technologies that can be supplemented and interconnected with new equipment developments at any time. Innovative sensor systems capture a large number of characteristic properties of the raw materials, which are then further processed while being ideally adapted to the specific material flow. This combination enables relatively complete and, above all, function-preserving recovery of the raw materials contained in products at the end of their life cycle, in particular technology metals.

The fully automated capture and (pre-)sorting of the recyclable material flows already before further processing (for example, in the metallurgy pilot plant already existing at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF)) minimizes technologically induced losses. As a result, up to 90% of the previously lost raw material can be returned to the material cycle. In addition, the project aims to drastically reducing its current carbon footprint. FlexiPlant thus directly follows the socio-political requirements for climate protection and the energy transition.

As a unique pilot-scale infrastructure, FlexiPlant is intended to be a global attraction for cooperation partners from academia, industry and society in the future.

Link to the project video

Contact: Prof. Karl Gerald van den Boogart