28 January 2016

Mistra’s major investment in smart materials recovery

The Mistra Closing the Loop programme has just ended. Its outcome was so successful that Mistra’s Board is now to invest SEK 40 million in a second phase. Five projects designed to explore new ways of making use of waste products from industry will share the funding.

Mistra Closing the Loop is an interdisciplinary programme concerning ways of converting by-products and waste products from industry into valuable resources. The first phase of the programme began in 2012 and was concluded in autumn 2015.

During the programme period, there have been seven different projects involved in such work as identifying the best ways of recycling vehicles to finding out how individual substances, such as phosphorus, could be used instead of ending up as hazardous waste in landfills.

The unique aspect of the programme is that it consists of individual, free-standing projects for which funding is applied for and approved independently from one another.

‘So the programme will have many equally important foci that will combine to boost knowledge, development and understanding in the area. Researchers who look at behavioural issues are as important as those who try to create the perfect steel with slag from aluminium foundries. What unites us is the will to find methods for efficiently disposing of and reusing industrial waste,’ says Programme Director Evalena Blomqvist.

Lessons from experience to date

The fact that the projects have had differing scientific starting points has not been a problem: rather the contrary. The competition that may sometimes exist among researchers with different specialities and methods has been entirely absent, according to Blomqvist. Instead, they have looked at one another’s projects and, in several cases, been able to come up with completely new angles.

‘Although they have all had a strong passion for their own projects, their interest and well-informed comments to fellow participants have helped to bring about a constructive climate in the programme.’

The experience of programme management that emerged in the first phase of Mistra Closing the Loop will now serve as the foundation for the second phase, due to start at the beginning of 2016.

Altogether, Mistra will invest SEK 40 million. Of this sum, SEK 38m will be spent on specific research while the remaining 2m will be used to further strengthen collaboration among the various projects.

‘The projects that are now receiving funds are all innovative in terms of using resources in the waste. Although they differ hugely among themselves, we hope they’ll find synergies that enable them to collectively benefit the environment and climate more than they can do separately,’ says Christopher Folkeson Welch, Programmes Director at Mistra.

New resources through collaboration

What the approved projects have in common is that they set out to develop new knowledge and boost cooperation among different stakeholders to find methods of deriving useful resources from industrial waste, and do so efficiently and sustainably.

In November, when the first phase of Mistra Closing the Loop ended, the programme held a seminar to summarise experience gained so far. One overall idea that emerged were that virgin materials are still too cheap to provide economic motives for a change-over. One reason for the low prices is that the materials do not bear their own environmental costs. A new policy is therefore needed to facilitate production of the secondary raw materials. Another problem is the lack of standards to classify the quality of reused materials. This makes it difficult to select the right quality for each application. Always choosing the best quality, as is now often done, is wasteful and hinders the transition to a more sustainable society.

The projects that will receive support in the next four years are:

  • EBaR, with Swerea MEFOS as the main applicant, will receive SEK 7.95 million to develop methods of recycling lithium batteries.
  • Constructivate, with Chalmers University of Technology as the main applicant, will get SEK 8 million to bring about better handling of waste from building demolition.
  • Shredder Valorization, with Linköping University as the main applicant, is to receive SEK 7.95 million to develop methods of assessing the value of different fractions in waste management.
  • GLAD, with Ragn-Sells and the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute (Sveriges provnings- och forskningsinstitut, SP) as the main applicants, will get SEK 5.9 million to develop a combination of processes with iron ore and wood fibre for materials recovery.
  • Cimmrec, with Mälardalen University as the main applicant, is to receive SEK 2.64 million to develop LCC and LCA models to make handling of waste flows more efficient.
  • Explore, with Chalmers University of Technology as the main applicant, will receive SEK 5.56 million to improve processes in vehicle recycling.

Text: Per Westergård

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