The European Green Deal aims to address the existential threat of climate change and environmental degradation by transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient, and competitive economy. It sets ambitious goals, including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, decoupling economic growth from resource use, and ensuring inclusive progress leaving no one and nothing behind.

It outlines a transformative shift towards a climate-neutral continent by 2050, with member states committed to reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030. This initiative promises various benefits, including opportunities for innovation, investment, and green jobs creation.

The green transition presents a major opportunity for European industry by creating markets for clean technologies and products. For this reason, the Green Industrial Plan was introduced to boost Europe´s net zero industry and to accelerate the transition to climate neutrality. To secure Europe’s place as the home of industrial innovation and clean tech, massive investments must be made in funding research and innovation.

Driving European R&I to Accelerate the Roll-out of Strategic and Sustainable Tech Deployment

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation (R&I). To step up the technological developments, the EU has invested 40 billion in R&I for the European Green deal. EU investments in these fields play a pivotal role in fostering the development of technologies that support the growth of more sustainable industrial value chains through Europe.

One such initiative, the ReSoURCE project, has attracted significant attention due to its potential impact on industry transformation and revolutionary advancements in refractory recycling. With the capacity of broader application beyond its initial scope, the project holds promise for revolutionizing recycling processes in the industry.

Given the high carbon intensity of the refractory industry, reducing CO2 emissions is crucial. The utilization of secondary raw materials presents an opportunity to mitigate impact, particularly by reducing extractive processing in raw materials mines. Through innovative recycling methods of spent refractories, substantial CO2 savings can be achieved. However, enhancing the efficiency of recycling processes requires the development of new technologies, particularly in automated sorting solutions.

The ReSoURCE consortium is actively engaged in innovating the full process chain of refractory recycling with AI-supported multi sensor sorting equipment as its core technology. Through these efforts, ReSoURCE contributes to advancing circular economy principles and supporting the transition to a more sustainable industrial landscape.

ReSoURCE will join the EU Missions and cross-cutting activities info days to gain more insights on how our project can further contribute. If you are interested in funding opportunities helping to reach the EU mission goals in the areas of climate and the environment and would like to contribute bringing concrete solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our society, then join this event on April 25-26. The event aims to inform potential applicants about the new topics included in the EU Missions and Cross-cutting Activities work programme 2024.

 

Author´s Portrait

Sofia Iriarte

Sofia is project ReSoURCE´s Science Communicator. She studied Advertising and Public Relations and has a MSc in Communication Science from the University of Vienna. Currently, she is part of the Innovation Management team and Global Communications at RHI Magnesita.

 

We use a variety of different analysis methods in our project, which we would like to introduce to you in this format. After presenting the XRF analysis method in the last article of this series, we would now like to introduce you to the scanning electron microscope (SEM). SEM is a powerful tool used in scientific research and industry to measure the chemistry of points of interest, examine the surface of materials at high magnification or to create element distribution maps of a sample. It works by using a beam of electrons to scan the surface of a sample, producing detailed images that reveal the structure and composition of the material.

Similar to XRF, the elemental analysis of the SEM also works with energy dispersive X-ray spectra, also known as EDX. In brief: A mineral grain of interest is bombarded with electrons; an electron close to the core is knocked out of its position; the gap is filled by an electron from a higher orbital and must release energy when changing position, this energy is element-specific. This allows researchers to identify the elements present in the sample and determine their relative concentrations.

We use this method in environmental and waste mineralogy. For example, it is used to analyse the distribution of pollutants in mineral waste or to test individual mineral grains for their pollutant content. With the SEM results, we can also determine minerals, and subsequently estimate whether pollutants are firmly bound and therefore immobile or less firmly bound and therefore mobile. This important finding supports us, in the search for new alternative applications of the analysed material.

However, since pollutants do not play a role in spent refractory materials, we have focused on those elements that can directly hinder the further recycling of spent refractories. With SEM, we have created so-called element distribution maps (Figure 1, right). By evaluating these maps, we can make statements about the distribution of elements that might hinder the further recycling process like potassium (K). Other than that, we can also have a look on the distribution of recycling mineral phases and determine their size, their chemical content as well as their intergrowth structures. This helps us to optimise the recycling process.

ReSoURCE Florian Feucht - Montanuni Leoben

Author´s Portrait

Florian Feucht

DI Florian Feucht, is research associate at the Chair of Waste Management and Waste Treatment at the Montanuniversitaet Leoben, and part of the Workgroup: “Environmental remediation and mineral waste”. Since 2023 he participates in the Montanuniversitaet’s PhD Program. From 2018 to 2023 he studied “applied geoscience” at the Montanuniversitaet Leoben and wrote his master thesis about “Chemical-Mineralogical Characterization of Ladle Slag from voestalpine Linz”. From 2014 to 2018 he studied at the University of Vienna Earth Sciences and wrote a bachelor thesis on the subject: “Petrological and Petrographical Ínvestigation of Mafic-, Ultramafic Rocks from the Dunkelsteinerwald, Gföhler Unit, Moldanubic” Florian’s research interests are chemical-mineralogical characterisation of mineral wastes, Mineralogy, Slag mineralogy, Recycling and Waste Management.

How can we reach climate neutrality, secure raw materials, and maintain a good quality of life on our planet for future generations? One thing is clear: we need to shift from a linear resource-intensive economy to a circular one. This is crucial for Europe to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050, where society as a whole and stakeholders are embracing the “closing the loop approach”.

The circular economy approach is an enabler of economic growth and development while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and achieving the green transition. It aims at a zero-waste life cycle of products and hence the preservation of natural resources. Translated into the field of refractories, this implies the extensive reuse of refractory materials that have already been in operation.

For every tonne of recycled refractory material that is re-used, approximately 1.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions are avoided compared to the processing of virgin raw materials. Furthermore, recycling refractory materials prevents waste disposal, reintegrates secondary raw materials into the economy, and diminishes reliance on virgin raw materials.

However, recycling spent refractories poses several challenges. From sourcing to processing and utilization, various obstacles must be overcome. Among several challenges that are faced, the sorting and cleaning stage is particularly demanding. Sorting the various products is crucial for attaining the required chemical composition to either repurpose the materials in refractories or direct them for additional processing.

Currently, the sorting stage represents the foremost hurdle to overcome, as it predominantly relies on manual operations and the expertise of the workforce to distinguish between different types. Manual sorting is largely dependent on experienced personal to select the material, by relying on color, fracture characteristics, sound upon impact, and density. This poses challenges due to the limited distinction possible with the finite discernment capabilities of human senses.

In light of these obstacles, innovative solutions are required, from sorting during or after dismantling, contaminant removal or stabilization, and fragmentation methods to enhance mineral circularity.  To enable the sorting process´s efficiency, fully automated identification and separation systems is an imperative and a strategic development step. Therefore, Refractory Sorting Using Revolutionizing Classification Equipment (ReSoURCE) project aims to innovate the entire process chain.

The technologies developed for the recycling of spent refractories in ReSoURCE will revolutionize the status quo of spent refractories sorting. By enhancing efficiency in the recycling process, we can reduce up to 800,000 tonnes of landfilling, resulting in significant CO2 savings. Additionally, this initiative will lead to substantial energy savings and will also strengthen Europe´s raw material resilience.

Research and innovation are crucial to offering a pathway towards achieving Europe’s climate neutrality objectives. Through the adoption of circular economy principles and the embrace of innovative solutions, the recycling of raw materials derived from refractories presents a tangible and effective strategy for reducing carbon footprints and advancing sustainability goals.

 

Author´s Portrait

Sofia Iriarte

Sofia is project ReSoURCE´s Science Communicator. She studied Advertising and Public Relations and has a MSc in Communication Science from the University of Vienna. Currently, she is part of the Innovation Management team and Global Communications at RHI Magnesita.