As I mentioned in my last “Letter from North America”, Thomas Graedel, Professor of Industrial Ecology at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (and the guest speaker at the 2010 MMTA winter dinner here in New York), very kindly invited me to the spring meeting of the Yale Criticality Consortium (the Consortium) up in New Haven in the middle of March.
Together with the National Science Foundation, the Consortium helps fund the Criticality of Metals and Metalloids project at the school’s Center for Industrial Ecology. The research group has just completed the assessment of the contemporary (2008) criticality for 62 elements, comprising the metals of the periodic table plus metalloids and some other elements. The methodology created to quantify the degree of criticality, Professor Graedel’s brainchild, comprises three dimensions – supply risk, environmental implications and vulnerability to supply restriction. This provides a structural, and robust, approach that “reflects the multifaceted factors influencing the availability of metals in the 21st century.”
The presentations from Professor Graedel, his research staff and guest speakers, given over a day and a half, were all fascinating. Whilst, unfortunately, I am unable to write about some, either because the academic papers relating to them have still to be published, or because the research involved is only in its infancy, I believe I can provide at least a flavor of some of what was discussed.
Brief observations from two presentations, given by guest speakers, may be of particular interest to association members living in Europe. The first, entitled Critical Raw Materials: the European perspective was given by Carlo Pettinelli, Director Sustainable Growth and EU 2020, at the EC Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. This was followed by a second given by Gian Andrea Blengini, Senior Researcher, Sustainability Assessment (H.08), Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability. Mr Pettinelli was the politician. Dr Blengini was the scientist.
Building his talk on the three pillars of the European Raw Materials Initiative – sustainable supply of raw materials from global markets, sustainable supply within the EU and resource efficiency and recycling – Mr Pettinelli was keen to emphasize that the EU has now moved from a static to a dynamic approach to raw materials criticality.
Rather than a three dimensional, Yale-type approach, the EU’s is a simpler, two dimensional, approach, the axes being Economic Importance, i.e. the importance of a raw material per economic sector and the importance of the sector in the EU economy. And Supply Risk, i.e. political and economic stability, level of production concentration, potential for substitution and recycling rates. The EU’s first effort at drawing up a critical raw materials list was published in 2010. The process is now being repeated every three years, and the results of the assessment undertaken in 2013 were published in May 2014.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the list (apart, of course, from its constituents) was Mr Pettinelli’s description of its use, from a political standpoint, as a policy tool. Whilst he lead us to understand that policy actions are not limited to critical raw materials exclusively, he described the list as not only contributing to the implementation of the EU industrial policy, but also as incentivising the European production of critical raw materials and facilitating the launch of new mining activities. The list also helps monitor issues of critical raw materials to identify priority actions in, for example, trade, legislation and research.
In addition to the information he provided on the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials platform (it is well worth perusing its area on the EU’s website), one other piece of information with which Mr Pettinelli provided us was of particular interest. Of the €80 billion in funds available to fund the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, some €650 million has been earmarked specifically for raw materials. That’s a great deal of money!
Dr Blengini’s excellent presentation focused mainly on what he and his team are doing to refine and expand the European methodology used for defining criticality. Perhaps only to be expected, they are looking not only at accessing the most reliable data, but also at additional influences on criticality. (Discussion of these last included such issues as mining governance, land use, ore grade and by-production dynamics). But, for me, one of the most interesting things he told us is that they are looking also at both actual and potential uses of the critical raw materials list itself and, in this context, the issue of identification of the list’s individual constituents by stakeholders, especially as, of course, these include EU member states. Apparently, whether a material is included on the list, or not, can have serious implications for those seeking funding and/or grants in connection with that material: i.e. if it’s not critical, there may not be any money available!
For those interested in recycling (and note that end-of-life recycling is considered in Yale’s criticality work), the presentation given by Luca Ciacci, entitled The dissipation and recycling of metals (Loss because of product design), was particularly noteworthy. Dr Ciacci started by looking first at material cycles and dissipative flows with a description of the relevant life cycle phases. They are (linearly): Mining → Smelting → Refining → Fabrication → Manufacturing → Use → Waste Management. Following a brief look at the end-of-life recycling rates of metals, with particular reference to the UNEP’s 2011 publication, Recycling Rates of Metals, we reached the core of Dr Ciacci’s research in this area. This involves looking at different metals and establishing, for the important uses to which they are put, what percentage of each metal is: 1) dissipated in use (IUD); 2) currently unrecyclable (CU); and, 3) potentially recyclable (PR).
As if, in itself, this was not helpful, or groundbreaking enough, with the examples of titanium, mercury, selenium and lead, Dr Ciacci then showed us how he has been able to combine this recyclability information with the market share of these uses for each metal.
With this work on recycling potentials, it now seems that Dr Ciacci needs only, as it were, to “close the circle” for each metal by looking at how actual recycling rates match up to potential recycling rates. This is, I believe, something upon which he is already working. And which will, of course, be both enormously useful and absolutely fascinating.
© 2015 Tom Butcher, MMTA Sustainability Working Group