Recovering critical and economically important metals from low-grade ores and waste

04/11/2016

Recovering critical and economically important metals from low-grade ores and waste

The EU area is experiencing challenges in sourcing critical metals. Solutions to this are being sought by the METGROW+ project, coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Researchers are developing technologies for extracting valuable metals from metallurgical waste and low-grade ores, from which recovery is not yet economically viable. The research is serving European industry, which is dependent on the import of critical metals.

It is estimated that around 30 million jobs in the EU are dependent on raw materials, which is why the EU has a special focus on their availability. Critical metals are important to the manufacture of smart electronics and products such as solar cells, wind turbines and batteries.

The METGROW+ project concerns the recovery of economically important metals such as nickel, cobalt, zinc and copper, as well as critical metals like indium, gallium, germanium and chromium. The research involves the development and combination of pyro-, hydro-, solvo-, electro-, iono- and biohydrometallurgical unit operations.

The project also involves the development of techniques for utilising the material remaining after the metal recovery process, for example as a raw material in the construction industry. The goal is a waste-free approach, for which information being created to assist companies with decision-making.

Utilising the entire waste stream will also reduce environmental problems.

Four material families were selected as objects of study for the METGROW+ project: laterites, iron-rich sludges, fayalite slags and finegrained landfilled sludges. Using these, information can also be generated on the technologies firms could use to recover metals from other materials. The methods developed through the project will be piloted on the aforementioned four sample materials.

VTT is acting as the coordinator of the EU's four-year METGROW+ project (Horizon 2020 programme). The project will end on 31 January 2020 and has a total budget of EUR 7.9 million. VTT's share of the budget is around EUR 1 million.

A total of 19 universities, research organisations and companies from nine member countries are participating in the project: Umicore, J.M. Recycling (Group Machiels), Arche, VITO, KULeuven and the University of Ghent (Belgium); Hellenic Copper Mines (Cyprus); Technical University of Crete (Greece); VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and Outotec (Finland); Kerneos (France); D'Appolonia (Italy); IMN and Profima (Poland); IDP, Idener, Urbaser and Tecnalia (Spain); SP (Sweden).

The EU defines a raw material as critical when it is of economic importance and produced in only a few countries, limiting its availability. At the moment, industry is mainly dependent on metals imported from China. The EU is seeking to reduce import dependency by supporting research promoting the production of metals from waste and low-grade ores, from which recovery is not yet economically viable using current methods.

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