Fraunhofer to recycle raw materials


Research scientists are developing new separation and sorting techniques for efficient recycling of raw materials in order to answer to rising demand of them in the newly industrializing countries. 

The world’s reserves of raw materials have been diminishing for years and Europe is particularly affected by this situation. Politicians fear an increasing shortage of raw materials in the EU countries. An expert group appointed by the EU Commission has already classified 14 of the raw materials on which industry strongly depends as critical. These include, for example, cobalt, which is needed for lithium-iron batteries, and tantalum for mobile phones. According to forecasts, the demand for many of these raw materials will treble by 2030. EU experts recommend a series of measures to prevent shortages, including more efficient recycling of raw materials.

With the Beyond Tomorrow project “Molecular Sorting for Resource Efficiency” Fraunhofer research scientists are pursuing the aim of systematic recycling and production in a closed-loop materials flow. They are seeking to develop a production system requiring no input of new raw materials. Using secondary raw materials again and again and returning them in cascades to the production process saves natural resources. The Fraunhofer Institutes for Chemical Technology ICT, for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB, for Silicate Research ISC, for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS, for Building Physics IBP and for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut, WKI are participating in the project.
The aim of the scientists is to develop new materials separation processes. “In the automobile industry, for example, high-performance lightweight materials are combined to make hybrid components, such as mounting supports and roof structures. At some time in the future they will be available for recycling, but such high-performance materials require new separation and sorting techniques. In the years ahead it will not be possible in many cases to replace primary raw materials economically using conventional recycling and production processes,” says project coordinator Dr.-Ing. Jörg Woidasky from the ICT. In contrast to present methods the scientists want to separate the relevant raw materials, in particular those in short supply, at the production plant or in the first stage of processing, and to process them in just a few steps. The scientists are focusing on metals and materials flows from the mineral, biogenic, organic and silicate raw materials sectors.