EU study supports better conditions for metal recycling

by David Fleschen

According to a recent study commissioned by the European Commission, comprehensive metal recycling could save significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than greening production processes or increasing the use of renewable energies. However, unless there are new and better conditions for metal recycling, significant improvements in greenhouse gas emissions could only be achieved after 2050. The researchers urgently demand their own agenda for the circular economy of metals.
The EU-funded study of the Mineral Intelligence Capacity Analysis (MICA) project has developed a methodology for assessing the future environmental impact of the production of seven major metals: iron, aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese. In terms of environmental impact, five key factors have been used for the period 2010-2015: changes in demand for metals, the share of secondary (recycled) metals, developments in ore quality (low-grade ores require more energy to extract), improvements in Energy efficiency in production and a larger share of renewable energies in the global electricity mix.

In general, the results show a gradual improvement in greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of metal produced over the 40-year period and conclude that the move to a renewable energy system would have a major impact. This finding applies in particular to aluminum. Conversely, changes in the electricity mix have little impact on iron production. This is because iron emissions result from the use of coke (a coal-based fuel) in steel production and not from wider energy systems. A significant reduction in the future impact of iron is not possible unless a completely new low-carbon production system is introduced or the level of secondary iron is greatly increased, the study goes on to say.

As a result, the researchers recommend taking action very soon to transform the entire material cycle - from mining and production to product design, recycling infrastructure and technology. They urge to promote policies that enable a circular economy.

The results of the EU study will feed into the current research project of the BDSV, with which the institute Fraunhofer IMWS and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have been commissioned. The study deals with external costs and fair competition in the steel production value chains. The focus is also on the ecological importance of steel recycling with a special focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Fraunhofer UMSICHT study "Zukunft Stahlschrott", also commissioned by the BDSV, already confirms the recycling of metals as a major contribution to reducing CO2 emissions.
Source: BDSV, photo: fotolia

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