In order to raise awareness on Critical Raw Materials (CRM), the H2020 funded project BIORECOVER has created a communication campaign in June 2020. This campaign aims to inform and raise awareness to the European public on the challenges linked to the 27 CRMs, according to the European Commission, on the different forms which CRM take in our daily life, on their importance for the sustainability of our economy and on their potential risks in terms of supplies.
Introducing the BIORECOVER Project
What are CRMs?
According to the European Commission, Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) have a necessary use and are subject to supply restrictions. It is a variable notion over time that is expressed in two ways: the availability of the substance and its economic importance. Most of the time, it translates into a price signal that encourages economic actors to take steps to mitigate its effects, either by increasing availability (new resources) or by reducing needs (changes in technonological studies). The European Commission has listed 27 CRMs, which you can discover on the following image:
The EU is highly dependent on raw materials that are essential for its growth and competitiveness. Unexploited raw materials offer great potential but, the development of innovative extraction techniques is essential.
Throughout this campaign, you will discover how important CRMs are in our daily life, as they can be found in everyday life items. Then, we will underline why CRMs are important for the economy sustainability and the risks of supply. Finally, we will explain to you the implication of the Biorecover project, and how new technologies and innovation coming out of the project will ameliorate the current method of extraction.
What role do CRMs play in daily life?
REE : Rare Earth Elements, despite their name, are very abundant in our lands and can be retrieved in everyday items such as TV and Smartphones. Light Bulbs, speakers, washing machines, air conditioners are other examples of where you can find REE. Rare Earth Elements are vital for the creation of electronic goods. Those minerals are being used in the conception of magnets, compressors and motors, which is why you can find them everywhere in your house.
Mg: Magnesium components are mostly used in incendiaries and as switch in thermites. Magnesium can generate a bright light which is why it is used in the creation of fireworks or sparklers. On a more daily use, you can retrieve Mg components in your car seats, laptops, cameras, etc. Regarding transportation, it is also present in the aviation sector – through engine parts, luggage frame, rockets, missiles – and ships, as components to prevent corrosion of iron and steel in pipes.
PGM : The Platinum Group Metals are used in a wide range of industrial, medical and electronic applications. It can also be found in jewelry because it is corrosion resistant. Components can be converted into glass, under a high melting point temperature. In electrical fields, PGMs are used for their conductive properties. PGMs are used in the medical field thanks to their catalytic properties.
Why are CRMs important for the sustainability of our economy and what are the potential risks in terms of supply?
- The expansion of renewable energy technologies such as electric car batteries and solar panels can be deeply impacted by a lack of REE.
- As CRMs are mainly produced in China and because the demand is growing, geopolitical issues could appear if China decides to lower its volume of exports.
- Business opportunities have appeared those past few years despite Europe’s dependence on foreign imports for CRMs and uncertainty towards supply, price volatility and market changes.
- Europe’s environmental impacts caused by its reliance on foreign imports and mining, can be decreased through the recycling of waste for a more sustainable use of CRMs.
- European countries have to find replacements and establish new, innovative, clean, and sustainable technologies in order to extract and transform CRMs.
What is the BIORECOVER project and how will it address CRMs?
BIORECOVER’s main objective is based on the research and development of a new sustainable and safe process, essentially based on biotechnology, for selective extraction of a wide range of Critical Raw Materials. To do so, the project will use three processes:
- Pre-treatment: The objective is to increase the concentration of the CRMs present in the matrices. This objective is achieved removing the following impurities:
Iron (Fe), Aluminium (Al), Calcium (Ca) and Titanium (Ti) for BR
Silicon (Si), Iron (Fe) and CaCO3 for MgW
Cupper (Cu), Nickel (Ni) and Cobalt (Co) for PLGO
Cupper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), Zinc (Zn) and Iron (Fe) for PCBP
The removing in the raw material will be carried out by specific microbial action:
- Treatments: The CRMs will put in contact with different microorganisms depending on the metal that we want to get. There are several quantities of microorganism used for this type of process.
- Post-Treatments: To recover the CRMs from bioleachate with high selectivity and purity. Five treatments will be carried out in principle: