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i-SPACE makes case for advanced recycling pilot plant

A Swansea University led team is calling on industry to support plans to build an advanced sorting plant that will recycle more material from products at the end of their life.

AdobeStock/Steban Martinena

The i-SPACE project aims to boost recycling in an industrial-scale pilot plant that demonstrates the latest sorting and processing technology and shows that it works.

It would increase the amount of waste that is recovered and recycled and turn this into new raw materials that can be used by steel and other foundation industries.

The first phase of the project, however, is to make the case for building the plant in order to attract the support needed for it to go ahead.

Cathy Bell, i-SPACE project manager, said: “We have a high-level view of what the plant will look like, basically one or more shredders in-line with both conventional and novel sorting and separation technologies.  The plant itself will be state-of-the art commercially available equipment as we are not redesigning the equipment at this point.”

Bell continued: “The actual equipment list will be finalised once the project team have completed discussions with potential partners, collaborators and customers. This is why we are reaching out to trade bodies, sector organisations and manufacturers.”

The project is a collaboration between Swansea University and UK steelmakers, but the i-SPACE team wants to encourage others from the steel sector and supply chain, plus foundation industries, to get involved. 


Bell said the plant will not be operated in the same way as current recycling and waste management plants. Instead of a high-volume production model the emphasis will be on two value streams, namely research and development conducted on the processes and input materials, and low volume commercial production of high-quality raw materials recovered from end-of-life components or waste.

“The aim being to optimise material recovery in terms of the purity of material recovered and to achieve zero waste operation,” Bell said.

Steel is the world’s most recycled material, but the process of manufacturing steel remains carbon-intensive if it is made from iron ore. Steel can also be made by melting down and reusing steel scrap, a method which generates far lower carbon emissions.

The biggest source of scrap is end-of life products but to be suitable as a raw material for today’s high-tech steelmaking, the scrap has to be high-quality, with the right chemical composition and free of contamination from other material.

Better sorting and processing is important as it results in cleaner and better steel scrap, which in turn means greener steelmaking and lower carbon emissions.

According to i-SPACE, it also leads to more recycling of other materials, whether other metals such as aluminium or copper, or other components such as plastic. Currently much of this is discarded, but there is potential for it to be turned into usable products for other industries.

i-SPACE (Innovative Steel Processing Accelerating the Circular Economy) is funded by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund through the Wales European Funding Office.