Exeter University is leading a new research centre looking to create a circular economy for technology metals used in clean and digital technologies.
Led by experts from the Camborne School of Mines, the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals is one of five new centres announced by the government on 11 November 2020.
Funded as part of a £22.5m government investment, it will explore how to create a circular economy for technology metals including cobalt, rare earths and lithium that are present in technologies including electric cars and wind turbines.
According to Exeter University, the centre will develop a new cycle – from the first stages of extraction – to enable secure and environmentally-acceptable circulation of these materials within the UK economy.
In a statement, project leader Professor Frances Wall said: “We have been looking for this opportunity to join up across the value chain for a while. Individual research projects can only go so far in solving the problem of sustainable supply and use of these specialist materials.
“This opportunity is really exciting because we bring together all the disciplines ranging from geology, chemistry, engineering to social science and business to consider the whole system.
“Together with our project partners we will make a new road map for a technology metals circular economy centred on the UK.”
The Centre brings together experts from the Universities of Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and the British Geological Survey, as well as 40 partner companies and organisations. Exeter will also provide expertise from the Environment and Sustainability Institute, the Renewable Energy department and the Business School.
The research will start with a case study of the industry ecosystem in Cornwall, where exploration projects for the technology metals lithium, tin and tungsten give the region an opportunity to lead in ‘whole systems circular economy actions’.
The five new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres across the UK will be dedicated to exploring how the reuse of waste materials in the textiles, construction, chemical and metal industries can deliver environmental benefits and boost the UK economy.
Each centre is expected to generate the environmental, social and economic understanding required to support a successful transition to a circular economy.
EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “The move to a circular economy, where we use less resources and reuse more materials, is central to the UK’s green industrial revolution and our commitment to achieving a net zero economy by 2050.
“By bringing together a wide range of academic disciplines with industry partners the centres will catalyse innovative new technologies and approaches that will boost the UK economy and benefit the environment.”
The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres are funded by direct investment from the UK government as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities fund.