Our UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech) will focus on four “theme areas”.
Theme 1: Virtual data observatory
Lead by: Dr Evi Petavratzi & Professor Markus Zils
Objective: To develop a circular economy knowledge base for assessing resource flows and stocks of techmetals across their value chains. This will form the Met4Tech National Virtual data Observatory which will provide the basis to measure and forecast potential impacts of CE initiatives, and prioritise interventions.
Theme 2: CE principles for raw materials and new geomodels
Lead by: Professor Karen Hudson-Edwards & Professor Aleksandra Cavoski
Objective: To bring together geoscience, LCA, chemistry, economics, geomicrobiology and primary and secondary raw materials to establish concepts of circular economy in exploration stage geomodels, with practical interventions and case studies, to incorporate circular economy principles right from the very first stages.
Theme 3: Design, manufacturing and recycling technologies
Lead by: Professor Andrew Abbott & Professor Allan Walton
Objective: To develop novel separation and recycling techniques for technology metals, linking together chemistry, materials science, AI and robotics.
Theme 4: Roadmap for a new technology metals circular economy system
Lead by: Professor Josh Ignatius & Professor Frank Boons
Objective: To create a roadmap for an alternative technology metals circular economy system involving all key actors, agent-based modelling, strategic business models, technology forecasts, design options, new raw materials practices, regulatory requirements and societal preferences. This theme uses outputs from the three other themes plus additional research.
Bringing together a consortium of researchers from across the whole system of technology metals we will create a ‘roadmap’ for a technology metals circular economy in the UK.
Responsible Innovation & Social Science
Lead by: Professor Frank Boons
We have integrated social science consideration throughout, with research on practices, learning from previous transitions, responsible innovation and links to our outreach citizen science activity to scope wider views of techmetals.
Lead by: Dr Xiaoyu Yan
Life Cycle Assessment will be embedded across all four of the Theme Areas in order to evaluate the environmental impacts of current and future activities.
Lead by: Professor Aleksandra Cavoski & Professor Bob Lee
Our legal expert team offer valuable insights across all of our themes.
Key aims and deliverables
The Circular Economy (CE) is a revolutionary alternative to a traditional linear, make-use-dispose economy. It is based on maintaining continuous flows of resources at their highest value for the longest time period and then recovering, cascading and regenerating products and materials at the end of each life cycle. Metals are ideal flows for a circular economy; with careful stewardship and good technology, metals mined from the Earth can be reused indefinitely.
New interdisciplinary research community (Business, Engineering, Chemistry, Social Science, Geology, Law), with industry, government, policymakers, and international partners, making key interventions for a technology metals circular economy
International & national research and policy leadership in support of future policy decisions and industrial strategy for clean growth and increasing digitisation of the economy (all reliant on technology metals).
Increasing domestic resource efficiency of secondary materials and wastes containing technology metals for increasing recovery, reducing environmental burden, and improving security of supply.
International dimension is important for the UK because many more raw materials must enter the UK supply chain from global sources to meet growing demand. Some countries (China) have near monopolies in raw materials supply for many technology metals.
Aim to identify new sources of primary and secondary supply of technology metals thus reducing dependence on imports and the ‘criticality’ of these essential raw materials.
Testing and validation
Testing and validation of new product designs, business models, techniques and processes to re-valorise material / product flows; make major improvements in productivity; allow for reduced costs; and to develop new capabilities and adoption of technology innovations.
Gateway between the UK and international circular economy / technology metal research communities, as well as the UK innovation infrastructure and existing UK research activities. Collaborate and build on national initiatives, e.g. Faraday, Catapults, Global Challenges and link up with international leading research initiatives.
Community engagement strategy will include Circular Economy Roundtables and Deep Dive workshops for experts, new Roadmap users, and Champions and influencer groups, including ambassadors and early career researcher training, as well as public science events.
Our Research Vision & Challenge
We want to transform the current linear system for supply/use into a new Technology Metals Circular Economy system and network.
The UK currently has no single point of reference for technology metals. We are close to 100% import-reliant on technology metals but have world-leading expertise in R&D and technologies.
The Met4Tech Circular Economy Centre brings together UK research teams already working on how to improve and assure the supply of raw materials, how to manufacture goods to be re-used and recycled, and how to recycle complex goods such as batteries.
We will work with leading international academic and industry collaborators. One of the first things we need to do to enable the identification of circularity interventions is track the current flows of technology metals through the UK economy, which although fundamental, is poorly known.
The Centre will conduct new interdisciplinary research on key interventions to improve each stage in the cycle and join the different stages of the value chain together such that raw materials can be newly mined and recycled, and manufacturing technology can be linked directly to re-use and recycling. Business and social experts will research how best the UK can put all these stages together to make a new technology metals circular economy roadmap. The industry partners and key stakeholders will be invited to ‘test drive’ the new model.
|Metals (priority 1)||Major Applications|
|Cobalt||Batteries, superalloys, catalysts, magnets|
|Indium||Photovoltaics, LCD, batteries|
|Lithium – UK||Batteries|
|Rare Earth Elements (REE) Nd,Pr,Dy||Magnets (wind turbines, EVs), catalysts, phosphors (low energy lighting), alloys, smartphones|
|Tellurium||Alloys, solar cells|
|Platinum Group Metals||Auto catalysts, fuel cells, electronics|
|Metals (priority 2)||Major Applications|
|Gallium||Electronics (circuit boards and optoelectronics)|
|Germanium||Electronics (IF detectors and thermal imaging)|
|Tin – UK, 3TG||Solder in all electronics|
|Tungsten – UK, 3TG||Wear-resistant materials, superalloys, electrical and electronics, catalysts|
|Tantalum, 3TG||Electronics, superalloys|
|Niobium||Super conductor, electronics|
|Antimony||Alloys, batteries, semi-conductors|