The Project

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Electronic and electrical waste: a deposit of metals and rare earths (© BRGM, 2016)

Technology critical elements (TCE) are key material for high level technology but their supply to the EU is challenging. A sustainable solution to solve this problem is through recycling but difficulties in the analysis of waste streams is a complicating factor. The overall objective of this project is to enable the representative SI traceable determination of TCE at the µg/g level in urban mine wastes. Transferable calibration methods and appropriate reference material will be produced to improve TCE recycling in the context of the circular economy. Targeted industries belong to the recycling chain including multinational companies, SMEs and R&D institutes.

These elements are considered ‘critical’ because of their economic importance in essential technologies and their supply risk (stock depletion and/or few producers). As a result of the shift towards greener economy through the deployment of renewable energy and e-mobility solutions (European Green Deal), the use of TCE is expected to increase exponentially in Europe. The need to secure TCE supply has become even more pressing under the current health crisis and it is a major objective of the Covid-19 Recovery Plan aimed at reinforcing Europe’s resilience and autonomy.

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Electronic and electrical waste: a deposit of metals and rare earths (© BRGM, 2016)

At the same time, the Circular Economy Action Plan has set a 50% reduction target in municipal waste disposal by 2030 and several European legislations (on batteries, packaging, end-of-life vehicle and electronic equipment..) are planned to be reviewed to stimulate better management of TCE-containing wastes, to increase the recycled content, and ensure high-quality recycling. In 2017, the EU has set a list of the critical elements for Europe. The TCE in the MetroCycleEU project (Co, Ga, Ge, In, Ta, Nd, Pr, Dy, Gd, La, Au, Pt, Pd, Rh) were selected from this list.

In the preparatory phase of this proposal a survey was circulated by NMIs to collect the metrological needs of industries involved in urban mine waste recycling. It was highlighted that the lack of reference materials certified for TCE in these wastes and specific documentary standards for TCE to comply with ISO/IEC 17025 requirements were needed.

Furthermore, wastes from the urban mine are extremely heterogeneous, which makes the estimation of their TCE content difficult. Currently there is a lack of knowledge at the European level about the TCE stocks and flows in the urban mine. Given the high volume of waste generated and received, fast reliable methods as well as sampling and sample preparation strategies are needed to determine the economic value of the waste and of the final product, decide on recycling route, engage in new R&D for recycling.