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TMS Fall 2002 Extraction and Processing Division Meeting: Recycling and Waste Treatment in Mineral and Metal Processing: Technical and Economic Aspects
Minerals processing forms the crucial link between the end-of-life (EoL) product, and its recyling and the sustainable reintroduction of the constituting materials back into the material cycle. Furthermore, understanding the link between the design of the product and the subsequent liberation of the materials from it by the use of whichever suitable method is crucial to closing the material cycle.
There is no possibility to fulfil this task without combining knowledge and technology from the simplest separation and sorting technology to most complex metallurgical reactor optimisation via fundamental studies on flow and kinetics in pyrometallurgical reactors, process layout, as well as product design. Moreover, it requires that new and innovative designs and production methods must be developed. This suggests that the optimisation of the material cycle in a world in which products change rapidly is only possible if the interaction between all technological aspects of creating / using / discarding / recycling products is considered in relationship to fundamental studies including environmental control and policy. It is therefore imperative to achieve sustainability change at various system levels, from global material cycles down to plant and process equipment design and operation should be possible.
It would be clear that understanding all processes within the material chain i.e. metal production, product design, liberation of materials, subsequent processing of the material to metals, materials or energy, and the same time linking the creation of residues to poor design, would possibly permit the creation of sustainable material and energy flow as far as this is possible in a technological society. Therefore, design, recycling, minerals processing, metallurgy, materials processing, sorting etc. are all tools to achieve the objective of closing material cycles.
With the above vision in mind it must be said that it was a pity that the above important issues were not really addressed during the plenary lectures of the above-mentioned conference placing recycling and technology into its correct perspective. The lecture by Prof. Maeda from Japan did discuss an integrated approach to materials management linking household waste to steel, to cement and energy production, while Mr. Koros (USA) did in a fleeting sentence mention Design for Recycling. An interesting paper by Mr. Birat (IRSID) focussed on steel recycling sketching scenarios of 100 years into the future, while Mr. Lehner (Boliden) as gave a penetrating and good insight into the nonferrous industry and its recycling accomplishments. He, to my mind came, between the lines, closest to the above, integrated scenario, i.e. design, mineral processing, metallurgy and the importance of economics and legislation to close the copper cycle. One or two papers in the normal sessions did focus on the management of material cycles but these papers seem to be repetitions of other similar papers written some years ago already by other authors. In the plenary session, however, a general paper on sustainable development in the mineral and metal sector from United Nations' point of view gave some general information, however, not from a technological point of view.
As is the case for so many similar conferences on the processing of waste and recycling the focus of the papers is on the discussion of end-of-pipe solutions; sometimes very uneconomic and infeasible solutions were presented. The bulk of the papers focussed on modifying existing processes, suggesting new methods to minimise waste or process existing environmental problems created by the industry in the past. No doubt, these papers are extremely important to solve present problems that would enhance the image of the industry as a whole, some being excellent and some extremely poor, some being repetitions of past work presented elsewhere and many just average. These papers (over 200 printed in two neat conference proceedings published by TMS (see home page of TMS www.tms.org) ) were organised into six parallel sessions including the usual themes such as:
The sessions that the author could attend due to the many parallel papers or did chair were characterised by lively discussions, which from the point of view of a good conference, were worthwhile.
An important aspect of any such conference is meeting of old friends and making new acquaintances. The 340 or so delegates from over 34 countries made this possible. Also the visits to MEFOS (research facility) and SSAB (steel producer) at Luleå, stainless steel producer at AvestaPolarit (Torneå) and Boliden Mineral AB Rönnskär plant (copper/electronic recycling) and the possibility to observe the midnight sun on the 20th June will most likely make this extremely well organised event a memorable event to many of the participants, as did the exciting world cup soccer matches viewed over the coffee breaks under the presence of so many soccer passionate nations present at the conference.
As a concluding remark it should be perhaps noted that future recycling conferences should present a broader view since recycling is only one part of an extremely complex material cycle. Since Minerals Engineering plays such an important role in the closure of the material cycle and therefore in sustainability, it is perhaps well advised that forthcoming events such as the International Minerals Processing Conference (IMPC - 2003) and REWAS (2004) pay attention to these aspects. Let future Minerals Processing conferences capture and claim this dynamic and exciting field for itself!
Markus A. Reuter, Professor of Raw Materials Processing, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. Email: M.A.Reuter@CITG.TUDelft.NL
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