UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body, is aiming to create a sustainable circular economy for lots of different industries, including metals.
The UK metals industry employs 230,000 people, and directly contributes £10.7bn to the UK's GDP. A truly interdisciplinary academic team will research how to make a sustainable circular economy for high-volume metals, with WMG at the University of Warwick focussed on steel.
The UKRI has established five Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres (CECs) in the UK, co-ordinated by the Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub), which together form the NICER Programme, a £30 million investment on research aimed at developing a circular economy in the UK. One of these CECs is CircularMetal, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals, led by Brunel University London, with partners from WMG, University of Warwick, University College London and Loughborough University.
The ultimate aim of the group is to make the UK fully circulate all of its steel and aluminium, thereby minimising or eliminating the extraction of raw materials and the production of waste.
WMG, at the University of Warwick, will specifically research steel, including opportunities for reuse and the technologies for scrap sorting to increase recyclability, working with partners in the project on business model supply chains and the economy and policy surrounding them.
The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals is a four-year project, which started in January 2021 thanks to £4.2m funding from UKRI. Discussions within the team on strategies to reuse/recycle/reduce /remanufacture /recovery and the technological barriers are on-going with input being provided to government groups.
Professor Claire Davis from WMG, University of Warwick commented: “To be part of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals is incredibly exciting, especially in light of COP26, as the potential that a circular economy for metals could have towards meeting goals of sustainability and furthermore preventing climate change.
“At WMG, University of Warwick we hope to research how technology can help us to reuse and recycle steels, for example, understanding the end-of-life condition of steel components to determine whether and how they can be used, and using artificial intelligence to increase scrap recyclability.
“If metals can be fully recycled and reused the need to extract raw materials to make them in the first place could be eliminated."Professor Claire Davis from WMG, University of Warwick
“If metals can be fully recycled and reused the need to extract raw materials to make them in the first place could be eliminated, and the current workforce in the metals industry could be reskilled to work in recycling and repurposing metals.”
Professor Brian Cantor, deputy director, The UKRI Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals BCAST, from Brunel University commented: “Metallic materials are the backbone of manufacturing and the fuel for economic growth. They underpin the competitive position of almost every industrial sector and, including metal manufacture and downstream product processing, they collectively contribute 15-20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and energy consumption. Transformation of the metals industries from the current largely linear economy to a circular economy will, therefore, play a critical role in delivering the government’s industrial strategy for clean growth, doubling of resource productivity and reaching net zero carbon emissions in 2050.
“CircularMetal is focused on helping the UK become the first country to realise full metal circulation, concentrating on the two main bulk metals aluminium and steel, and the three main industrial sectors of transport, construction and packaging.”