GERRI network demands to strengthen metallurgic capacities in Europe

On February 26th in Brussels, the German Resource Research Institute GERRI invited high-level representatives from politics, research and industry for a debate on Europe’s path towards a circular economy.

During the roundtable organized by the network of resource research organizations in Germany, the experts looked at challenges but also discussed different solutions to establish a closed-loop life cycle for products in Europe.

For GERRI, raw materials and especially metals are the key to many high-tech applications and thus play a central role in the circular economy. In order to secure the supply of these materials and elements for the industry in Europe, the organization demanded to strengthen metallurgic capacities. “Metallurgy is a key technology for nearly all future-oriented applications. If there is sufficient capacity in Europe, metallurgy is able to adapt to various input streams and to regain all metals”, stated Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Markus Reuter, Director of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology and coordinator of the GERRI network. “Metallurgy is like a living organism – it is flexible,agile, resilient and able to adapt to new requirements of future society.” 

Metals are not only the most precious parts of most devices or applications but also responsible for their specific functionality. If Europe succeeds in establishing the infrastructure and regulatory basis to regain them, the path is laid for other materials to follow suit”, added Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stauber, Managing Director of the Fraunhofer Project Group IWKS, GERRI member and recycling specialist. “This becomes even more important when looking at future materials that are often combinations of new materials or compounds. Starting with metals, Europe can lead the way to establish certain recycling criteria for direct alloy recovery and effective separation of metal-plastic compounds.”

Holistic approach for circular economy is needed

In order to realize this, all participants agreed that a holistic approach is needed. Besides the technology which is often already available or currently being developed, new business models and structures are necessary to make the circular economy a reality in Europe. According to the experts, this includes stakeholders during the whole product life cycle, from designers, retailers to consumers, as well as politics and last but not least the entire society.  

“Of course, such drastic changes need time. Especially metals and raw materials are subject to highly volatile prices on the market and therefore bear a high risk for investments”, explained Reinhard Bütikofer, Member of the European Parliament and Co-Chair of the European Green Party. Gwenole Cozigou, Director for Industrial Transformation and Advanced Value Chains at DG GROW, European Commission, added that the industry alone is not able to bear these risks but may need public intervention.  

For Christian Hagelüken, Director EU Government Affairs at Umicore, e-mobility could be a role model for a long-term master plan in Europe, as it involves the establishment of new supply chains and recycling processes. Digitization also plays a key role to implement this. With the development of digital tools and tracking systems for end-of-life products and materials throughout the entire reuse and recycling chain, processes can be made more efficient and losses minimized, stated Hagelüken.

In conclusion, the debate showed that although suitable technology is often available, metallurgical infrastructure needs to be strengthened. Furthermore, new business concepts and market structure need to be established so that further stakeholders need to be included into the discussion. GERRI will follow this challenging path and raise awareness in politics and industry for establishing a master plan for a metals circular economy securing Europe’s supply and know-how on raw materials.

List of participants in the panel:

  • Charlotte Geerdink (Moderator, Charly Speaks)

  • Andreas Nolte (Director Integrated Management Systems, Public Recycling Affairs, Aurubis AG)

  • Dr. Hans-Jürgen Wachter (Board Member EIT Raw Materials & Executive Vice President Technology & Scouting, Heraeus Deutschland GmbH & Co KG)

  • Dr. Christian Hagelüken (Director EU Government Affairs, Umicore)

  • José Rizo Martin (Senior Expert, Dir B Circular Economy & Green Growth, DG ENV, European Commission)

  • Lieve Wierinck (MEP, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ITRE Committee)

  • Reinhard Bütikofer (MEP and Co-Chair of the European Green Party, ITRE)

  • Gwenole Cozigou (Director, Dir C - Industrial Transformation and Advanced Value Chains, DG GROW, European Commission)

  • Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Markus Reuter (Director, Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology)

  • Dr. Peter Buchholz (Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, BGR/DERA)

  • Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stauber (Managing Director, Fraunhofer Project Group IWKS)

Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Michael Stelter, (0)3731 / 39-2015, Dr. Ekaterina Schmid, Tel (0)3731 / 39-2316