Markus Reuter1, Antoinette van Schaik2

1Prof. Markus A. Reuter (D.Eng., PhD, Dr.habil., FIEAust, Pr.Eng(ZA)
Director – Technology Management, Outotec, Espoo, Finland
Adjunct Professor Aalto University Helsinki
Professorial Fellow University of Melbourne, Australia Antoinette van Schaik
Owner/director MARAS – Material Recycling and Sustainability – Den Haag, The Netherlands

Materials and metals are essential and critical components of today’s society: a moment’s reflection on their ubiquitous presence in virtually all energy and material production processes is enough to confirm this. Metals play a key role in Enabling Sustainability through societies various high-tech applications. However, the resources of our planet are limited, as is the strain to which we can subject it in terms of emissions, pollution, and disposal of waste. For these reasons, finding ways to lower the environmental footprint of our collective existence and therefore lowering greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change is a vital priority. The maximization of resource efficiency through optimal recycling of metals, materials and products is essential to this and has been identified as one of the pillars on which to build a Resource Efficient Europe.

To systemically fully understand resource efficiency in the context of material use and ensure maximum recovery of elements, metals and compounds from waste streams (e.g. E-waste) it is crucial to adopt a Product-Centric1,2, recycling perspective to recycling and policy (Figure 1). This contrasts with a generally applied and easier to understand Material (& Metal)-Centric approach (which focuses more on bulk materials) therefore inherently limits especially the maximal recovery of technologically critical elements. A Product-Centric approach considers how to increase the recycling of a product (for example a LCD screen, mobile phone, etc.) in its entirety and necessarily involves consideration of what will happen to the many different materials within the product.

Figure 1 shows all the actors and aspects that have to be understood in depth in a Product-Centric systemic and physics based manner in order to optimize resource efficiency. At heart of all this lies a keen understanding of the physics of separation, thermodynamics and metallurgy within a BAT techno-economical process infrastructure to be able to innovate and optimize product design (if that is at all necessary and possible due to functionality reasons) and increase the recovery of materials and metals through collection, sorting and recycling3. This implies that to get the best results out of recycling, all actors in the recycling system (e.g. in design, collection, hand-sorting, processing, policy) need to take into account what is happening in the other parts of the system. The depth of knowledge for a Product Centric approach is the basis when performing environmental analyses of End-of-Life product systems (LCA), therefore also the basis for Eco design.

Maximizing resource efficiency and therefore Design for Resource Efficiency (DfRE) considers and embraces Product Centric recycling in its totality through the use of deep process, system and economic simulation models exploring physics based opportunities, while highlighting systemic and technological limitations of recycling. Various rigorous design and simulation modelling techniques and tools exist to help with this. This deep understanding drives innovation while levelling the playing field to physics and economics in recycling.

This website elaborates on some design and simulation techniques. It discusses regulation, policy incentives, eco labelling as well as data required for Eco design for different examples of E-waste products. The website especially focuses on the Eco design aspect of DfRE.

Figure 1 : Design for Resource Efficiency (DfRE) – Optimally linking mining, minerals processing, primary and secondary extractive metallurgy, energy recovery, OEMs & product design, end-of-life mixture, recyclates, residues, wastes; while minimizing resource losses. The Metal-Wheel shows the destination of various elements, which among others is the basis of rigorous systems DfRE tools, while also reflecting a complete metallurgical processing sector in each carrier metal section.

1 M.A. Reuter and A. van Schaik (2012): Opportunities and Limits of recycling – A Dynamic-Model-Based Analysis, MRS Bulletin, 37(4), pp. 339-347.
2 M.A. Reuter and A. van Schaik (2012). Opportunities and Limits of WEEE Recycling – Recommendations to Product Design from a Recyclers Perspective. In: Proceedings of Electronics Goes Green 2012+, 9-12 September 2012, Berlin, Germany. In press. 8 p.
3 M.A. Reuter (2011): Recycling of End-of-Life products and materials, with a focus on product design: A review, Waste and Biomass Valorisation, 2, pp. 183-208.

Updated on November 27, 2016

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