G. Bailey & 7th Trilateral Critical Materials

Gwendolyn Bailey, a Marie-Skłodowska Curie fellow from KU Leuven represented the European H2020 ETN DEMETER (on Design and Recycling of Rare-Earth Permanent Magnet Motors and Generators in Hybrid and Full Electric Vehicles) at the 7th Trilateral EU-US-Japan Conference on Critical Materials. The conference took place on 12 October 2017 in Pittsburgh, USA. The audience consisted of researchers, industry members, government officials and other stakeholders all of whom have vast experience working with critical materials.

Towards a more sustainable electric vehicle


Gwen Bailey, ESR in ETN DEMETER

Gwendolyn’s presentation titled, “DEMETER – Towards a more sustainable electric vehicle”, touched upon how electric vehicles are contributing to global supply risk and the criticality of materials such as rare earth elements. Another major challenge is that today electric vehicles are not recycled, and there is not yet a reliable recycling procedure or infrastructure. In her presentation, Gwendolyn explained that the objectives of the DEMETER project are to develop three recovery routes for end-of-life (EoL) electric vehicle motors/generators: indirect recycling, direct recycling, and reuse. The indirect recycling route is a green chemical recycling process developed by KU Leuven and involves using ionic liquids to transform rare earth magnets back into to its elemental components. These elemental or metal components can then be used for permanent magnet production or other rare earth applications. The direct recycling route in which case the magnets are treated as a raw material for the production of new magnets, but using novel techniques such as hydrogen decrepitation processing, plasma/strip casting, and spark plasma sintering, to produce new, ready-to-use, magnetic materials or a new master alloy. Lastly, the direct reuse approach involves removing the magnets from EoL motors/generators and using them again in new motors/generators. The presentation shows how DEMETER will test these recycling routes in collaboration with early stage researchers, universities, businesses, and research institutions based in the EU.

Trilateral background and programme

The Trilateral Conference on Critical Materials is an annually held event organised by the European Commission (EC), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) to emphasize the strategic importance of critical materials and to enhance collaboration among the three countries/continents (EU-US-JP). Each region gave an update on topics such as: resource efficiency, improving criticality assessments, bettering material resources and technology, and recycling from unconventional resources. The one-day event successfully demonstrated that the trilateral regions are working to properly monitor materials to foster resource efficiency and a circular economy, to reduce environmental pressures arising throughout a material’s life cycle, and to quantify the availability or ‘elemental criticality.’ The presenters and their presentations under each theme are listed below.


Session 1: Updates from the Trilateral

  • Prof. Gian Andrea Blengini: “Critical Raw Materials for the EU: JRC activities and revision of the list”
  • Hiroshi Oikawa; “Japan’s view on Critical Materials: Recent developments regarding Rare Metals”
  • Thomas Rasmussen; “Defense Logistics Agency strategic plans”

Session 2: Criticality and Supply Chain Analysis

  • Shinsuke Murakami, “Criticality assessment in Japan?”
  • Rod Eggert, “Material criticality : comparing china, Europe, Japan and the USA”
  • Vincent Blet, “SCREEN – Solutions for Critical Raw Materials – A European Expert Network”
  • Daniel B. Mueller “MinFUTURE – Towards a Google Maps for the global physical economy”

Session 3: Resources and Technology, A Canadian Perspective

  • Janice Zinck, Canmet MINING/Natural Resources

Session 4: Key Materials Development

  • Orlando Rios, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Critical Materials Institute
  • Prof. Duncan Allsopp, University of Bath
  • Chiharu Mitsumata, National Institute for Material Science (NIMS)

Session 5: Recovery from Recycled and Unconventional Sources

Symposium on Social License to Operate (21-2-18)

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy – the social license to operate for mining and recycling of critical metals – Symposium day in the context of Artefact 2018: This Rare Earth – Stories from Below

As part of “Artefact 2018: This Rare Earth – Stories from Below”, which is the largest arts festival in Flanders, a group of organisations (STUK, SIM² KU Leuven, KU Leuven Dienst Cultuur, i-Cleantech Vlaanderen, STUK, EIT RawMaterials) has joined forces to offer a unique, one-day symposium in Leuven on the Social License to Operate with respect to the primary mining and recycling of critical metals. The Symposium is intended for a diversity of audiences, ranging from civil society, academia, industry and policy makers (max. 300 participants) and will host a variety of national and international speakers. The Symposium will offer the participants the opportunity to also experience the unique, rare-earth related artwork that will be exhibited.


The rationale for this Symposium is the paradox between the importance of critical metals  for the transition to a low-carbon, cleantech-based economy on the one hand and the not-always-so-positive image of the primary mining industry on the other hand. Clean energy and clean mobility for instance require vast amounts of rare earths (neodymium, dysprosium etc.) for the permanent magnets that are needed in wind turbines or electric motors for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (HEVs). Likewise, energy storage systems and HEVs need even increasing amounts of lithium and cobalt for the Li-ion NMC batteries. Emission control systems require Platinum Group Metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. Unfortunately, the mining of these metals does not always happen in the best environmental and/or human rights circumstances. Mining conflicts in China, Congo or Latin-America are widespread. In Europe, where concentrations of critical metals are less outspoken than in other parts of the world, primary mining is often blocked by local activist groups, who don’t want to see industrial mining activities to take place in “their backyard”. Although there can be good reasons for this rejection, this often may also imply that the environmental burden is shifted to other parts in the world, as clean technologies and also hi-tech electronics (e.g. smart phones, laptops etc.) are critically dependent on the mining of these types of critical metals. Some argue that the West behaves hypocritically: European citizens want to enjoy the luxury of hi-tech electronics (e.g. smart phones and electronics) and a multitude of cleantech products (electric bikes and cars, solar panels, clean energy) but don’t want to share in the burden of the primary production of these metals.

This leads us to a number of questions: How can the primary mining sector clean up its act in and outside Europe? Is responsible mining a pipe dream? How can mining companies obtain and maintain a Social License to Operate? Which interaction is required between industry, policy makers, civil society and local communities? Are they any best practice examples? What is the relation between primary mining of critical metals and recycling of End-of-Life products? Can recycling replace primary mining or is it merely complementary to mining? Which policies are required in Europe to support the recycling industry and how does this relate to the Circular Economy vision? Should we look at our industrial landfills in Europe to recover critical metals from previously dumped, critical metal-containing mining waste and industrial process residues (i.e. Enhanced Landfill Mining)? Are local communities supportive for such a strategy? These questions will form the background for a number of keynote lectures and two panel discussions. The Symposium will also offer the participants to have a speed trip allowing to enjoy the unique, rare-earth related art work that will be exhibited.


With keynotes by a.o. Egbert Lox (Umicore & EIT RawMaterials) and Leida Rijnhout (Friends of the Earth Europe) and panel contributions by a.o. Bart Blanpain (KU Leuven) & Karel Van Acker (EIT RawMaterials). Moderated by Dirk Draulans.


Registration required — More info soon.

More info on the official leaflet – Download folder here


Background on Artefact 2018: This Rare Earth – Stories from Below

Artefact is a yearly themed exhibition and festival on contemporary visual arts, current events and societal challenges, organised by STUK, House for Dance, Image and Sound, in Leuven. With its 2,5 week duration (February 13 – March 1, 2018), attracting on average 15,000 visitors, it is the largest of its kind in Flanders. The 2018 edition: This Rare Earth – Stories from Below will focus on the stories told by geological materials; conflict minerals and metals including rare earth elements to begin with. Through recent and newly commissioned work of some 20 international artists, the exhibition will look into the geological, political, economic and ecological implications of their circulation; from mining, processing, and trading, to use, and recycling. The artists involved offer us alternative perspectives on the global political, economic and ecological stories of extraction and trade.  For Artefact festival programmes of previous years, please see http://www.artefact-festival.be/en

DEMETER video wins prize during EC JRC conference

The ETN DEMETER project participated in the EU4FACTS video & poster competition. Researchers were invited to create videos and posters to showcase their research and relate it to the topics of the EU4FACTS conference. These topics dealt with the role of science in times of fake news and ‘filter bubbles’ (Why should we trust science?), governing: emotions versus numbers (How to deal with ‘alternative’ sources of statistics?), and re-designing policymaking using behavioral and decision science (How can evidence and data be effectively balanced with values and emotions when policy decisions are taken?).

In total, 24 videos and a dozen posters entered the competition (all videos can be watched online on http://goo.gl/6xgmAb; in the series, the videos of ETN NEW-MINE and ETN SOCRATES are also featured). The ETN DEMETER video was awarded as an example on how science can contribute to evidence based policy making, sending out a clear example on what the project objectives are and how it relates to the broader international context.

The JRC annual conference “EU4FACTS: Evidence for policy in a post-fact world” started with the award ceremony announcing the winners of the video competition. The conference aims at clear recommendations for successful evidence-informed policy making: “The interaction between science and policy has never been straightforward. But this relationship has been further complicated by the current post-fact debate. This crisis is a challenge for the whole of society, not only scientists, experts, the media and policymakers, but also for politicians.”

Throughout the conference, a strong emphasis was placed on the need for involving citizens a lot more in the communication of the scientific evidence. “Citizens no longer accept being told what to believe. They want to know why they should believe it,” explained Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research Science & Innovation. We are proud that the DEMETER video demonstrated on how complex scientific processes can be presented in a clear manner to a broad audience.

Later that day, the ETN DEMETER team also participated to the European Researchers Night, organized in the European Parliament under the slogan “Science is wonder-full”. During this annual event researchers demonstrate what really do for society in interactive and engaging ways, promoting research careers to young people and their parents. It is an Europe-wide public event dedicated to popular science and fun learning. It is supported by the European Commission as a part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, funded under the Horizon 2020 programme, to boost the careers of researchers.



EC publishes new list of Critical Raw Materials

On September 13, 2017, the European Commission finally published a Communication on its long-awaited updated list of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs). The impact of this iconic list cannot be underestimated. Its primary purpose is to identify the raw materials with a high supply-risk and a high economic importance to which reliable and unfettered access is a concern for European industry and value chains. Following a further refined methodology the list provides, according to the Commission,  “a factual tool for trade, innovation and industrial policy measures to strengthen the competitiveness of European industry in line with the renewed industrial strategy for Europe, for instance by: identifying investment needs which can help alleviate Europe’s reliance on imports of raw materials; guiding support to innovation on raw materials supply under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme; drawing attention to the importance of critical raw materials for the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and more circular economy.”

The 2017 features 27 critical raw materials: Antimony, Beryllium, Borates, Cobalt, (Coking Coal), Fluorspar, Gallium, Germanium, Indium, Magnesium, Natural Graphite, Niobium, Phosphate Rock, Silicon Metal, Tungsten, Platinum Group Metals, Light Rare Earths and Heavy Rare Earths, Baryte, Bismuth, Hafnium, Helium, Natural Rubber, Phosphorus, Scandium, Tantalum, and Vanadium.

SIM² KU Leuven has been and is working on the recovery/recycling of several of those, being Antimony, Cobalt, Gallium, Germanium, Indium, PGMs, Light and Heavy REEs and Scandium. Together with its national partners (like VITO, UGent, Umicore, Campine, Metallo, Nyrstar, Solvay etc.) and its EU partners (industry and academia, cf. EIT RawMaterials and H2020 ETN/(R)IA partners), SIM² KU Leuven looks forward to use this list of CRMs when prioritising – in the near future – which (primary and secondary) EU-based resources to work on in view of CRM recovery.

One key element that is not on the list, and which is nevertheless of crucial importance for the transition to a low-carbon economy, is Lithium.  SIM² KU Leuven will work on this element regardless and let’s see if this element misses out in the next update… (ptj, 20-9-2019)

Download the CRM 2017 REPORT here: https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2017/EN/COM-2017-490-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF



In memoriam Prof. Risto Harjula (Helsinki U.)

SIM² KU Leuven and the EU teams of the EREAN and REDMUD projects are deeply saddened to hear the news that our wonderful colleague, Prof. Risto Harjula (University of Helsinki), has passed away on September 11, 2017. We offer our sincere condolences to Risto’s family and Helsinki colleagues. For us, Risto Harjula was one of the greatest persons we have ever worked with in our EU projects. We fully agree with Risto’s colleague, Prof. Risto Koivula, that “we have to remember Risto’s joy and genuine excitement with chemistry, research and finding new things that can benefit people. For him science was not just writing papers it was making the world into a better place.”

Risto, it was an absolute pleasure working with you. We will deeply miss you.


(Peter Tom Jones, Rabab Nasser, Lucian Onisei, Yiannis Pontikes, Bart Blanpain, Karel Van Acker, Tom Van Gerven & Koen Binnemans, for SIM² KU Leuven and representing all colleagues from the EU EREAN and REDMUD projects in which we work so well with Helsinki Unversity)