Recently, the KU Leuven Academic Council endorsed 4 official KU Leuven Institutes, including the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals or, in short, “SIM²”. On May 13, 2020, the official KU Leuven website published the first formal SIM² interview: “A new take on the Circular Economy”. In the interview SIM² Manager/Director Peter Tom Jones get the chance to explain SIM²’s view on the Circular Economy, while assessing SIM²’s mission statement against the background of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

A new take on the Circular Economy

Interview with Peter Tom Jones by Bregt Van Hoeyveld (KU Leuven Website, 13-5-2020)

The KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals (SIM²) contributes to the environmentally friendly production and recycling of metals, minerals, and engineered materials. As such, it aims to support the transition to a climate-friendly, circular economy.

The transition towards a climate-neutral economy – and the production of electric vehicles, batteries, and renewable energy technologies, in particular – requires large quantities of raw materials. Europe finds itself in a vulnerable position because the supply of these materials is dominated by a limited number of non-EU countries.

The big challenge for Europe is to rethink its supply of critical raw materials. This challenge lies at the heart of the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals or, in brief, SIM². The Institute comprises more than two hundred KU Leuven researchers from various research groups and departments. Together, they will design new, efficient and sustainable processes for the exploration, extraction, recovery, recycling, and refining of metals and minerals.

“The current coronavirus crisis demonstrates that we can’t take raw materials for granted,” says Dr. Peter Tom Jones (Department of Materials Engineering), the manager of SIM². “Our modern, interconnected global economy is far more vulnerable than many thought. Europe, in particular, needs to change course. We need more resilience to avoid replacing Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels with a reliance on non-energy raw materials.”

Closing the loop

When it comes to providing the metals and minerals that are needed for the transition to resilient, climate-neutral economies, SIM² has developed its own view on the circular economy. “Our model tries to close as many metals and minerals loops as possible,” Dr. Jones explains.

“In that respect, it is vital to recycle, reprocess and remanufacture as many materials as possible. But we also have to realise there is a need for responsible primary mining. Critical metals such as cobalt, neodymium and lithium are not yet present in sufficient amounts in the technosphere. This implies that even one hundred per cent of recycling will not be enough to satisfy the rapidly growing demand for these metals to be used in diverse clean technologies.”

“We also have to acknowledge the inevitable losses that occur during the processing of metals and minerals. In some cases, certain hazardous residues need final safe storage solutions rather than recycling. Finally, we also need to find a solution for the waste stocks of the past; our Institute is a strong ambassador for enhanced landfill mining.”

KU Leuven Institutes

The KU Leuven Institutes play an important role in the Strategic Plan launched by Rector Luc Sels in 2018. In addition to SIM², recognised Institutes include LBI – KU Leuven Brain Institute, LKI – KU Leuven Cancer Institute, Leuven.AI – KU Leuven Institute for Artificial Intelligence and LECTIO – KU Leuven Institute for the Study of the Transmission of Texts, Ideas and Images in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Rector Sels:

“The KU Leuven Institutes represent interdisciplinary research with a crucial societal relevance. They focus on subjects that remain important in the long term and rely on an extensive and interdisciplinary network. They are the ideal basis for the exchange of expertise across disciplinary boundaries, opening up promising new prospect

Want to know more about SIM²?

SIM² KU Leuven is the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals (SIM² in short). SIM² is one of the four official KU Leuven Institutes that were endorsed by the KU Leuven Academic Council in November 2019. SIM² has more than 220 members, coming from a wide range of (interdisciplinary) research groups and departments at KU Leuven.

SIM²’s missions is “to develop, organise & implement problem-driven, science-deep research & future-oriented education, contributing to the environmentally friendly production & recycling of metals, minerals & engineered materials, supporting (…) a climate-friendly, circular-economy”. Read more about the new KU Leuven Institute here

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