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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 65 | 2. Oktober 2020
Priority Programme “Engineered Artificial Minerals (EnAM) – a Geo-metallurgical Tool to Recycle Critical Elements from Waste Streams” (SPP 2315)

In May 2020, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Engineered Artificial Minerals (EnAM) – a Geo-metallurgical Tool to Recycle Critical Elements from Waste Streams” (SPP 2315). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Motivation and Abstract

The megatrends we are facing today can be summarised under the question: “How can we as part of society become more efficient to achieve a sustainable use of all natural resources?” This question comprises the CO2/energy as well as the raw materials/recycling (waste) challenge. Nowadays, recycling technology and application is at a crossroads. In developed countries, recycling technologies have evolved to recover those elements and materials which represent the main mass of waste, but we are lacking technologies to address the essential and often rare elements of a modern society, which become dissipated in the waste streams. Examples for those elements are Indium (In) in touch screens, Lithium (Li) in batteries, raw earth elements (REE, e.g. Nd, Dy) in magnets, semiconductors and batteries, Germanium (Ge) and Gallium (Ga) in high frequency chips, Silver (Ag) in RFID-chips, PGM (Pd, Pt) in electronic waste (WEEE), Tantalum (Ta) in capacitors, and further specialised spice and alloy elements in high performance metallic materials. One significant sink for a large number of these elements are pyrometallurgical processes, since these processes traditionally aim at the quality, yield and economic importance of the main metal phase. All non-functional elements are forced to migrate to the second liquid phase, the slag phase. The latter consists of oxides, phosphates, carbonates and even sulfides of metals and metalloids. Thus, the slag becomes the carrier of a broad number of valuable elements.

The Priority Programme addresses the slag phase as an important source for critical technology elements. Once the slag solidifies, it either forms a homogeneous amorphous structure or generates crystals. These crystals can be seen as artificial minerals, respectively ores. The crystallisation is potentially able to concentrate diluted elements by orders of magnitude. To generate these crystals, it may be required to add further species to achieve the defined minerals formation. The formation itself depends on the thermodynamics of the complex multi-component slag system. Thermodynamic modelling is able to predict potential crystal species, if sufficient fundamental data of the system is available.

The identification of an EnAM-crystal is only the first step in the processing route. It has to be crystallised to a sufficient size (e.g. < 10 µm) and stability, liberated from the remaining, sometimes partially amorphous solid matrix. Finally, the mechanical separation of the EnAM-particles leads to a new artificial ore concentrate. Since slag processing is, until now, waste processing, we also lack strategies and process laws, e.g. breakage laws or flotation regimes, for quantitative description and modelling. All new model approaches developed within the framework of the Priority Programme should be suitable to be integrated in process simulations, e.g. flow sheet simulation tools / digital twins.

The entire process chain from the multi-component slag to the liberated and concentrated mineral crystals further requires new and enhanced characterisation methods, which are able to trace elements and structures along their way. One special focus is on the properties of the crystals, i.e. particles generated during solidification. Besides the crystal composition, properties like size, shape and durability determine the success of the further mechanical processing downstream.

The central questions of potential projects are:

  • How to identify a potential mineral species, in which a target element accumulates, and how to influence the composition and the crystallisation process of the slag system to enable the formation of that EnAM (slag thermodynamics, phase diagrams, chemical processing parameters in the smelting process, quantitative models)?
  • How to design the crystallisation process (non-equilibrium crystallisation, kinetics of crystal growth, cooling rate) to generate the right EnAM-species with the desired particle properties (structural, elementary analysis) in a technologically relevant time scale?
  • How to describe and model the liberation of EnAM from the solidified partially amorphous slag system (breaking laws as a function of composite and crystal structure, selective comminution, quantitative models, structural analysis), ensuring a sufficiently large particle size for down-stream processing?
  • How to mechanically/chemically separate the EnAM from the gangue material (identification/generation of a separation attribute, application of separation process, quantitative models)?

The quantification of these individual steps requires the development and application of suitable characterisation methods. These have to be developed, or modified, to provide the data sets that allow the quantification of the individual process steps. Material modelling is able to support both the solidification as well as the solids processing. The particle-based process data should reflect the latest findings in particle characterisation, so that multidimensional description of particles as well as grinding, liberation and separation processes (three-dimensional tromp curve) becomes feasible.

Structure and organisation

The research programme within the framework of the Priority Programme consists of three main pillars:

  • Projects A: thermodynamic modelling / experimental screening of slag state and prediction of solidification
  • Projects B: processing of liquid slags / crystallisation
  • Projects C: processing of solidified slags / particle technology

In the first phase of the Priority Programme, Projects A are supposed to aim at providing universal tool sets to identify potential EnAM, predict the conditions for their genesis and prove this principle, which can be parameterised and quantified in the second phase. In this second phase, at least some of the Projects A should be able to provide additional EnAM systems as new reference systems for Projects B and C.

Projects B and C work on quantitative process properties and laws, which contribute either experimentally/empirically or simulation-based to new (generalised) process models for EnAM-systems. Especially during the second phase, the programme aims at a quantitative description of the EnAM process chain, which provides the basis for future integration into flow-sheet simulation tools.

The Priority Programme foresees a central project focusing on slag generation of one model systems in each phase of the programme that will provide sufficient slag material to those projects working on the down-stream steps. This central project also develops and provides the geo-metallurgical 3D-characterisation of the slags. It is further assumed that, in the second phase of the programme, there will be further material sources for down-stream processing from Projects A or B. To achieve a high coherence of the research work, the target elements will need to be on the EU-list of critical elements (see link below) or be of recently increased economic importance. All modelling projects require a validation part within the framework of the Priority Programme and should address a technically relevant question.

Projects showing only a weak connection to the topic of EnAM, e.g. focusing only on the development of analytical technology, on thermodynamic simulation, or on processing technology without considering the special properties and occurrence of EnAM should be excluded. All projects are supposed to reflect the secondary waste stream to which they can be applied, i.e. the stream, which contains the target species.

The coordination group prefers the submission of single or a limited number of tandem projects; it further favours and supports networking and collaboration within the Priority Programme.

Potential applicants interested in participating in a coordination meeting are kindly asked to send an abstract of the intended project(s) (applicant(s), preliminary title, abstract of 1500 characters max.) via email to the coordination office (see link below) by 30 November 2020 at the latest. To allow for mutual information and coordination among applicants, these short summaries will be compiled and made available to all applicants by the coordination office. For more information, please see the Priority Programme’s website (see link below). We will hold a coordination meeting (Rundgespräch) in December 2020 / January 2021 to enhance the coherence of the Priority Programme. This meeting will also allow to discuss (bilaterally) potential collaborations or joint proposals. The invitation to this event will be based on the abstracts submitted before.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 24 March 2021. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2315” from the current list of calls.

When preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 15 March 2021 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

The reviewing process will include a colloquium with presentations and discussions between applicants and reviewers, scheduled to take place in May/June 2021. The date and location of the colloquium, as well as all other relevant updates, will be published on the website of the Priority Programme in due course. The envisaged start of funding is late summer 2021.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

EU-list of critical raw materials:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Professor Dr.-Ing. Urs Peuker
    Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg
    Institut für Mechanische Verfahrenstechnik und Aufbereitungstechnik
    Agricolastr. 1
    09599 Freiberg
    phone +49 3731 392795
    Link auf E-Mailurs.peuker@mvtat.tu-freiberg.de

Contact to the coordination office:

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Note:

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