QUMEC is a project funded by the European Union, which is exploring the possibility to recover and recycle rare metals from electrical and electronic waste (WEEE), as a possible solution to decrease pollution and promote technological industry, which makes extensive use of these materials.
‘We estimate that an efficient recovery and recycling of current above-ground reserves could cover up to half the annual demand for these metals. This could also reduce about 80 % of both the energy used and greenhouse gases emitted compared to the extraction of primary materials from the ground,’ says project leader Luca Ciacci, a research fellow at the University of Bologna, Italy.
To find out the quantities of copper and critical metals that could be recycled, QUMEC used the concept of "urban mines" and material flow analysis.
The barriers in the development of metal recycling facilities in Europe include:
- the cost of establishing recycling plants,
- the product design that must consider the issue of materials’ separation,
- limited knowledge of which products contain crucial materials and of extraction processes,
- a lack of end-of-life collection processes.
‘If we don’t tackle these challenges seriously, establishing and maintaining a sustainable recycling chain for many critical metals will remain problematic,’ says Ciacci.