A year and a half has passed since the beginning of the project. Many tasks have been completed, many others are in process or scheduled to begin soon. This is an appropriate time to summarize what has been achieved so far within the project and what are the perspectives for the next future.
To do so, we have enlisted the help of the project coordinator Liesbeth Horckmans. The following is an account of what Liesbeth told us about the structure, the aims and above all the current status of the project.
The CHROMIC activities can be divided between those pertaining to the technological core of the project and those addressing assessments regarding the impact of the technologies on the economy and – in a broad sense – on society.
Starting with the technological core, this encompasses all the steps of the scientific work that will lead to the development of recovery processes for chromium, vanadium, molybdenum and niobium from slags, which is the primary aim of CHROMIC. These steps are grouped in dedicated work packages (WPs) and are: mineral processing (WP2), selective leaching (WP3) and selective metal recovery (WP4).
Mineral processing is about physical pre-treatment of the slags; in this WP pre-treatment and comminution techniques are applied to the slags in order to increase the concentration of the most interesting fractions. Then, in the leaching stage of WP3, hydro-metallurgical processes are applied to dissolve the metals of interest from their matrix and transform them to a leaching liquor, which is further treated in WP4 to recover the individual metals – or at least recover valuable products that can be put on the market.
The first sixteen months of CHROMIC have mainly been devoted to performing the physical pre-treatment techniques and leaching tests. The pre-treatment phase is almost coming to an end, as it is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. For the leaching, first trials have already been done and first concepts have been tested, but there will be room for improvement and optimization, as WP3 will be ongoing this and next year. Finally, metal recovery has started recently, in November 2017, so that part is – as expected – still at an initial stage.
Surrounding this technological core, the project includes supporting WPs such as WP1. One aim of this WP is to produce a value-chain analysis of the four metals of interest, to have an idea of where these metals are used today, what end-products they are and what are the boundary conditions for them. In the first sixteen months, a first version of the value chain assessments has been completed. However, this kind of research will continue throughout the project and will be updated based on the results of CHROMIC. Apart from that, WP1 also makes an integrated assessment of the technological developments, to make sure that they are in line with economic constraints, environmental considerations, societal wishes, legislations, and also importantly with health and safety aspects. In this respect, a first assessment round is in progress, meaning that a series of questionnaires have been sent to the project’s partners to gather initial data. That will allow early feedback to the research and development activities in WP2, 3 and 4, so that the technologies can be adapted to the needs and requirements of the aforementioned fields.
Other supporting activities are grouped in WP6, which consists of both communication and dissemination activities and – very importantly for CHROMIC – the community involvement. The aim is to get society to engage in the project, in order to have a good feeling of what potential objections might be raised in the future, and to make sure that the technological innovations produced will be accepted once they are on the market. A first round of focus groups has been completed. These were attended by laypeople and gave an indication of what people’s mindset is toward recovery of metals, which is useful information to target the project’s further communication and to plan the next steps of the community involvement itself.
Finally – also as part of WP6 – clustering activities with similar European projects are being carried out. A monthly group with these projects has been established where Skype meetings regularly take place. Initially these meetings were focused on introducing the projects to each other and trying to find common grounds. The objective for this year is to work more on joint workshops, to have the possibility to cluster around some specific topics and share experience around designated questions such as community involvement and societal acceptance.