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“How to define the impact of new technologies?” was the title of a workshop on Sustainability Assessment (SA) organized on the 21st of November 2019 in Brussels by NEMO in collaboration with CHROMIC, METGROW+ and NEW-MINE, as a Satellite Event to the 4th Raw Materials Week. Approximately 20 participants from academia, research, industry and government discussed the challenges and future of sustainability assessment in the field of raw materials and beyond. The present article reports on the key lessons learned from the presentations and lively debate, and looks forward to the next events in this clustering track.

In the Horizon 2020 calls for projects, consortia are explicitly asked to integrate a clear strategy on how to involve civil society, in order to build trust in the recovery, recycling and mining sectors in Europe. To meet these important requests, within CHROMIC a Community Involvement Plan (CIP from now on) was formulated. Aim of the plan is to share and discuss the technological, economic, societal and health-related aspects with stakeholders and local communities along the different phases of the project.

Some months ago, for the third podcast of our series, we interviewed the community involvement coordinator Federica Manzoli, who gave us an introduction to the CIP and told us about the – back then just concluded – first phase of it. Now, the work for the second phase has been carried on and we went back to Manzoli to ask her for an account of what was done and what came out of it. The following is a synthesis of what she told us.

The main difference between the two phases of the CIP is that the first was aimed at engaging with  laypeople, whereas the second was focused on involving the widest possible variety of stakeholders. Both were conducted in important industrial areas in four out of the five countries of the CHROMIC project partners. Like for the first phase, the second one’s events were held in Brescia (Italy), Leverkusen (Germany), and Lille (France), but this time Brussels was chosen instead of Genk in Belgium so that  representatives of the EU institutions could join. The four workshops took place between July and October and saw the participation of nearly fifty stakeholders.

The workshops were organized with the aim of raising the stakeholders’ interest in the CHROMIC project development and to consider the different points of view on the possible opportunities and problems that can emerge at the current and future stages of the project’s technological development. The meetings were tailored to focus on the assessment of the impacts of the project related to: Human health (e.g. noise production, hazardous substances causing respiratory effects); ecosystem quality (e.g. impact on water, soil, air); resources (e.g. land and water use, avoidance of further primary mining and production); climate change (e.g. greenhouse gases emission); economics. Within these “impact groups” a major goal was to understand what kind of scenarios CHROMIC can contribute to realize regarding, for example, the potential creation of local jobs, investments and profits.

The participants were chosen among stakeholders who locally count in decision making pertaining to the above mentioned fields: from local and regional health environmental agencies, to representatives of industries and industries associations, environmental associations and, in Brussels, representatives of the EU institutions. The wide and varied participation to the workshops – which in itself is a very positive result – produced fruitful discussions and valuable feedback.

Analysis of the outcomes of this round of events was finished a few weeks ago. Among the many points that have been brought to attention during the meetings, the impacts of CHROMIC and projects alike on land recovery and smart management of resources – especially to decrease dependence on primary raw material, reduction of pollution from detoxification of slags, and transportation logistics emerged as central issues to take into account for the development of the project.

Beyond that, a point to stress is that new technologies are regarded as successful only if they bring an economic advantage. All participants agreed that CHROMIC has the potential to bring so many benefits to a large number of areas, that if it is economically viable, it will be surely accepted and implemented by industries and also very welcomed by all other stakeholders.

“Events like the ones organized within the activities of societal involvement may help the diffusion of awareness among citizens” says Manzoli, “and regarding those participating in the workshops, we hope they will act as multipliers and help in disseminating better knowledge about the issues discussed”. On the other hand, the significance of setting up a dialogue with different categories of stakeholders for projects like CHROMIC was well explained in the Brussels’ workshop. In fact, one of the goals of this kind of event is to consider the cultural differences in the acceptance of new technologies and also the importance to spread quality information about the progress of the EU funded research. Technical issues, social issues, innovation issues, they require different experts, and this was the occasion to get them together.

What we learnt in the second phase of the CIP will be brought to the third and final phase, which will take place at the end of the project, in 2020. For that occasion, participatory events are planned, where local communities will be invited to discuss with researchers and other parties involved in the project, to discover the results and the scenarios opened by the CHROMIC technologies.

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.

Listen to the Episode 2 of the CHROMIC podcast 

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.

This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under Grant Agreement n° 730471

effiCient mineral processing and Hydrometallurgical RecOvery of by-product Metals from low-grade metal contaIning seCondary raw materials