Monday, 7 November 2016

Towards a Circular Economy

The "Circular Economy" has become a well known phrase in mineral processing conferences in recent years, primarily as mineral processing has a major role to play in sustainability and the move to the ultimate goal of the Circular Economy. MEI's next conference, Process Mineralogy '17, will open with a keynote address showing how process mineralogy is an essential booster of the circular economy.
In 2018 two of MEI's established conferences will move to Namibia, an ideal setting for further developing the sustainability theme, and the unique combination of Biohydrometallurgy‘18 and Sustainable Minerals‘18 will provide key theoretical, applied and industrial input.
We are fortunate to have, in Profs. Markus Reuter and Susan Harrison, consultants to Sustainable Minerals and Biohydromet, respectively, two leading scientists who feel passionately about the role that mineral processing and biohydrometallurgy have in sustainability, and they have kindly put together the following which shows our future aims:
Figure 1 shows that in order to realize resource efficiency, the Circular Economy and industrial ecologies must be optimised within the constraints of energy usage. Thus input into the industrialised system must be minimized with the least possible loss of materials from the system. Emissions from the inter-linked processes and power generation must also be minimised. Jointly these aid the maximizing of the “closure” of the technology and biological materials loop. An in-depth understanding of the various underlying fundamental theory and technology for application enables the “closure” of the loop. Furthermore, a keen understanding of the entropy creation in the system must be understood.
Figure 1: Circular Economy stakeholders according to the European Environmental Agency (EEA)
The linked conference series provide a platform to discuss the fundamental theory of biohydrometallurgy, minerals engineering and metallurgy as well as the processing of mineral wastes and minewater. These can be positioned in the context of the circular economy and industrial ecology applications, its processing technology as well as systems solutions. In these conferences, there is opportunity to focus especially on the fundamentally based tools required to quantify the impacts of various solutions from design for recycling (eco-design), processing and mining technology solutions through to integrated waste handling and the move towards both zero risk and zero waste.
While the Biohydrometallurgy series is focused on the underlying bioprocesses fuelling resource efficient use of complex ores, low grade resources and waste materials, the Sustainable Minerals series superimposes the sustainable development and resource efficiency frameworks. The integrated detailed information across these conferences is key to providing information based on first-principles to companies as well as policy to best develop the business models that are required to innovate, develop and migrate from a linear to a circular economy. Of particular emphasis are the various end-of-pipe, mine tailings as well as mine & process water recycling processing solutions and innovations as well as the fully integrated approaches to process design for minimal or zero waste and risk. A combination of nature-based biohydrometallurgical and metallurgical processing methods are being explored to achieve results and innovations. Systemic solutions, as an essential integrator at the forefront of the solutions, are being reported.
In summary, the idea that knowledge and technology of minerals and metals processing are key enablers of the circular economy and industrial ecology, both working toward resource efficiency, is the main paradigm this conference has been exploring over the years. Results of this have been, among others, published in Elsevier’s peer reviewed journal “Minerals Engineering” as can also be seen from the ResearchGate pages of the authors viz. Susan Harrison and Markus Reuter.
We have been focussing on making these inter-linked conferences a key meeting of minds between experienced academics and industrialists in the field and aspiring and inspiring young scientists and engineers drawn from a range of disciplines. Through these conference series, we aim to develop a cohort that think Circular Economy, resource efficiency and industrial ecology and have at heart the drive to use our greatly important domain knowledge in a much wider context of the process thinking. Through this ingraining of the circular economy, resource efficiency and industrial ecology, a future devoid of thinking ‘in silos’ can lead us to new paradigms of innovation. This is of great importance to realize the circularity depicted by Figure 1.


  1. I am happy that a holistic view of Mineral to Metal is taken.We have to enlarge the circle to include civil society.

  2. Dear Prof Rao

    Thanks for the very valid comment.

    Circular Economy brings society into the loop. It also brings minerals processing and its fundamental principles to centre stage and therefore should increase society's awareness of its importance to a sustainable society.

    Kind regards, Markus.


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