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Fraunhofer pursues recycling innovation at ‘atomic level’

Germany – ‘About 70 billion tonnes of raw materials are extracted worldwide annually – twice as much as at the end of the 1970s,’ says the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. In a bid to counter this uptrend, a team of its researchers is exploring the potential of ‘molecular sorting’ and will present results at the IFAT trade fair, taking place in Munich on May 5-9.

Germany is currently ′in first place′ when it comes to resource use, consuming some 200 kg of raw materials per person each day, the researchers note. ′As a country poor in raw materials, Germany must commit to comprehensive resource conservation,′ the specialists say. Fraunhofer experts ′have established important principles for consistent recycling and circular manufacturing in the Molecular Sorting for Resource Efficiency project,′ they continue.

This fresh approach covers the treatment of precious metals, rare earths, concrete, glass, phosphorus and wood. One example is the bioleaching process being developed and readied for commercial use at a Fraunhofer site in Stuttgart which enables the recovery of even small quantities of precious metals or rare earths.

The researchers are relying on micro-organisms to transform insoluble metallic compounds in ores and combustion slag. The dissolved metals are then ′chemically bound′ using specialised polymers and thereby selectively removed from the solution.

′The separation processes take place initially at the smallest level required, meaning we go down to the molecular or even atomic levels,′ explains Professor Jörg Woidasky, who leads the project. Based on earlier trials, he and his colleagues believe that recycling at the atomic level will ‘very probably’ be economically feasible in the future.

To find out more about this ‘advanced project’, make contact with the Fraunhofer team at the IFAT trade fair (Booth 219/318 in Hall A5).

For further information, visit: www.fraunhofer.de/en

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