Sustainability Assessment and Policy Research
The Research Line investigates the economic and environmental feasibility of new flow sheets for the recovery of metals and/or minerals from end-of-life consumer goods, industrial process residues and low-grade ores. Particular attention goes out to the legal, social and economic bottlenecks, while also assessing the opportunities and possible incentives for sustainable (inorganic) materials management. Concurrently, SIM² KU Leuven uses a multi-actor, collaborative approach to obtain and maintain the Social License to Operate for mining and recycling projects.
The leading members in this research line are:
Embedded in the SuMMa Policy Research Centre:
The Policy Research Centre – Sustainable Materials Management proves that the Science, Engineering and Technology Group can play an important role on the societal level. The Flemish government recently recognized a number of new Policy Research Centres. For the theme “Sustainable Materials Management” the candidacy of professor Karel Van Acker was selected. This recognition comes with a long-term structural funding for his research on the efficient use of raw materials, but also with an opportunity to contribute to the Flemish policy. The Policy Research Centre Programme was established by the Flemish government to provide a scientific basis for policy and enable a quick and proactive response to social developments and challenges. At the end of 2011 the government selected new research themes on the basis of its policy priorities. For each theme one candidacy was accepted to become a Policy Research Centre. These centres get structural research funding for a period of four years.
Professor Van Acker: “Sustainable Materials Management is a completely new theme. We will examine how we can be less dependent for our materials supply in Flanders and what is needed to get there. How can we build a more circular economy? How can we better close certain material loops? How can we ensure that we need less raw materials, become less dependent on supply from foreign countries and have less impact on the environment? We will study the current policy and its impact. We will translate the knowledge, gathered through our research, into specific recommendations for future policy of the Flemish government.
- Interdisciplinary Research: “Our research for the Policy Research Centre is highly interdisciplinary. We do not only examine technological innovation, but we also study the economic instruments that the government can use to promote sustainable materials management, such as taxes, subsidies and standards. The legal framework is also part of our research. For instance, which laws make certain recycling opportunities impossible at this moment? There are also people from organisation psychology involved, who will shed light on how the various actors can work together in a way that brings benefit to everyone. We are used to primarily focus on the industrial valorisation of our research, but the Policy Research Centre really looks at the social valorisation.
- Composition of the Policy Research Centre: “We have set up the Policy Research Centre as a matrix organisation which allows us to work closely together on specific cases throughout the various disciplines. In total, nine people are working in the centre. At the KU Leuven we have a postdoctoral researcher Materials Science who deals with life cycle costing and analysis, a doctoral student from the Faculty of Law who specializes in environmental law and a doctoral student from the Faculty of Business and Economics who looks into economic incentives. Furthermore there are people involved from VITO, UGent, UHasselt, UA and HUB. We mainly work on long-term fundamental research to provide a solid scientific base for the policy, but occasionally there are problem-driven short-term assignments, e.g. around topics from parliamentary questions.
- Policy-relevant and independent: Can research that needs to be relevant to policy still be independent? “I’m not really worried about that”, says professor Van Acker, “The policy feels a serious shortage of scientific support. Many aspects of research in sustainable materials management are very new. We can really make a significant contribution in a very objective manner. The government expects focused policy advice for the long term, and therefore there is no value if we play up to them.” “Our work is followed by a large and diverse steering group committee, that will help to pursue objectivity. We, ourselves, have also proposed to establish an International Advisory Board that will monitor the scientific quality of the research. In addition, we will regularly organize sounding boards to get the industry and NGOs involved. We must ensure that all the different actors are drawn in and that we identify their needs. Managing this interdisciplinarity is our biggest challenge.”
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