The sustainable and secure supply of raw materials to the EU is a vital, strategic, long-term issue for Europe. This Grand Societal Challenge is directly addressed by SIM² KU Leuven whose mission is to develop, organise and implement problem-driven, science-deep research and future-oriented education, contributing to the environmentally friendly production and recycling of metals, minerals and engineered materials within a circular-economy context.
Scope of materials
SIM² KU Leuven targets both primary ores, extractive waste, industrial process residues and urban solid waste. Key focus areas are (1) metal extraction from increasingly complex, polymetallic, low-grade ores; (2) metal recovery from stocks of extractive waste (incl. tailings) and landfilled industrial process residues (e.g. sludges, dusts, slags…); (3) metal recovery from flows of industrial process residues from primary and secondary metal production; (4) direct (preconsumer) recycling of metal scrap and swarf generated during the production of metal-based (intermediate) products; (5) (postconsumer) recycling and/or urban mining of, respectively, flows and stocks of complex, multi-material, metal-containing products (e.g. End-of-Life Hybrid Electric Vehicles) as well as construction and demolition waste); and finally (6) landfill mining of historic urban solid waste. SIM² KU Leuven targets a near-zero-waste vision, which implies that any kind of residual mineral matrices are upcycled into added-value materials such as inorganic polymer binders and derived engineered products. Hazardous components are concentrated into specific phases that can be safely stored.
SIM² KU Leuven timeline
SIM² KU Leuven has existed as an interdisciplinary research line within KU Leuven MRC since 2011. The establishment of SIM² KU Leuven was based on previous successes, which date back as far as 2003 when the HiTemp Centre was initiated at the Department of Materials Engineering. This Centre, which still exists today, was set up as an Academic Competence and Service Centre, structurally funded by several world-leading, Flemish-based metallurgical companies, including Umicore and Aperam. Subsequently, the Centre led to interdisciplinary collaborations with other research groups at KU Leuven, both within the Department of Materials and beyond, in the field of geology, building materials, chemical metallurgy, recycling, environmental and techno-economic assessment, policy research, process psychology etc. Here below the reader can view the timeline of the various collaborations, platforms programmes and projects developed through SIM² KU Leuven are summarised, showing that the SIM² KU Leuven cluster grew “organically”.
- 2003 – Initiation Centre for Refractory Materials, catalyst for > 15 IWT O&O Projects (Umicore, “ALZ”, “Sidmar”) (HiTemp Group, MTM) (now Centre for HiTemp Processes and Sustainable Materials Management, funded by Umicore, Aperam, Group Machiels and Recmix)
- 2005 – Leuven Materials Research Centre (MRC) established
- 2006 – IOF Mandate Holder Karel Van Acker (MRC)
- 2008 – IOF Mandate Holder Peter Tom Jones Industrial Ecology (MTM, CIT, BOKU, GEO, HUB)
- 2008 – Startup Flemish Enhanced Landfill Mining Consortium (KU Leuven (coord.), Group Machiels, OVAM, VITO etc.
- 2009 – IOF Knowledge Platform SMaRT-Pro² (CIT (coord.), GEO, BOKU, HUB, KHBO, MTM/Centre, COK, LAW)
- 2009 – Start-up InsPyro spin-off company
- 2010 – Start-up Centre for Resource Recovery and Recycling (KU Leuven + WPI and CSM from US)
- 2011 – IOF Leverage Project to prepare launching of SIM² KU Leuven
- 2011 – Entry of Prof. Koen Binnemans (Chemistry Dept.) in the cluster
- 2011 – SIM² KU Leuven formally established
- 2012 – IOF Knowledge Platform on Rare Earth Recycling and Start-up SUMMA (policy research centre)
- 2013 – European Breakthrough: FP7 EURARE and EREAN
- 2013 – KU Leuven in centre Belgian Urban/Landfill Mining Consortium for EIT KIC Raw MatTERS proposal
- 2013 – Kick-off EURELCO Consortium led by KU Leuven
- 2014 – SIM MaRes Programme and EIT RawMaterials formally approved
- 2016 – Koen Binnemans obtains ERC Advanced Grant SOLCRIMET
- 2016 – Spin-out RESOURCEFULL
- 2016 – EIT Label Master in Sustainable Materials (Leuven, INP Grenoble, U Milano-Bicocca, U Trento, MU Leoben)
- 2017 – C3 SOLMET approved leading to SOLVOMET Industrial Service Centre (Department of Chemistry)
- 2017 – Policy research centre for Circular Economy
- 2018 – SIM² KU Leuven requests to become a formal KU Leuven Institute