Research Lines

Research in SIM² KU Leuven is performed in six interconnected Research Lines (RLs). SIM² KU Leuven tries to smartly close as many metals & minerals loops as possible, while also realising there is a need for (responsible) primary mining of a multitude of speciality metals (e.g. rare earths, cobalt, lithium) that are in high demand for e-mobility, renewable energy storage etc. These metals are not yet present in sufficient amounts in the technosphere, implying that even 100% recycling will not be enough in view of satisfying the rapidly growing demand for these metals to be used in diverse clean technologies.

Likewise, SIM² KU Leuven acknowledges that there are inevitable losses during metals and minerals processing and that, in some cases, certain (hazardous) residues need final (safe) storage solutions rather than being recycled. Finally, SIM² KU Leuven is not blind for our historic legacy: a comprehensive Circular Economy view should not just deal with the waste flows of the present but should also find an answer for the waste stocks of the past. Hence, SIM² KU Leuven has been an ambassador for the Enhanced Landfill Mining agenda, which targets both stocks of extractive waste/industrial residues (including Waste-to-Energy residues) and Urban Solid Waste/Municipal Solid Waste.


Research Line 1

Geological exploration and advanced resource characterization

Flagship Topics

  • Metallogenesis and exploration of ore deposits
  • Geometallurgical characterisation of tailings for extraction and recovery
  • Characterisation of low concentrations of (critical) metals in ores, residues or End-of-Life products by FEG-EPMA-WDS

Research Line 2

Remanufacturing and demanufacturing

Flagship Topics

  • Enhanced waste stream characterisation
  • Vision-based robotic disassembly and dismantling
  • Vision and IT tools for reuse, repair and remanufacturing
  • Vision and spectroscopy based robotic and pneumatic sorting
  • Eco-design, design for disassembly, design for X
molten steel

Research Line 3

Sustainable metallurgical processes

Flagship Topics

  • Hot stage slag engineering
  • Pyrometallurgical metal recovery & recycling
  • Low & high temperature electrolysis
  • Leaching & preconcentration of metals
  • SX for separation & purification of metals
  • Metal recovery from dilute aq’ waste streams
  • Mechanistic & speciation studies
  • Thermal processing of solid waste
recycling metal

Research Line 4

Upcycling processes for primary and secondary resources

Flagship Topics

  • Valorisation of bauxite residue
  • Valorisation of non-ferrous slags
  • Porous, functional, inorganic polymers
  • Modelling
  • Other areas
circular economy susteinability

Research Line 5

Sustainability assessment and policy research

Flagship Topics

  • Prospective sustainability assessments
  • Risk assessment of metals and metalloids in the environment
  • Policy research and Impact assessment studies
  • Social License to Operate for primary, urban and landfill mining projects
circular economy

Research Line 6

Process intensification and digitalisation

Flagship Topics

  • Process intensification
  • Process digitalisation

SIM² KU Leuven’s Scope

SIM² KU Leuven therefore designs, researches and exploits selective and efficient processes for the exploration, extraction, recovery, recycling and refining of (base and critical) metals and minerals, as well as for the upcycling of primary and secondary resources and the re- and demanufacturing of End-of-Life complex metal-containing products. SIM² KU Leuven assesses and advances the environmental gains and the economic feasibility of the developed flow sheets. In order to support the Social License to Operate for the associated industrial activities, SIM² KU Leuven pro-actively engages with external stakeholders, including civil society groups and local communities. SIM² KU Leuven also assesses the potential health and environmental impacts of (primary) mining activities to support the transition to responsible mining.

Circular Economy Scheme SIM² KU Leuven
SIM² KU Leuven’s representation of the Circular Economy with respect to metals and minerals, taking into account the 2nd law of thermodynamics (McGuiness & Jones, April 2020)

SIM² Education