Less can be more

Presentation of the 2017 German Resources Efficiency Award

O‌n 25 January this year, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), under the motto of “Efficient use of materials – market success”, welcomed attendees to the presentation ceremony of the 2017 German Resources Efficiency Award within the framework of a specialist conference. Some two hundred attendees from industry, universities, scientific institutions, ministries and scientific and industrial associations were welcomed by Dr. Peer Hoth, head of the Department of Mineral Resources and Geosciences at the ministry. As he noted, the intention of the award is to highlight the efficient use of resources and draw public attention to it. The public continues to lack awareness of domestic resources and industrial minerals, but this is an absolute necessity, in order to counteract the continuously growing demand for such materials. The specialist papers which followed, under the chairmanship of Dr. Frauke Lohr, provided an impression of the many and diverse potentials for practical implementation of resources efficiency throughout the value chain.

The focus of the opening address, by Cornelia Szyszkowitz, of Deutsche Telekom Technik GmbH, was on electronic scrap and life-expired electronic equipment as a source of reusable materials. This speaker outlined all the associated difficulties, starting from willingness to return such life-expired devices, via collection and acceptance back, up to and including the processing of the actual devices. The rate of return is estimated to be only around 10 %, and the fact that the “recycling rate” (referred to input) at Telekom is 90 % does not, in fact, help all that much. Tim Höttges, chairman of Deutsche Telekom AG, stated the problem aptly in his blog on the November 2017 climate conference: “Digitalisation can solve problems, but it also causes new ones, in view, for example, of the ephemeral character of many electronic devices, such as Smartphones, for example. ... around 100 million life-expired mobile telephones are just laying around somewhere in German drawers ...”. In conclusion, this speaker outlined ways in which the mobile telephone sector can be improved (example: Fairphone – modular structure, use of Smartphones and ICT devices that conserve resources more, enabling of longer service-lives, promotion of second-hand markets, consumer-friendly collection systems, etc.).

Specialist papers - Resources efficiency throughout the value chain

Starting with an impulse paper, Dr. Torsten Brandenburg, of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (DERA), Berlin, spotlighted the price and availability risks of high-tech metals. Ultra-modern products nowadays contain a large number of chemical elements, and the assured and sustainable availability of these materials is a vital necessity. This speaker cited selected examples to illustrate the fluctuations in materials prices, and examined China‘s revised materials policy (China dominates around 50 % of demand for these materials!) and outlined potentials for the assuredness of materials supplies (optimised recovery methods, reduction of the quantities used, replacement of specific materials, and recycling). China‘s special role in this field is also demonstrated, inter alia, by the fact that this country is the largest producer of twenty-three of fifty-three mining products and of twenty-one of twenty-six refined products. Its influence on world-market prices is correspondingly great (please also see DERA‘s materials-information system at //www.deutsche-rohstoffagentur.de" target="_blank" >www.deutsche-rohstoffagentur.de:www.deutsche-rohstoffagentur.de).

Dr. Martin Vogt, of VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz GmbH, provided a new view of resources efficiency in lightweight construction: as he said, the focus should be not only on the utilisation phase, but instead on the entire life-cycle, from materials recovery, via processing and utilisation, up to and including the end of service-life (waste/recycling products). Both lightweight construction materials and design were included in these deliberations. Product-related and process-related, and also recycling- and disposal-related provisions can be correspondingly derived. CFRP lightweight materials, in view of the difficulties of their recycling (the fibres remaining after thermal valorisation are, due to their geometry, carcinogenic), present special challenges. Other important factors are the high energy input for their production, and the complications of non-destructive testing of large production series. A very large number of research projects, such as a pyrolysis-based process for the production of short fibres, and also solvolysis, are nonetheless in progress.

Stefan Buch, Berzelius Metall GmbH, Braubach, was able to present a well functioning example of metals recovery: the recycling of lead-acid batteries. The world‘s around 1.3 billion motor vehicles provide a worthwhile focus for this. Increasingly, lead-acid batteries for start/stop functions, emergency power supplies, photovoltaics installations, hybrid and electric vehicles, wind-power turbines, submarines, and also Pb for radiation shielding, for counterweights, etc., etc., must also be added. Together with the three companies BSB, BBH and BLS Logistic Service GmbH (collection), Berzelius Metall GmbH operates both the recycling process and energy-route valorisation.Recycling in cooperation between the three companies makes it possible to optimise materials flows and implement a functional circular economy. The company‘s recycling rate, of an average of 85 %, significantly exceeds the legally specified level of 65 %.

The specialist agenda was rounded off by two papers on fundamentals: Prof. Dr. Martin Stuchtey, of SYSTEMIQ/University of Innsbruck (Austria) (“Resources management – conceived globally”) presented an extremely critical examination of resources efficiency. As he remarked, the current rate of increase in resources efficiency is insufficient, and a systematic change is needed. The speaker also demanded a new value-creation logic which must take account of the most diverse range of elements, in the case of motor-vehicles, for example, not only in the field of resources, but also in the field of utilisation (vehicle sharing, leasing, etc.). His plea: an enormous acceleration in resources efficiency is necessary, and we should not just wait until we are in a cul-de-sac for a paradigm shift (lignite mining in Germany).

In his address on “How will the future industrial society look”, Prof. Dr. Martin Faulstich, of Clausthal University of Technology, reminded the audience that “The world we live in is just one planet! We have been talking about environmental protection for forty-five years, about sustainability for thirty years, and about climate protection for twenty-five years, but we have still not achieved any departure.“ The results, he affirmed, are shameful - CO2 emissions, for example, are continuing to rise. He derived from his analysis of growth and resources consumption a number of theses which outline paths to change, including, for example, total and efficient decarbonisation of energy supplies, complete abandonment of the use of coal, oil and natural gas and the focussing of recycling on finite resources, such as metals and phosphorus. To achieve these aims, the energy and resources industries will need to pull in unison; structural change must not be obstructed, but it must be well prepared.

Presentation of the award

The award was presented this year by Matthias Machnig, Undersecretary of State at the ministry, together with Prof. Dr. Ralph Watzel, of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Berlin, who also chaired the jury for the German Resources Efficiency Award.

The jury is made up of fourteen representatives of economics, industry and science. The selection criteria are as follows:

•  Quantifiable resources efficiency

•  Applicability to industry

•  Degree of innovation (incentivising character).

A total of six companies and two research institutions were nominated. Three medium-sized enterprises and one research institution, which Prof. Watzel described as “beacons of resources utilisation”, were the winners:

•  OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co. KG, Ispringen: “REProMag – The resources-efficient production of hard magnets on a rare-earth basis” (virtually zero-waste pro
duction of magnets of complicated geometry from 100 % recyclate using the SDS [Shaping, Debinding and Sintering] process).

•  Cronimet Envirotec GmbH, Bitterfeld: “Recycling of oil- and metal-containing industrial sludges” (recovery of unrefined metals, grinding oil and alloys by means of vacuum distillation).

•  BTS GmbH, Weilheim: “Replacement turbocharger programme” (manufacture of new turbochargers for combustion-

•  engined vehicles using components from life-expired ones).

Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, Stuttgart: “Automated masking-free two-tone painting of mirror housings” (avoidance of high-loss paint mist during painting by means of defined generation of paint droplets which are “shot” onto the substrate surface).

Before the award ceremony, Undersecretary of State Machnig again emphasised the present-day importance of resources efficiency: “Without resources, there can be no energy turnaround; recycling does not solve everything, and waste separation is not the final pinnacle of resources efficiency! The aims of the energy turnaround are clearly defined, and the task is now to arouse popular interest in them.“ In closing, he called on the expert bodies to discuss environmental policy intensively.

The other nominees:

MoreAero GmbH: Mobile aircraft recycling

Toho Tenax Europe GmbH: Closed cycle for thermoplastic composites

Technical R&D Center for Surface Finishing and High Performance Cutting Tool Engineering: New process for the production of metal carbides

Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich: Pure-fraction sorting of difficult-to-separate plastics via UV-light irradiation

were also congratulated by Undersecretary of State Machnig, since they had also made a notable contribution to progress on the road to resources efficiency.

The event closed with an opportunity for interchange of experience in the context of a small celebratory reception.

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