Technological Centre

CETIM leads an EU investigation to recover critical raw materials from waste

Europe depends almost 100% on imports from China, South Africa and Russia of rare earths, magnesium and metals from the platinum group.


Critical raw materials are linked to a large part of the EU strategic industrial sectors, that generate more than 30 million jobs.


The technological research coordinated from Galicia will be based on biorecovery from different sources, from mining waste, alumina production, magnesite calcination, catalyst production to low grade minerals.


European Commission awarded CETIM Horizon 2020 BIORECOVER project (6.3 M €) to investigate this innovative process in line with the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The challenge of BIORECOVER is to achieve “zero waste”.



Culleredo, March 26th, 2019. The award of the Horizon 2020 BIORECOVER to CETIM at the end of 2018 after a demanding selection by the European Commission has been a milestone for the Galician technology centre. Although he has participated in other European projects as leader and partner, it is the first time that CETIM will be the leader of an H2020 assuming the coordination of this international initiative for four years.


Only three of the 28 projects submitted to this call (topic) of the H2020, the EU Framework Program for research and innovation activities in the period 2014-2020, passed the final screening.


BIORECOVER supposes, in addition, the achievement of 6.3 M € of financing of first scientific and technical level for the development of a line of research in strategic R&D in the European Union as it is the production of critical raw materials (CRM). The objective is to guarantee a safe, sustainable and affordable supply in key economic sectors on which 30 million jobs depend. Among others, are automotive industry, aerospace industry, construction, steel, refractory materials, renewable energy and even agriculture.



Four intense years of R&D


BIORECOVER is an initiative conceived and shaped ad hoc at CETIM headquarters in Culleredo (A Coruña). The objective is to develop a new sustainable and green process, based on biotechnology, for the selective extraction with bacteria, fungi, microalgae and proteins (biorecovery), as well as reusable eco-microcapsules, from three groups of critical raw materials from primary sources and secondary still unexploited.


They are the rare earths (scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, neodymium …), magnesium and metals of the platinum group (PGM, iridium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium and palladium) of which Europe depends almost 100% of import from China, South Africa and Russia.


The research, which will continue in two phases for four years, expects to achieve 90% recovery rates, with a selectivity of 95% and a purity of 99%, which will make it possible to reuse them in the sectors of interest. To achieve these ambitious objectives, the work team is made up of a multidisciplinary consortium composed of 14 partners, including research centres, universities and companies from around the world. All European and international first level entities.


Highlights companies such as Tecnicas Reunidas, Spanish engineering listed on the Stock Exchange; mining company Magnesitas Navarras or the universities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, specialized in developing specific research for the mining sector in collaboration with the main platinum mining companies in the country.


In total, there are 8 countries represented in BIORECOVER: Spain, Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, United Kingdom and South Africa.



What are Critical Raw Materials used for?


Largest use of the 8,350 tonnes of rare earths imported into the EU today is for catalysts (42%), followed by glass additives. In the same way, most of the final uses of 130,000 t of magnesium are found in the transport sector and in aluminum alloys, it is used in packaging and construction.


Third, the European platinum supply is dominated by South Africa, with around 70%, which is destined to the manufacture of catalysts for the automotive and chemical industries and in electronic and electrical applications. In particular, Europe has the potential to unlock 15 tonnes / year of PMG from 5,560 tonnes of European co-products that are not currently being mined, which could satisfy 4-5% of annual platinum consumption.


In September 2017, the European Commission updated the list of critical raw materials essential for the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry to 27, coming almost entirely from foreign markets. Document main purpose was to determine those materials with a high risk of scarcity and great economic importance. At the time, it was intended to encourage intra-community production through new mining activities and, above all, from recycling in line with the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Of the 27 CRMs, EU maintains a dependency of between 70-100% of 17 of them and an almost total difficulty to replace them. They are antimony, barite, bismuth, borate, fluorspar, helium, natural graphite, natural rubber, niobium, phosphate rocks, phosphorus, scandium, tantalum, vanadium, in addition to the three that CETIM will recover (rare earths, magnesium and platinum group metals). ) in collaboration with its 13 partners.



Consortium signature in A Coruña


Next June, 14th BIORECOVER partners are expected to attend the launch meeting at the CETIM facilities in Culleredo (A Coruña) to start working on this strategic environmental project for the EU, which also includes a dissemination part and citizen awareness about the importance of the mining sector.



Remarkable European expertise


Only last year (2018), CETIM achieved five top-level European projects for sustainable wastewater treatment (INDIA-H20, LIFE GREEN SEWER), regeneration of burned soils (LIFE REFOREST) ​​or revaluation of by-products of the paper industry such as lignin that, together with BIORECOVER, add up to a total budget of almost € 25 million.



Complete list of participants selected by CETIM to participate in BIORECOVER:

CETIM Technological Center (leader) – Spain
Mytilineos Anonimi Etairia – Greece
Magnesitas Navarras SA – Spain
University of Copenhagen – Denmark
University of Coimbra – Portugal
University of the Witwatersrand – South Africa
University of Linnaeus – Sweden
University of Cape Town – South Africa
Técnicas Reunidas SA – Spain
Algaenergy SA – Spain
Johnson Matthey – United Kingdom
Francisco Albero SA – Spain
Vertech Group – France
LGI Consulting – France