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Challenges in accessing high-quality secondary raw materials for circular economy implementation

Securing high-quality secondary raw materials presents a significant challenge for businesses, particularly as recycling stands as a key circular strategy advocated under the EU CRMA to bolster supply chain resilience. Despite recycling contributing over 35% of the EU’s demand for CRMs like vanadium, tungsten, and cobalt, the growth in global demand and production means a constant flux in available secondary raw materials, imposing natural limits on their share in production.

Effective recycling hinges on materials that are easy to identify and sort, emphasizing the importance of minimizing material mixing during product design. Pre-consumer materials often offer better recycling prospects due to their known composition and lack of impurities. However, challenges such as unintentional leakage or exporting of recyclable waste, inefficient CRM use in products, and inadequate waste collection and recycling infrastructure hinder CRM recycling efforts.

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Aluminium Recycling

Recycling aluminium ideally occurs without any quality change within alloy groups, necessitating excellent sorting quality. However, impurities often arise during recycling, impacting quality. While aluminium recycling, particularly in beverage packaging, has seen increased recycled material content, challenges remain in achieving uniform alloy use and processing heavily mixed post-consumer scrap.

Lithium Recycling

Lithium recycling remains nascent, primarily due to the prevalence of traction batteries in electric vehicles, expected to reach end-of-life en masse in the coming years. Despite future projections of lithium scarcity and rising demand, current economics favor virgin lithium over recycled. Moreover, changing battery quantities, cathode materials, and cell chemistries pose challenges for recyclers in optimizing secondary raw material yields.

Rare Earth Elements (REE) Recycling

REE recycling presents unique challenges, given their limited supplier pool and the demanding processing required due to their stable compounds. Separate collection of rare earth magnets, crucial for certain applications like wind turbines, proves costly and challenging, impeding the creation of stable and economic supply chains for high-quality recycled materials.

In conclusion, accessing high-quality secondary raw materials for circular economy practices demands innovative solutions to overcome sorting, collection, and processing challenges across various industries.

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