A Circular Economy of Metals: Towards a Sustainable Societal Metabolism
Updated on 24.01.2023
This course explores the use of metals in society, the environmental impacts and challenges linked to metal production, and options to move towards a more sustainable system of metal production and use. It focuses especially on the options to reach a circular economy for metals: keeping metals in use for a very long time, to avoid having to mine new ones.
Relevance for Circular Systemic Solutions
Metals are present all around us and are one of the major materials upon which our economies are built. Economic development is therefore deeply coupled with the use of metals. During the 20th century, the variety of metal applications in society grew rapidly. In addition to mass applications such as steel in buildings and aluminium in planes, more and more metals are in use for innovative technologies such as the use of the speciality metal indium in LCD screens.
A lot of metals will be needed in the future, but it will not be easy to provide them. In particular in emerging economies, but also in industrialised countries, the demand for metals is increasing rapidly. Mining and production activities are expanding, and with that also the environmental consequences of metal production. The challenge is for society to be provided with sufficient metals, now and in the future, without compromising environmental quality.
This course takes a systems perspective and considers how metals are used across value chains and sectors. It discusses stocks and flows of metals in society and how they interact. It also explores different options to solve this so-called metals challenge, aiming to keep up the stock-in-use of metals in society, while at the same time reducing the need to mine new metals. The solutions it discusses include materials and product design-for-environment and design-for-recycling, remanufacturing, and recycling. It considers the circular economy as an overarching solution to the challenge. Throughout the course, the Sustainable Development Goals are used as a basis for the assessment of the metals challenge and solutions to solving it.
This course is available on an ongoing basis, with participants able to enrol anytime.