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Recirculation of scrapped resources

The role of material information in enhancing the sustainability of recycling

Time: Fri 2024-03-15 09.00

Location: Kollegiesalen -, Brinellvägen 8

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Materials Science and Engineering

Doctoral student: Reinol Josef Compañero , Processer

Opponent: Dr. Guozhu Ye, SWERIM AB

Supervisor: Docent Andreas Feldmann, Hållbarhet, Industriell dynamik & entreprenörskap; Dr. Peter Samuelsson, Processer; Professor Pär Jönsson, Processer

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Industries have responded to the climate change problem by positioning their activities as compatible with concepts such as the Circular Economy. Conveying the idea of maximizing and keeping the resources in a manner that aligns with the principles of sustainable development, the endorsements for implementing circularity measures has arguably become a boon for businesses. Firms that have traditionally consumed both primary and anthropogenic resources in the production of materials used in infrastructure, transportation, and other technological requirements are in a special position. On the one hand, their products are needed for societal development. But on the other hand, their activities emit considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.

The steel industry is a classic example where material and energy resource savings are achieved when the End-of-Life (EoL) products are recycled. However, these assumed efficiencies are provisional to scrap being a suitable replacement for ore-based resources. The replacement of primary (i.e. purer) - with secondary (i.e. contaminated) as feedstock for production depends heavily on a recycling system’s capability to deal with the complexity of the ferrous scrap streams that society is generating. More specifically, in reference to recovering the material identity through characterization and sorting that lessens or avoids the current practice of either diluting contaminants or compensating for insufficient alloying through addition of primary resources.

This present thesis takes a critical look at the use of scrap with the view that recycling is a technical process that is carried out by enterprises. The impression that recycling consequently replaces the use of primary resources is scrutinized, with consideration of scrap as a characteristically appropriate, but innately challenging feedstock to use. Case studies focusing on the Swedish scrap-based production context revealed that the recycling system actors operate and transact on the basis ofscrap’s quality, which in turn was interpreted as being multidimensional and dependent on each actor’s preferences. The alignment of economic and environmental interests connected with scrap utilization was found to be limited, with companies preferring the use of primary resources when scrap is no longer suitable.

The idea of suitability was then ascribed to compositional information regarding scrap and tested at two levels: having access to partial or full information. The former is what is achieved through the current scrap handling in the reverse loop while the latter is an idealized situation where the exact chemistry of the scrap is known. An optimization program was then used to simulate steel recycling where the scenarios tested were designed to focus on the response of the production model to the scrap chemistry of the input materials. The results obtained showed an overall decrease in production costs and an increase in the proportion of scrap used in production. In most cases, this was attributed to the flexibility to allocate scrap based on its composition to the closest matching target products.

Finally, additional interviews with industry practitioners further clarified established, company-based protocols for dealing with the lack of information and provided insights with regard to opportunities for increasing scrap utilization. An analysis of the responses suggested that there are contextual differences when it comes to practices by each company, and even attitudes, towards anthropogenic resources. Ultimately, the insights from this thesis lend support to the need of enterprises to address the trade-offs related to scrap utilization and lead to enhanced sustainability in steel recycling.