Sixty tons of industrial side streams can be used as raw material.
To move society toward a circular economy and reduce society’s use of virgin raw materials, industry by-products (side streams) have to be treated as products as well. This has been the objective in the Min-Pet project (2016–2019) where the use of a mineral side stream, Petrit-T, has been upscaled as a raw material for acoustic panels and cement.
We have been successful in defining a method for scaling up the use of geopolymer Petrit-T as a raw material in acoustic panels. Currently, we are collaborating with a company developing a process for using Petrit-T in producing acoustic panels.
Björn Haase, Manager Non-metal Products at Höganäs AB
Björn Haase is responsible for Höganäs’ work with side streams and has been occupied with developing and producing environmentally friendly geopolymer materials for nearly ten years. However, finding potential applications for side streams has not always been simple. Björn is a pioneer in the field, and his insistent efforts and cooperation with other companies are one of the main reasons why Höganäs manages to use so much of its side streams.
When I visited the University of Oulu in Finland a handful years ago and heard what they were doing there I got the idea of using Petrit-T as a raw material for inorganic polymers.
In the Min-Pet project, the main focus has been to scale-up the use of the inorganic binder raw material to yield geopolymer-based materials as well as cement. Both the ceramic-like geopolymeric material and the cement has multiple uses in many applications including concrete elements, foamed concrete, thermal insulation material, and as a low-temperature ceramic.
EIT RawMaterials and the partners involved have played a major role in supporting this development. It was difficult to gain support for the use of side streams ten years ago, but nowadays circular economy and industrial symbiosis are a frequent topic of conversation. We have been able to evaluate, compare and develop the geopolymer as a new raw material thanks to EIT RawMaterials.
Höganäs uses 80 per cent of all side streams
At the world’s biggest metal powder manufacturer Höganäs AB’s production plants all over the world vast quantities of byproducts (side streams) are produced. The company tries to ensure that as much as possible of this material is used as a new raw material in its own production processes or by other industries.
In 2019, approximately 80 per cent of Höganäs’ side streams were used. The company aims at increasing usage of side streams to 85 per cent by 2020 and 95 per cent by 2026. By successful commercialization of the Petrit-T foam geopolymer, up to 20 000 tonnes of side stream can be used in Höganäs alone.
Side streams from Höganäs can replace materials that are otherwise blasted out of rock for use in roadbuilding, for example. Höganäs is part of the circular economy in that we provide industries with raw materials from our side streams and largely use scrap as a raw material in our own production processes. The more side streams we can use in society, the less virgin material is needed.
Cooperation the key to success
The Min-Pet project has brought together key players in the European raw materials sector; four research units (University of Oulu, KU-Leuven, VTT and ZAG), two companies specialized in the circular economy and waste valorization (Dansk jordstabilisering and Destamatic) and large industry (Höganäs). The consortium covers the whole value chain from the producer to the end-users, complemented with research institutions.
We are successful in pursuing technical development and projects that the entire steel industry can benefit from thanks to cooperation with companies in the steel industry and other industries. We also link together industries that do not normally come into contact with one another. Slag asphalt for the asphalt industry and water treatment with slag for the water treatment industry are just a couple of examples of successful projects of this kind.
Despite the simple manufacturing process of geopolymer materials, careful science and engineering is required in designing the reactions.
60 million tons of industrial side streams
Alkali-activation for several waste streams has been commercialized in several countries worldwide highlighting the technical feasibility of the concept and the core technology. Being a platform technology, alkali-activation can be applied to a wide range of different markets starting from sustainable concrete, to railroad sleepers, and high-end fiber composites
One challenge involves assessing which side stream materials are suitable for which customers. Extensive analysis work is required in this regard.
We have a number of products from our side streams, but we have to come up with new options the whole time. This is why we carry out extensive sampling procedures in order to analyse and control the qualities of our material and work out the industries for which the material might be useful. We have to be innovative and constantly think along new lines.
The technology upscaled in the Min-Pet project can be used to valorise other similar industrial side streams as well, such as fly ashes and slags.
There are roughly 60 million tons of inorganic industrial side streams that are landfilled in EU per annum, highlighting the need for these kind of upscaling projects.
As the concept of utilizing industrial side streams using alkali-activation will be applied to an ever-widening number of applications, for example, molding, extrusion and fiber reinforcing, it will enable ever-higher returns to the European raw material sector.