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A joint laboratory of circular economy was opened in Otaniemi

The Geological Survey of Finland, VTT and Aalto University work together with industry to develop solutions for the needs of a carbon-neutral and resource-efficient society.
Kiertotalouslaboratorio, Ted Nuorivaara
Doctoral candidate Ted Nuorivaara. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

The Circular Raw Materials Hub is a nationally significant strategic infrastructure assessed by the Academy of Finland. It serves a wide range of stakeholders, such as the growing battery industry. Five million euros have been invested in the infrastructure of the joint laboratory, which will be inaugurated today. It will serve research and industry as well as educate future experts in the circular economy.

The global economy swallows 92.8 billion tonnes of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass annually. Only nine per cent of this returns back into circulation, which threatens the climate, adequacy of resources and opportunities for sustainable growth.

Geological Survey of Finland, VTT and Aalto University will use the new joint laboratory to seek for new synergies for the research into inorganic materials and metals, and for the development of recycling and recovery. The laboratory is a central part of a wider infrastructure in Otaniemi, a district of Espoo, which is complemented by other research infrastructures, such as VTT’s materials technology laboratories in Tampere, piloting centre Bioruukki in Espoo and the GTK enrichment technology test plant in Outokumpu (GTK Mintec).

‘Solving the challenges of the circular economy and sustainable growth requires a cross-disciplinary approach, deep cooperation between researchers and companies, and a top-level research infrastructure. Our new joint laboratory is a concrete step in this direction. It also enables the training of future problem solvers,’ says Director Saku Vuori from the Geological Survey of Finland.

Akkujen kierrätys
BATCircle consortium promotes the circular economy of battery metals. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

Aalto University's Assistant Professors Rodrigo Serna and Mari Lundström and their research groups are amongst the researchers moving into the new laboratory. Mari Lundström is in charge of the BATCircle consortium, which promotes the circular economy of battery metals. Four universities, two research institutes and 23 companies are involved in the consortium. The storage of renewable energy and the electrification of transport will increase the need for battery metals, and the consortium's aim is to create a battery market of up to five billion euros in Finland.

‘The new facilities are ideal for studying the circular economy of metals: the laboratory allows for the study and development of almost all unit processes from recycled electronic waste and the enrichment of minerals to high-purity metal products. Close and long-term cooperation with companies in the sector supports both research and industrial activities in the circular economy of metals,’ says Lundström.

‘Consumers are increasingly interested in the origin of materials and the responsibility of primary production. The traceability of minerals is an example of an area that we promote with the help of research equipment purchased with funding from the Academy of Finland. The increase in the use of batteries needed by the energy revolution has resulted in, for example, a very high demand for lithium. There is no significant previously produced reserve of lithium that could be used in recycling. For this reason, it is essential to ensure that the sustainability of primary production remains an integral part of the sustainably growing circular economy,’ Vuori states. 

From VTT research groups of research area managers Tarja Laitinen and Tuulamari Helaja will move to the premises of the joint laboratory. The teams focus on developing solutions promoting the circular economy of the industrial sector. Important themes in the circular economy project include sustainable recovery processes, utilisation of industrial side streams in products with high added value and digital material development. VTT has, for example, developed coatings that insulate electricity from the leftover sand discharged at the mines, also known as tailings, which is even more resistant to wear than coatings made from similar primary raw materials.

‘The Circular Raw Material Hub brings together research actors in the value chain of mineral-based raw materials to envision solutions for the needs of a carbon-neutral and resource-efficient society. When companies find genuine business opportunities in the circular economy, the world will rapidly undergo major changes,’ says Tarja Laitinen.

‘A total of 5 million euros has been invested in the new joint infrastructure, 70 per cent of which is FIRI funding provided by the Academy of Finland. The plan is that significant investments will also be made in the future,’ says Professor Jari Koskinen from Aalto University.

Further information:

Aalto University
Professor, Head of Department Jari Koskinen
[email protected]
+358 50 5956 677

Geological Survey of Finland
Director, Scientific Research Saku Vuori
[email protected]
+ 358 400 249 085

Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT
Vice President, Lifecycle solutions, Tarja Laitinen
[email protected]
+358 40 8222 905

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