US consortium tackles metals recovery

A US consortium of private and educational groups is working to find new ways to reduce waste and recover more useable materials in metals processing.

The effort is part of the Materials Recovery Technologies for Defense Supply Resiliency (MRT-DSR) run through Army Research Labs (ARL), in support of President Joe Biden’s 2021 Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains, which directs the US Department of Defense (DOD) to identify and address risks in the supply chain for critical minerals and materials.  

Gopher Resource is the founding industrial member of the consortium, which consists of five industry members and seven U.S. and international universities. During the appropriations process, Joseph Grogan, chief technology officer at Gopher Resource, worked with leaders from Worcester Polytechnic Institute to discuss this initiative with Congress and outline its benefits. 

“The issues of supply chain security and circularity had unanimous support from everyone we talked to when setting up this consortium,” Grogan said.

“We’re excited to partner with world-class research institutes on this important initiative to secure critical raw materials by developing advanced methods that minimize waste and promote sustainable practices.”  

As a member of the consortium, Gopher Resource will facilitate seven projects focused on greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, critical metals recovery, and waste valorization/minimization. These efforts will support nearshoring by developing recycling technologies for recovering critical metals with improved environmental standards. 

To date, the consortium has received over US$15 million in congressional funding from a $25 million ceiling, with more than $5 million secured for the projects Gopher Resource will be facilitating.  

The first project, already underway, is using advanced heat transfer technology from the solar energy industry to recover waste heat during the recycling process, making it more energy efficient. This is an industry first for the novel technique and Gopher Resource is working with partners to commercialize this technology.  

For the second project, Gopher Resource is working with the University of Minnesota Natural Resource Research Institute in Duluth, and a group of local partners to study the use of charcoal from biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels. This project goal is to create a sustainable supply chain that would reduce Gopher Resource’s Scope 1 CO2 net impact by up to 30%, and eventually scale to allow other recyclers to reduce their GHG impact. 

Future projects that Gopher Resource will be facilitating will focus on advancing the fundamentals of critical metals recovery and waste valorization/minimization, including finding new product uses for slag and recovering acid from batteries.  

“When our work is complete, we expect that these technologies will be available to the commercial market and will play an important role in developing a low-carbon and diverse economy,” Grogan said.

“One that creates new jobs in recycling, metals recovery and manufacturing, and supports a robust and sustainable domestic supply chain.”