North East Centre & IOSH Joint Open Meeting

The next 14th July 2017, the School of Environmental Sciences of the University of Hull will host the CIWM North East Centre & IOSH Environmental & Waste Management Group Joint Open Meeting.

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Professor Dan Parsons from the Institute of Energy and the Environment will welcome the participants and Dr Pauline Deutz will present a talk “Circular economy and resource security: recovering metals from legacy Wastes“.

This event is free of charge

Contact:  Gail Gray, MCIWM
gail.gray@environment-agency.gov.uk

Detailed information can be found here.

Circular Economy driving international sustainable development research

By Anne Velenturf, Pauline Deutz and Andrea Cecchin

The International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS) held a very successful annual conference last week in Bogotá, Colombia. With over 200 presentations from every corner of the world and 9 key notes plus a welcome by the President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Juan Manuel Santos, the conference reflected the diversity and crucial role of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for environmental health, peace keeping and the circular economy.

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The circular economy continues to be a popular topic for ISDRS. A special track on Circular Economy, Industrial Ecology (resource management and sustainable regional economic development) included 12 presentations on this subject. Additionally, other sessions contained 5 presentations on circular economy while there were a further 15 talks on waste and resource management and/or sustainable production and consumption.

The fact that the circular economy and sustainable waste and resource management resonated throughout the ISDRS conference should not be a surprise. Analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) show that 12 of the 17 goals contain targets to improve waste and resource management directly, excluding targets on for example education, policy and finance which can indirectly enhance sustainable waste and resource management. The global goals on affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, and life below water and on land contain the highest proportions of targets aiming to alter waste and resource flows in our economy. Overall the UN SDGs propose far-reaching changes for industry.

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This emphasises the importance of circular economy and industrial ecology for sustainable development. Presentations at the ISDRS conference indicated, however, that circularity cannot be a dogma because it might not be the best strategy for achieving resource efficiency or sustainability at all times. Instead, we need to consider circular economy in the broader perspective of sustainable development.

Circular economy presentations at the ISDRS included both developing and developed country perspectives. In both cases the construction industry is an area of concern, given the scale of waste produced, but especially noting the continuing rate of urbanisation in developing countries such as Colombia. Additionally, in the context of developing countries the informal economy tends to play a significant role (both in waste management and construction).

Other talks indicated that there is a need to develop approaches fostering circular practices, such as industrial symbiosis, which reach beyond large companies. Context needs to be considered in industrial symbiosis evolution, with different pathways illustrated for urban and rural settings. Pathways are also likely to differ in developed and developing countries due to different socioeconomic and political conditions.

Such differences highlight the need for a flexible framework and specific implementation strategies for developed and developing countries. A common framework for circular economy does not exist yet, not least since various current frameworks propose different visions of sustainability. These differences are also reflected in the confusing range of terms used in circular economy discourse, as precise terminology is yet to be established.

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Image source: Denise Reike, Walter Vermeulen and Sjors Witjes (2017) The circular economy: New or Refurbished as CE 3.0? – Exploring Controversies in the Conceptualisation of the Circular Economy through a Focus on History and Resource Retention Options. Presentation at ISRDS 14-16 June Bogotá, Colombia http://programme.exordo.com/isdrs2017/delegates/presentation/320/

Engagement with policy makers is also important to steer both the design and implementation of regulations, as was illustrated by case studies from tyre recycling and mining of legacy waste. A further presentation emphasised policy makers can be receptive to academic engagement, with an on-going two-way process of exchange the ideal way to manage this.

A lively discussion after the talks summarised suggestions for further circular economy and industrial ecology research:

  • Social aspects related to circular economy
  • Circular business models and business model innovation
  • The role of participatory approaches as an essential part of implementing circular economies
  • The socio-political implications and possibilities of shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices
  • The role of economic cycles in the adoption of a circular economy framework in national economies and industries
  • Further research the role of geographic proximity in the establishment of industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the influence of geographical context on resource exchange networks
  • Investigate the role and contribution of private brokers and governmental facilitators to foster industrial symbiosis
  • Research to integrate urban symbiosis with industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the adoption of circular economy models for the construction sector, especially in developing countries with higher population growth in urban areas
  • The role and contribution of the informal economy when designing and implementing a circular economy framework in developing countries
  • The role of formal and informal institutions (for example regulation and the presence of collaborative culture respectively), also in relation to the implementation of law enforcement
  • Adoption of circular practices by SMEs

We look forward to contributions to continue the debate at next year’s conference, which will be hosted by the University of Messina, Italy, 13-15 June 2018.

Anne Velenturf is the coordinator of the Resource Recovery from Waste programme at the University of Leeds and managing director of 4Innovation Research and Consultancy. Pauline Deutz is a Reader at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Hull and vice president of the International Sustainable Development Research Society. Andrea Cecchin is a Fellow at the Archives of Sustainability at Ca’Foscari University of Venice and Project Researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.

New paper in ES&T on vanadium leaching from steel slag published!

Our latest paper on the leaching of vanadium from steel slag is published open access in Environmental Science and Technology this month.

Vanadium is a potential aquatic pollutant that can be released when steel slags are weathered, either during disposal or in conditioning of the material so it can be re-used as aggregate.  Our study aimed to improve our understanding of how vanadium is released from slags into the surrounding environment using a range of geochemical techniques.

We found that vanadium is more readily released under aerobic conditions and that its release to water is controlled by calcium vanadate mineral phases.  We also observed significant accumulation of newly-formed calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H) phases in a rind around the surface of slag that is weathered.  These surface minerals are also important in taking up some vanadium from solution.

An understanding of these weathering processes helps give us greater insight into the potential environmental risks of slag processing and re-use.  The observed leaching and precipitation processes on the surface of the slag have positive implications for slag after-uses (e.g. as an aggregate).  The presence of a surface rind may limit (or significantly slow) further dissolution, preventing significant alkalinity generation or the release of metals to the environment.

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Written by Dr William Mayes (R3AW) University of Hull

New publication available online

A new paper entitled “Hydraulic and biotic impacts on neutralisation of high-pH waters has just been published online and in open access on the journal Science of the Total Environment. This paper is available here.

Our research showed that cascades lower pH and alkalinity more successfully than ponds, and that configuration should be adopted, if possible, in the passive treatment of high-pH waters.

 

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We could also observe that biofilms promote neutralisation due to CO2 from respiration. In fact, photosynthesis and respiration in biofilms induce a diurnal effect at high pH. The pH variation in biofilm colonized systems shows a diurnal cycle of 1 to 1.5 pH units due to CO2 uptake and release associated with respiration and photosynthesis. However, the hydraulic configuration has more influence on neutralisation of alkaline waters than biofilm.

The management of alkaline (pH 11-12.5) leachate is an important issue associated with the conditioning, afteruse or disposal of steel slags (an important by-product of the steel industry). Passive in-gassing of atmospheric CO2 is a low cost option for reducing  alkalinity,  producing calcium carbonate.

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View of the biofilm colonized systems used in the experiments

 

Can slag heaps help save the planet?

A new research project with Dr Phil Renforth (Cardiff University) has been highlighted in The Guardian. You can read the full article here.

This new three-year project, which has just been awarded a £300,000 grant by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), aims to to test the feasibility of using iron and steel slag deposits to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and it is set to begin in Consett, County Durham, and Port Talbot, south Wales.

During the process of steel-making, iron ore is mixed with limestone or dolomite and heated to extremely high temperatures. The end results are steel and slag, a waste mixture of calcium and magnesium silicates and oxides. Piles of this ore-processing leftover have been dumped around the countryside over several centuries.

“Often these heaps have been landscaped very nicely,” said Renforth, who has worked on the project with Will Mayes of Hull University. “There is one in Consett that has been turned into lovely parkland where people can walk their dogs. They are all round the country. Wherever we have made iron, we have left a pile of slag.”

Earlier research by Renforth has shown that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by material inside slag heaps. “We now want to see if we can improve the rate of this absorption so that can we make significant reductions in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide in the future,” added Renforth.

To do this, Renforth’s project will proceed in two stages. “First, we will drill into one of these old, historic slag heaps and see what has been happening there over the years and understand what chemical processes have been going on as rainwater has brought carbon dioxide into the heap.

“And then we will start the second stage. We will create our own mini-heap – about the size of a skip – and play with its chemistry to try to optimise its ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.” These slag-based carbon sequestrators could then be used as models of larger devices that could reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere, Renforth added.

The UK produces 3-4m tonnes of slag a year while the total global production is estimated as being about 500m tonnes a year at present. However, this rate could increase as developing nations catch up, added Renforth. “Our calculations suggest that we might produce between 100bn and 200bn tonnes of slag cumulatively by the end of this century,” added Renforth. “That has the potential to remove 50-100bn tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, we believe.”

New paper on Geoforum

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A new paper from our team at the University of Hull has just been published on the journal  Geoforum. The paper entitled “Resource recovery and remediation of highly alkaline residues: a political industrial ecology approach to building a circular economy” is now online, on open access.

 

We focused on the valorisation of highly alkaline industrial residues, such as steel slag, bauxite processing residue (red mud) and ash from coal combustion, which have been  identified as stocks of potentially valuable metals. Currently, there is demand for metals, such as vanadium and certain rare earth elements, in electronics associated with renewable energy generation and storage.

Current raw material and circular economy policy initiatives in the EU and industrial ecology research all promote valorisation, primarily from an environmental science perspective. This paper begins to address the research gap into the governance of resource recovery from a novel situation, where reuse involves extraction of a component from a bulk residue that itself represents an environmental risk.

Past and current arrangements produced a complex blend of ownership and liabilities

Taking a political industrial ecology approach, we present emerging techniques for recovery and consider their regulatory implications in the light of potential environmental impacts. The paper draws on EU and UK regulatory framework for these residues along with semi-structured interviews with industry and regulatory bodies. A complex picture emerges of entwined ownerships and responsibilities for residues, with past practice and policy having a lasting impact on current possibilities for resource recovery.

 

Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

Without life, Planet Earth would look, smell, sound and work in live. For life the human eye can easily see (trees, lions, termites, corals, seaweed) the impact of life is pretty obvious, although it is still often more profound than you might think. For micro-organisms (bacteria, algae, archaea, fungi), this impact sometimes gets overlooked. Making this deficit of recognition much worse is the sheer age of the time when the pre-microbe Earth was first changed to the insistent push of microbial activity. The oldest land vertebrates (~385 million years ago), land plants (~472 million years ago), land arthropods (~490 million years ago), coral (~465 million years ago) and fern-like marine organism (~565 million years ago) are pretty recent innovations compared to the oldest microbes (at least 3,500 million years). Strangely, this makes identifying the range of impacts on Planet Earth quite difficult to establish: we have almost no fossil record of the Earth without them.

This is why a group of us put the 2017 Lyell meeting together. We wanted to lift the lid on the range, significance and complexity of the way micro-organisms impact of planet earth today, and explore the significance of this impact in the past. Only through bringing these impacts to light and understanding them can we understand, and even harness, these communities for the benefit of society. This is potentially as profound a journey as the first human efforts to understand the dog, the horse, cereal plants or apple orchards. If we want microbes to help in stabilising sediment in reservoirs or – very close to the heart of the R3AW project – removing the pollutants we persistently put into their environment, we need to understand how they live their lives.

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The range of impacts is simply breath-taking. Microbes can accumulate metals, make minerals form, stop sediment from being eroded and help sediment get deposited. They can even do this in dryland environment, where you would think conditions are pretty unfavourable to these communities. And they have been doing it for a long, long time.

Even for those of us who already know beyond question that we live, and have always lived, in the Age of the Microbe, Lyell ’17 expanded our horizons. Those who started the day perhaps more innocent of this emerging field of science will never quite look at the world the same way again. All of us came away more convinced than ever that the absence of microbes from the nature documentaries on our television has blinded the world to their huge importance. It is an uncharacteristic oversight that the Planet Earth team have failed to give Sir David Attenborough the opportunity to introduce us to half of the biomass our world possesses.

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Where this exploration will take us, none of us yet know. However, it is already clear that discovery of how microbes on Earth change how the planet operates is every bit as profound as the discovery of microbes beyond the Earth itself. We have made a start on this journey, but we have a very long way to go.

 Written by Dr Mike Rogerson (R3AW) University of Hull.

 

MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste. The Final meeting?

The third MAPeRR meeting and a lot has been happening since we last met! MAPeRR put together a poster of project findings for the Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) conference which was brilliantly organised by Dr Anne P.M. Velenturf in December.  We had a lot of positive comments from other conference attendees and it was great to catch up with one another and discuss our research strategy!

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Stopping for Lunch. The MAPeRR Team, From right to left; Eleni Iacovidou, Helen Baxter, John Chachladakis, Kok Siew Ng and Johnathan Bush.

At the last meeting we had decided to split off into two research groups, one focused on completing the qualitative analysis of our case study, using technology being developed by Stopford Energy and Environment, and the other research team completing a life cycle analysis which is the more quantitative analysis. The purpose of this meeting was to integrate these two sets of results and decide upon our strategy for disseminating our findings.

The morning was once again full of lively discussion and debate, as we looked at the findings of each team and decided upon who should write what and how to most effectively communicate our findings. These face to face meetings are a brilliant opportunity for us all to discuss the project and listen to one another’s perspective on what we have found.  It is an excellent way to approach research and the collaborative nature of the project means that we get a really interesting discussion going about, research findings, creating new ideas and ways of approaching the project.  After much intensive brain work we once again retreated for some much needed nourishment at “The Library” to recharge our batteries.

When we returned replenished and recharged we put together a timetable for what we need to achieve in the next couple of months. After that we went our separate ways knowing that we have got some hard work to put in, but feeling that the MAPeRR project has achieved some really interesting findings.  Watch this space to find out we will be up to next!

MAPeRR partners: The Universities of Hull (R3AW), Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey and Stopford Energy & Environment.

Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.

Lyell Meeting 2017

Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

7 March 2017, The Geological Society, Burlington House

Sedimentology and geomorphology have traditionally been seen as fields in which physical, and sometimes chemical, processes dominate completely. Even in settings where biological processes have long been recognised, for example in marine carbonates, focus has been almost entirely on metazoans. This is curious, because microbial communities since the Pre-Cambrian, have suffused all sedimentary environments on Earth, and at least half global biomass is prokaryotic. Are all these microbes simply bystanders? Recent research has hinted that they are key agents in controlling an impressive range of processes and products in sedimentology, bringing the fields of microbe palaeontology and bio-sedimentology into intimate alignment. The implications are fundamental, and pose the question“are large-scale sedimentological features actually microbial trace fossils?”.

This meeting will put the majority of life on earth back into its proper place within the sedimentary geosciences. It will shed new light on the important roles that microbial life plays in controlling how sediments erode, transport, precipitate, deposit and cement. We will explore whether microbial processes can leave signatures in sedimentary deposits that prove life was there, despite the fact that the majority of global biomass has nearly zero preservation potential. Ultimately, we will lift the lid on the exciting field of sedimentary geobiology as we collectively work towards a new paradigm of microbial sedimentology.

Call for Abstracts:

There is a call for abstracts and oral and poster contributions are invited. Abstracts should be sent in a Word document to naomi.newbold@geolsoc.org.uk by 12 January 2017. The
abstract should be approximately 500 words and include a title and acknowledgement of authors and their affiliations where possible.

Convenors:

Daniel Parsons (University of Hull)

Mike Rogerson (University of Hull)

Concha Arenas Abad (University of Zaragoza, Spain)

Gernot Arp (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Jaco Baas (University of Bangor, UK)

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Christophe Dupraz (University of Stockholm, Sweden) – Biofilms and Sediment: a ‘Geobiological Tango’

Further information: For further information about the conference please contact: Naomi Newbold, Conference Office, The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG T: 0207 434 9944 E: naomi.newbold@geolsoc.org.uk

Follow this event on Twitter: @geolsoc #lyell17

 

 

Pilot plant at Scunthorpe

The field trial at the Scunthorpe British Steel plant started this month. We are currently monitoring the existing wetland for passive treatment of the steel slag leachate. We are aiming to understand better what happens to vanadium (plant uptake / partitioning) and also to determine the treatment buffering rates. We hope to be able to publish some exciting results soon!