Don’t tell CORE’s team captain Dirk van Meer about the problems threatening our planet. Ever since his first year of high school he has been aware of the fact that the Earth’s metals are mined by people, and of the consequences this has for our planet. “Metals are usually extracted using acids, especially in Africa and China. After treatment of the ores, the acids dissolve into gigantic acid lakes. It’s almost impossible for anything to grow or live near these lakes for a period of a hundred years. Animals and plants become extinct, farmers go bankrupt, and drinking water gets poisoned.”
He knows that several researchers have come to the conclusion that Earth will run out of metals such as zinc, lithium and cobalt within 35 years. “And they are essential in 80 percent of electronics.” Van Meer says only 18 percent of all electronics is recycled.
You could say that Van Meer’s study choice was determined by this. He chose Chemical Engineering and Chemistry and joined the Honors track Energy Transition, which gave him the opportunity to find a solution to this problem, as soon as he could. Initially, he was involved in team SOLID (which uses iron powder as storage material for sustainable energy) and he founded team CORE last year as ‘kind of a spinoff.’ Team CORE consists of twelve students from diverse programs - Chemical Engineers, Sustainable Innovators, Industrial Engineers, Industrial Designers and Physicists - and is located at TU/e innovation Space.
In the core
CORE focuses on technology that makes is possible to process e-waste and other problematic waste streams. In a simple way, actually. “We are going to recycle metals in the same way Earth does, only quicker, because it takes Earth three million years. CORE wants a factory than can process 50,000 tons per year to be up and running by 2024. It’s still a computer model now, but we hope to have a proof of concept next year. A reactor that primarily processes batteries, but other e-waste from electronics and solar panels as well.” The name CORE refers to the Earth’s core where a similar process takes place with a high temperature under high pressure.
The reactor is heated by external sources, but once the desired temperature is reached, a smart mix inside the reactor allows it to heat itself for a period of three weeks. “We use waste streams that otherwise would have been burned, asbestos tiles for instance, and other complicated energy producing residual materials such as filter cloths.” Van Meer aptly summarizes it as follows: “CORE wants to become the circular economy’s drain.”
The e-waste disintegrates and as a result of this process, the following products are eventually produced: metals, slag, and a mineral layer. The metals can be sold directly to metal producer Tata Steel and zinc producer Nyrstar. CORE has already established contacts with both companies. The mineral layer consists primarily of shining black obsidian that can be used to absorb CO2. “We want to construct an obsidian path in collaboration with road construction company NTP next year in order to measure the effects of obsidian on the CO2 concentration on roads.” At the main picture you see Dirk van Meer holding a piece of obsidian.
Are you interested in working with team CORE? Contact the team via Info@. core-chemistry.com