The participants of the 3rd project meeting of the Helmholtz Sustainability Challenge project FINEST - © Lisa Jungheim

Targeted qualification for a sustainable circular economy

Industrial processes inevitably produce fine-grained residues. Researchers in the FINEST project are looking for solutions to reintroduce these various fine material streams of anthropogenic origin into the industrial value chain. A key contribution will be made by doctoral students who are being trained in the graduate school that is part of the project. During the three-year doctoral programme, the twelve doctoral students will receive targeted training in order to gain a holistic view of research in the field of resource extraction. They will use their knowledge to create and apply solutions for a sustainable circular economy in the future.

The five-year FINEST project, coordinated by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) at the Helmholtz Centre Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), was launched in July last year, in which researchers from the six participating institutions are working on fine materials of anthropogenic origin such as microplastics, mineral additives and metal-containing dusts. To date, there are hardly any recycling options for these substances. Using innovative processes, the researchers want to develop new concepts for their processing in order to keep them in the cycle and safely dispose of any remaining residues.

A key component of the project work is a graduate school in which students are trained to become interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary experts in efficient resource management. In recent months, the graduate school team led by Prof Urs Peuker from TU Bergakademie Freiberg selected twelve doctoral students in an international call for applications. At the project meeting in Karlsruhe, the budding experts in resource management have now been formally accepted into the graduate school.

"I am delighted that we can finally get started and hope that these activities will support the scientific and professional careers of the doctoral students. The interplay between our own research activities and the transfer of additional relevant knowledge is an important building block for a holistic education. The wide-ranging field of the circular economy in particular, where there is a very high demand for excellent specialists and managers in the economy, benefits scientifically and technologically from the concept of a graduate school," explains Urs Peuker.

In addition to specialised courses, doctoral students also attend interdisciplinary courses such as "Life Cycle Thinking", "Industrial Ecology" and "Data Management". Workshops aimed at expanding students' transdisciplinary knowledge and understanding also play an important role. With the specialist and transfer knowledge they acquire, the young professionals should preferably work in the industrial sector. The aim of this "transfer via minds" is to ensure a transformation towards holistic value chains and thus contribute to a sustainable circular economy.

FINEST is one of three projects that won the Sustainability Challenge organised by the Helmholtz Association and will therefore receive funding totalling 5 million euros. The consortium consists of the HZDR, the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the TU Bergakademie Freiberg and the University of Greifswald. Waste streams consisting of organic, mineral and metallic fine particles are being analysed in three sub-projects in order to achieve innovative, high-quality recycling and safe landfilling of the remaining residues. Material characterisations, findings on technological processes and a technological and economic-ecological evaluation are intended to promote the exchange between the sub-projects as cross-sectional tasks and thus promote the overall recycling and further use of the materials.