Circular Economy in the Raw Materials Sector

Minerals, metals and other raw materials are crucial for the technologies we rely on every day, from lightbulbs to smartphones to wind turbines. As technology advances, industry demands a higher quantity and wider diversity of these raw materials.

Securing a sustainable supply of raw materials in Europe requires a transition toward a circular economy including reduced waste and improved recycling. In 2020-2021, Skills for the Future students from around Slovenia will work with industry mentors to take on the challenge.

Slovenia Idea Camp

The Skills for the Future Idea Camp was divided into 2 days and held online due to the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 82 students from 10 schools from across Slovenia attended this event that took place in November 2020.

Before working on their innovations, students had an outstanding opportunity to attend the lecture from a special guest: Aleš Ugovšek from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia.

The theme for this year’s idea Camp was magnets and DOMEL – a Slovenian electric motor manufacturer – was invited to discuss the topic and prepare the challenges for students to work on.

Students had to pick one problem out of the following questions:

  1. How to set up a recycling system for rare earths in the EU?
  2. How to reduce the EU’s economic dependence on foreign markets by reducing rare earth consumption?

Students were placed in separate online rooms to work together and brainstorm their ideas for innovations. A mentor list was provided, where students could check out each mentor’s area of expertise and availability.

The winning teams presented the following ideas:

The idea is based on a partnership with DeepGreen, a company that extracts rare metals from the ocean (cobalt, nickel, and copper) in a more environmentally friendly way. The students would use the resulting rare metals to make motors with SmCu magnets, which are more durable, require less corrosion protection than NdFeB magnets, and are therefore easier to recycle. In this way, they would support the transition from conventional electric motors to the production of more environmentally friendly induction electric motors.

The students noticed that ordinary keyboards could break down quickly, so they came up with an idea to make them last longer. The students would replace the mechanical keys on the keyboard with a magnetic plate that would work in the same way, except that instead of keys, they would use push-type magnets. The keys would be made of environmentally friendly materials, and for people working in specific sectors, they would be made of more robust materials.

This idea is about purchasing discarded electrical appliances and resale their valuable components and materials (copper, silver, aluminum, batteries, screens, magnets, etc.). The students would install collection boxes around the cities to allow users to dispose of their discarded devices. They would also develop an application that would enable the users to locate the nearest collection site and find all the necessary information to receive a reimbursement for their device.

This idea is about the design of a toothbrush with an aluminum handle and a replaceable bamboo head. The brush is environmentally friendly, as the bamboo decomposes quickly, and the handle is intended for multiple uses.

The brushes would have an ergonomic aluminum handle that enables comfortable use. The head would be made of bamboo containing an antibacterial substance called bamboo marten, which protects it from pests and bacteria while not harming the gums. Aluminum retains its sterility much better than plastic, being an ideal material for a handle. The brush would be aesthetically designed, and it would have the option of engraving personalised text.

We Are Looking for Mentors!

Join us and share your knowledge and experience with student teams a few times over the academic year.