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 imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. 82 students from 10 schools across Slovenia attended the event in November 2020.

Before starting their work on developing innovative ideas, students attended a 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. DOMEL – a Slovenian electric motor manufacturer – was invited to discuss the topic and elaborate challenges for the students.

Students chose between two challenges:

  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 worked together and brainstormed on ideas for innovations. A mentor list was provided, where students could check out the mentors‘ area of expertise and request their support.

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 an environmentally friendly way. Students would use the resulting rare metals to make motors with SmCo magnets, supporting the transition from conventional electric motors to the production of more environmentally friendly induction electric motors.

Students noticed that ordinary keyboards break down quickly, so they developed a concept to make them more durable. The mechanical keys on the keyboard would be replaced with a magnetic plate. The keys would be made of magnetic, environmentally friendly materials, and for people working in sectors where this is needed, more robust materials would be used.

This idea is about purchasing discarded electrical appliances and resell their valuable components and materials (copper, silver, aluminium, batteries, screens, magnets, etc.). Students would install several collection boxes where people could dispose of their old devices. They would develop an app to locate the nearest collection site, where users would find all the necessary information to receive compensation for their device based on the raw materials it contains.

This idea is about the design of a toothbrush with an aluminium handle and a replaceable bamboo head. The brush is environmentally friendly, as bamboo decomposes quickly, and the handle is reusable.

The aluminium handle would be ergonomic for comfortable use. The bamboo head would contain an antibacterial substance, which protects it from pests and bacteria while not harming the gums. Aluminium can be sterylised more easily than plastic, which makes it an ideal material for the handle. The brush would be aesthetically designed, and it would give 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.