Interview with IDENER


What is the role of IDENER, the coordinator of METALLICO, in the project? What are the next steps for the project, and what is so special about it? We talked with María Gonzalez-Moya Jimenez and Ana Lara Quijano from IDENER.


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María Gonzalez-Moya Jimenez from IDENER is the General Coordinator of METALLICO. @IDENER

What is IDENER’s role in the METALLICO project?

We are the coordinator of the project. That means that we are in charge of the consortium management. We also support the decision-making and guarantee the proper execution of all the tasks described in the Grant Agreement to reach the objectives established in the project.

Moreover, IDENER leads Work Package (WP) 2 of the METALLICO project, which is called “Digital Tools, engineering and process modeling and optimisation”. In this WP, IDENER oversees the engineering design, construction, and operation of the five pilots that will be built in the different cases studies. Also, IDENER is responsible developing the mathematical models of the processes developed in each of the five case studies, allowing to predict the behavior of the different equipment involved in each pilot. Once these activities are developed, IDENER will put all this work together in a database to create a Digital Twins Tool of the processes. Together with the Metals Inventory, this will constitute the METALLICO Digital Platform. This platform will be open access, allowing external users to modify the process parameters and simulate it under several operating conditions.

Finally, IDENER will contribute to boosting the impact of the project by participating in the Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation activities. For example, we presented METALLICO project in the RawMat Event 2023 in Athens, where we had the opportunity to discuss about the project with many different interested researchers.


The project started in January 2023. How is it going so far?

In WP1 and WP2, the work is focused on the laboratory fine-tuning of the processes that have been designed for recovering different battery metals in each of the four case studies. These processes have been already validated at the lab scale by using similar input materials, so it is necessary to optimise each process for specific materials existing in each of participating case studies. The gathered results from the experimental work will feed the mathematical models developed for each of participating chemical units and to develop the engineering designs.

Currently, the different research partners together with involved companies are working together in having the optimised flowsheets. TU Bergakademie Freiberg is studying the optimal conditions for obtaining battery-grade lithium carbonate from ores received by Lithium Iberia and other lithium deposits. Łukasiewicz-IMN is optimising a process for producing cobalt, nickel, and copper concentrates from residues produced during the refinery of lead in the mining corporation KGHM. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) is investigating the best conditions to valorise two different residues produced during the operation of the plants at Cobre Las Cruces with the focus on cobalt recovery. UPC and VTT are working to define the best pre-treatment and hydrometallurgical conditions, respectively, to obtain cobalt and manganese compounds from mining wastes of Tharsis Mining. Meanwhile, IDENER is working in parallel developing the mathematical models of each of the processes in order to have accurate predictions of the systems behaviour.


What is special about METALLICO? What do you find particularly exciting?

Nowadays, there is an important European dependence on the imports of critical battery metals, such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, copper, or nickel. For example, the EU import reliance for lithium and cobalt is 87 percent and 100 percent, respectively. In fact, these five metals are considered Critical Raw Materials by the European Commission. Thus, it is urgent and necessary to guarantee a secure supply of these metals that are needed for the development of green technologies.

To reduce this strong dependence, METALLICO is investigating new environmentally friendly processes that lead to obtain these valuable metals using European resources. Moreover, METALLICO involves different industries and companies as part of the consortium, covering the whole value chain. This is particularly interesting for reaching the targeted impacts of the project, as raw materials suppliers, processes developers, and end-users of targeted metals are together involved in the design and development of the processes. This joint approach guarantees that the technical results are aligned with the market needs, which allows the exploitation of METALLICO once the project ends.

Finally, the design of the processes is complemented with sustainability assessments and involvement of relevant external actors in the project. This contributes to demonstrate the environmental, economic and social gains of the project as well as to raise the awareness of the raw materials community in the EU.

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Ana Lara Quijano from IDENER is the Technical Coordinator of METALLICO. @IDENER

The overall objective of METALLICO is to recover raw materials from primary and secondary raw materials. Where do you see challenges here? And what opportunities are there?

Although the five METALLICO processes have been demonstrated at the laboratory scale, it is always a challenge to demonstrate that an identical performance will be achieved at higher scales near to industrial production. It requires several steps and analyses, and a joint approach, and we are in that pathway. The heterogeneity of the composition of the different primary and secondary raw materials and sometimes the low quantity of targeted metals in each of the input materials causes more process units to be needed. That can hinder economic benefits.  In the case of METALLICO, we find an ambitious project that can unite different partners with different interests and experience, but with a common objective: to make European resources have value in a sustainable way. We have the opportunity to demonstrate to society that the production of metals in a sustainable way is possible, and we are on the way to achieving it.


Tell us a little bit more about the digital (open source) platform. What are you plans within this task? What is novel and which benefits come along with this platform?

The digital platform of METALLICO will on the one hand include a database containing information (location, size, composition, etc.) about other primary and secondary sources in Europe and Chile that contain battery metals. On the other hand, it will include the digital twin of the processes including the mathematical models that are developed to predict the processes behavior under different parameters and conditions.

The platform will consist of a web interface that will be open for all stakeholders and will boost the replication of the processes and exploitation. In this tool, an external user, e.g. a financial company willing to invest in battery metals production, will be able to consult the different battery metals sources. He will also be able to check how the processes behave. Further, the different products obtained will have a specific source characterisation. In this way, this tool will help to save money and time since it will be possible to study different options for treating the desired materials in a few minutes, obtaining a first assessment of the potential of the given source. This tool will connect the different stakeholders and therefore is a common point to develop further for raw materials private or public projects.


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What will happen in the next few months within METALLICO? What are the next steps?

During the next months we will continue working on the experimental laboratory fine-tunning activities and developing the previously mentioned mathematical models. Furthermore, we will start working on the elaboration of the required engineering documentation to build and operate the 5 pilots studied in the project.

On the other hand, activities concerning the validation of the final products have started in January 2024. Five industrial partners from different sectors will engage in the validation of lithium carbonate and cobalt, copper, and nickel concentrates and compounds, testing them in a real industrial environment. Thus, these partners will be demonstrating the feasibility of commercializing these products.

Furthermore, a series of cross-cutting activities encompassing sustainability analysis, stakeholder engagement, communication, dissemination, exploitation strategy, and business plan development will also be undertaken over the coming months. These endeavors are aimed to demonstrate to society that battery metals can be produced in a sustainable way.