CriticEl – Critical Elements
Critical Elements – basic research of raw materials towards a maintainable future
The evolution of the society is marked by important milestones made rocks and minerals. Once upon a time the flint stone and obsidian were highly appreciated minerals since they were the right raw materials to make stone arrowheads and blades. The stones have reached surprisingly large distances, sometimes hundred kilometres from their origin. This has been followed by the rock salt, as a sole raw material to conserve meat and other foodstuff at that time. Copper was the first industrial metal, and gold – which preserved its weight due to its resistance to oxidation – has become a generally acknowledged currency. Pound, dollar, forint, zloty – these are either weight units, the names of mints or names of the material, which has evolved to the financial system of the continent. The iron has commercialized the industry, and made a revolution in the warfare, contributing largely to the political developments in the history. Coal fuelled the emerging capitalism and industrialization, with petroleum and natural as an even more successful substitute. The uranium have caused the shock with the abuse of otherwise highly needed energy sources,
The technological revolution of our days radically reshapes the list of strongly needed raw materials which are indispensable to manufacture high-tech products. The rare earth elements are our everyday companion in the LEDs and tiny electromotors. Every car holds platinum in her exhaust system as catalyst. There are no semi-conductors without germanium. Lithium cells supply energy in our smart phone. Do we have resources of these materials? We do not know at present with certainty, since research and exploration barely touched them. The global resources are mostly in remote regions with substantial involved supply risk. By 2030, however, the lack of supply from these raw materials may break the industry seriously.
This latter group of materials is in the focus of the research planned in the frame of the CRITICEL project. Either in primary or in secondary resources, they will be accounted, their behaviour searched, recovery tested. Apart from the primary geological raw materials, which are obvious targets, others, like e-waste, spent batteries, mining wastes can be valuable sources. The research covers scales from satellite imagery to element maps made by electron microscope assisted spectrometry. Targets vary from micrograms – as REE elements from mobile phones to mineral occurrences of several sq.kms.
This is the task which is to be performed by the research engineers and professors of the University using partly national, partly EU financing, as CRITICEL project, with the active involvement of students, other cooperation partners.
If you visit these pages the latest achievements of the complex project will be published periodically in short reports, so, welcome in the CRITICEL, at the Institute of Mineralogy and Geology, University of Miskolc.
Prof. János Földessy