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For more than 20 years now, many developed countries and large industrial companies have been implementing the idea of a "cyclical economy". This means waste-free production. Even those with access to cheap natural resources are starting to think about recycling these raw materials. Knowing that minerals are a non-renewable resource, these companies increasingly prefer to recycle industrial waste. Moreover, it is often less expensive for a business to use recy

18 July 2016

Examples are not difficult to find. Take, for example, the sector that until recently accounted for more than a third of Ukrainian GDP — the metals industry. Globally, steel mills produce a significant amount of waste — used firebricks and other materials in steel manufacturing (limestone, dolomite, magnesite, etc.). Foreign producers of refractory products have found a new application for them. Used refractory products and limestone are recycled to give life to new firebricks for furnaces. For example, 45% of broken refractory products can be recycled. Bricks from recycled materials are 2–4 times cheaper than new ones. This has a palpable effect on steel manufacturers: they pay less for raw materials, reduce the warehousing cost for waste (environmental tax) and save space in scrap dumps, which are often 50–95% full. In addition, this represents a responsible attitude to such natural resources as clay, kaolin and magnesite from the quarry. Metal producers can recycle used materials independently or outsource the process. There are already examples around the world. The leaders in outsourcing of metal waste recycling include HARSCO, Horn&CoMineralsRecovery and LKAB Minerals. It interesting that RHI (Austria), the world's largest manufacturer of refractory products, is also the major lobbyist of initiatives for recycling used refractory products.

The nonferrous metals industry is also attracting the attention of foreign industrialists. Platinum, gold, copper, and aluminum are all valuable raw materials with a high cost of production and processing. The existing deposits of these minerals are gradually being depleted and new ones are either poorer or located in less accessible areas. And in any case, the cost of production is increasing, so the issue of re-extracting them from final products is becoming increasingly relevant. For example, the world has long been working on a technology for aluminum extraction from so called "red mud" — waste from aluminum mining and processing complexes and factories that still contains some of this nonferrous metal.

The energy sector is another large supplier of recyclable materials. It involves a raw material which does not take up large areas, causes no significant environmental harm at first glance and is almost invisible. But it is a very valuable resource. I am talking about coal-bed methane, a gas that often creates problems for miners. Foreign companies have turned this challenge into an opportunity by pumping methane out of mines and using it to generate electricity and heat. This electricity is often used by the mines themselves. Their interest is obvious. Methane causes problems during coal production, and its emissions can kill miners. Forced pumping of the gas minimizes these risks, and using it reduces the price mining companies pay for electricity on the external market. Many mines in Poland and the Czech Republic use this model of self-sufficiency. Another option is selling the electricity to the wholesale market. What does this mean for Ukraine? Coal-bed methane released here annually is estimated at more than 1 billion cubic meters. The average Ukrainian mine releases about 15–20 million cubic meters into the atmosphere per year. Rough calculations indicate that this volume is enough to cover the annual demand for electricity of about 22,000 families. This figure may look modest within the context of a whole country. But given the importance of alternatives to natural gas and coal, electricity in every house makes a difference.

Ukrainian industry has a number of other opportunities for recycling materials and by-products. For example, at UMG we are working on projects for the reuse of coal combustion waste from Ukrainian coal-fired CHP plants, as well as rare and technical gases from domestic metal works. I am convinced that, sooner or later, domestic companies will be more actively seeking and acting on such opportunities; some will be motivated by concern for the environment and some by the cost savings.

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Dmitriy Anufriev
UMG Strategy Director