Halle 09.04.2019

Markus Reuter’s career began 35 years ago in South Africa’s gold mines. Later, after spending a few years in Australia, among other places, he went to Europe and was director of technology management in the recycling industry. He seeks contact with designers and dialogues in general. In order to present his ideas and ideas for a circular economy in an unbiased manner, Markus Reuter left the industry in 2015 and since has been director of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology. He also collaborates with the Wuppertal Institute.

According to Reuter, two important factors play a role in the development of industrial plants: energy and resources. Energy efficiency is often discussed, whereas resource input is often neglected. In order to bring these two worlds together, Reuter uses the LCA (Life Cycle Analysis), and in order to obtain further scientific information, also applies entropy. Occurring questions in this context can be: ‘How much mixing do we produce in alloys, exhaust gases, solutions and slag?” “How high is the recyclability?’ So Reuter creates, with the help of others, design tools that are more comprehensive and better describe the physical whole.

In his opinion, circular economy has a philosophical message: Everything is connected. So we also have to talk to each other and different disciplines have to work together. If you take a closer look at the subject paying attention to main factors, you will see that, in addition to physics, legislation and consumer behaviour also play an important role. That’s why in the future we have to build bridges, not only between meterology and design, but also between consumers and society.

Copper for example illustrates how materials interrelate. Copper is not only essentially copper, but also a carrier for some metals such as tellurium. It is therefore necessary to consider the entirety of dynamics. If, for example, one wouldn’t want to mine a particular type of metal anymore, a whole branch could disappear as a result.

A 100 percent cycle in the circular economy is not possible due to physical laws, but an approximation should nevertheless be sought after. The question is, do we have the facilities and technologies for this?

The first new lead plant was built in Bulgaria in 2015, in the same time China built 30 plants. And, also far away from Europe, Nyrstar has built a huge lead and zinc plant that processes 700,000 tons of residues and concentrates per year. Due to the distribution of these highly professional plants it is necessary to apply reverse logistics, thinking globally and not limiting it to the EU. A good example would be South Korea, which has well developed zinc plants since 1993, and thus can recover indium and return it to the supply chain. In addition, companies such as LG and Samsung are close by and supply routes are minimized.

According to Reuter, the problem with our society is that we want to throw everything into one pot and take it apart again later. This process costs money and a lot of energy. An analogy: We stir white sugar into our coffee and would like to recycle this coffee later and recover the left over sugar. Next to this being very complicated, we regain brown coloured sugar in the end. Is this really the best way to go about a problematic?

Great thanks to Markus Reuter from Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology

text: Leonhard Burmester, Viola Nauck, Sandro Wiegand