Metals and Minerals for the Environment

Antoine Allanore, T.B. King Assistant Professor of Metallurgy
T. Alan Hatton, Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering

Final Executive Summary

MIT’s history in the metals and minerals sector goes back over 150 years; in fact, the Department of Materials Science & Engineering was founded in 1865 as the Department of Mining. Since then MIT has put forth technological developments and research methods that are transforming numerous sectors, e.g. energy, IT, healthcare. It is proposed to replicate such effort to support the sustainability of the metal and mineral industries, enabling higher productivity, less waste, safer operations, lower energy use, supply chain traceability and community engagement. To trigger this collective effort, Professors Antoine Allanore and Alan Hatton founded the Metals and Minerals for the Environment (MME) in 2015 with funding from MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. Through its membership model, the MME provides a pathway to engage stakeholders of the metals and minerals sector with MIT faculty and students. In addition, MME interacts with communities, governments, policymakers and media, enhancing the visibility of the sector’s efforts toward sustainability.

Proposed Work

Metals and minerals products are the heart of mankind’s existence, and are the key materials for the development of sustainable paradigms in the field of energy, transportation or infrastructure. Paradoxically, the metals and minerals sector is also responsible for the anthropocene age, with exceptional global (e.g. GHG emissions) and local (e.g. carcogenics emissions) impacts.

The Metals and Minerals for the Environment (MME) seed has for primary objective to gather a community of MIT researchers and key stakeholders of the metal & minerals sector with the ultimate goal to propose innovative solutions that will shape a sustainable future for those materials. This seed work aims to help the Institute defining the underlying research challenges, and provide the grounds for a larger, research-oriented initiative focused on environmental stewardship.

It is proposed to organize 2 or 3 symposia on specific topics that are of relevance to the environment, e.g. Local impact and mitigation strategies: technical challenges to reconcile metals and mining with local communities. Each symposium will be the occasion to evaluate in what manner the remarkable innovation and research methodologies developed in our Institute can offer innovative solutions to complex problems relevant to metals and mining processes.

In preparation for the symposia, the MME team will reach out to the stakeholders of the sector (industries, non-profits and governments), and capture their requests, concerns and ideas about environment to identify the most significant challenges that the sector is facing. In parallel, the MME lead will reach to faculties that have expressed interest in order to understand their methodology and track record, and how it pertains to the identified topics. The findings will make the basis of Internal Report #1. The outcome of this work will allow to better refine the topics of each symposia and identify the most appropriate formats and keynote speakers. It is anticipated that the symposium would be a one-and-a-half day event with closed-door meeting for stakeholders and faculties, as well as a public conference. It is foreseen that the proceedings of the conference will be published.

This MME seed will help to identify and quantify targets relevant to the environmental challenge of our planet, the sector and MIT. Ultimately, a final Internal Report will provide recommendations on how to transform those targets into specific research topics, directly sponsored by a consortium of stakeholders potentially identified during this seed work.