Mining the Technosphere: Solutions for Industrial Ecosystems

This is a slide video of the presentation given by Rolf Widmer and David Rochat at the Oil Drum/ASPO Conference at Alcatraz, Italy in June 2009. Rolf and David work at EMPA and SOFIES on more efficient material management for industrial society. Their talk is about the flows, availability, and recycling of minerals in industrial ecosystems, called Mining the Technosphere: a Solution for the Industrial Ecosystem (Presentation PDF no.1 no.2, 1.8 MB each).

Mining the Technosphere: a Solution for the Industrial Ecosystem? from Rembrandt Koppelaar on Vimeo.

I apologize for the poor sound quality, if there are Oil Drum readers who have expertise in sound editing and can tell me how to upgrade the quality besides basic noise removal please contact me at contact @

Informative presentations, thanks to the authors and the poster.

It is good to see that there is a market for smart people to conduct research on materials flows, reuse, recycling, etc.

Add this to the list of Post-Peak future jobs from the previous thread on that subject. People who reason out the flows and strategies and people who do the grunt work of picking apart the waste, binning it, transporting it, reconfiguring it, etc.

Are there degrees being offered in this area?

My LCD monitor has started fading in and out a little...I will use it as long as practical. I wonder how LCDs are recycled, and who I can give it to in the U.S.

Very good presentation(not excellent only due to technical difficulties).
But getting from BAU to there seems insurmountable.
We obviously need legislation mandating recycled content.

Successful experiences in implementing recycling channels have shown that it is the creation of incentives (usually economic incentives) that is a key to success, much more than legislation... Once your system works and that the different actors understand their duties and responsibilities, a legislation can simply define the roles and rules of the game.

Implementing recycling channels from scratch has too often failed, mainly in developing countries, because the first thing that is done is to write a complex legislation that ends up being impossible to implement. You first need to understand the dynamics of the system, and what will divert material flows to the desired process.

but of course, it's all about a smart balance between the carrot and the stick!

A few years ago I brought together Six Senses Resorts, who were developing a resort on an island in Thailand, with the local recyclers on that island. What resulted was a coordinated waste management and recycling program that benefited the island's environment and it's economy.

When I heard these presentations live, I thought they were really excellent. They mentioned ideas most of us had never heard about. The speakers were from Switzerland, and talked about what is being done there.

Some new ideas:

The idea of figuring out how much rare minerals might be available, and planning for their recycling, was a new one.

Also, the idea of disassembling electronic goods for their rare minerals, in something like a factory, with much better attention to the health of workers than in China, was something we had never considered. This approach seems to even be making money.

One idea mentioned was stockpiling some parts for possible reprocessing later, if these parts contained a rare mineral that was not high enough priced now to justify recycling, but might be later.

Yes, this came up in conversation recently with an academic from one of our top universities with major links to the waste industry.
Landfill mining has started in Scotland - a stockpile of sorts.

Via a Goggle search I found this.

...' I use Audition most of the time. it is the newer addition of Cool Edit (since Adobe bought the Co.) there is a reduce echo effect. it usually gets most of the way out, then i go in and fine tune it by just bringing each "frame" of sound up or down a Db or 2.

I hope this helps. i can;t tell you exactly what to do. it is more of a trial and error on each piece'...


Dag, do you have any reference about landfill mining in Scotland (or elsewhere)?

Rolf also talked about Switzerland potentially becoming the 'battery' of Europe, given its topography and ability to scale pumped storage of hydro, which I thought was a cool idea. I will ask him to write something up on that topic - smart, engaged people at that conference...

Nate, I have dropped some info here ( and I hope to find some time to expand this a bit further. Grande Dixence ( stores approx. 2TWh of potential energy. With a conversion efficiency of 90% this would result in approx. 1.8TWh electrical energy. If this electricity would have to be produced with oil one would require approx. 4Mbarel. And if we would replace the lake with a modern Li-Ion battery (200Wh/kg) it would weigh at least 9Mio tonnes!

A large part of the storage capacity of the Grande Dixence scheme is not the dam, though. It is the 35 glaciers which buffer the complex hydraulic system. Currently the Alps loose their glacier mass at an alarming rate and it might well be that a considerable part of the dam capacity will become idle and can be used to store renewable energy harvested elsewhere in Europe (besides the large quantity of nuclear and and other base production which is already used for pumping and stored in the lake to cover peak demand), rolf_w

Very interesting presentation, excellent ideas, all countries should be doing this type of recycling whatever resources are available in future.

One of the main messages I wanted to get across with my presentation was that 'peak anything' is a tricky concept: applied to FF it simply means the stuff (summed up under the bell shape curve)is gone forever. For other resources such as metals this is more complex as the stocks, if well managed, do not disappear they are first transfered from the lithosphere to the technosphere and then within the technosphere from one technology to another. Thus there still is the phenomenon of peak stocks and flows but for other reasons. One example I presented is the CRT (TV and PC monitor) which is disappearing quickly from the shop shelves and the dissolving stock releases large amounts of leaded glass. In Switzerland peak CRT glass was in 2000 at approx. 110'000t and most of this glass left the country already. The problem with this material is that currently we don't have a new application for it - thus the question is where to shift the stock to? Another metal of concern is Cd where we are about to release large amounts from NiCd batteries which are to be abandoned soon - where to go with this stock? One path could be solar PV in CdTe thin films - is that a good stock?
In order to manage material stocks and flows the global society requires a much better perception and knowledge of the 'geology of the technosphere'...


Most interesting and so far off our radar (thinking in terms of embedded stocks in materials that we use) that I only realise this point now even after seeing your presentation several times.

as you say Rembrandt, thinking about the embedded materials in stocks of equipments we use can change the way we manage material flows: Rolf has been pointing out mainly problematic materials, embedded in equipments that are not attractive to us any more, such as lead in CRT screens or Cadmium in batteries. This poses the question of what should be done with these obsolete stocks? Rolf suggests that some stocks could be stored until we find a useful application, which would avoid dispersing these materials to where they will not be recoverable any more (e.g. CRT screens are being spread out into rural areas of developing nations, trickling down the 2nd hand market)

But you can also imagine a "positive" embedding of materials, which would actually create incentives to close material loops. For example, the European RoHS directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics) bans the use of lead in soldering material. One option for replacing lead is to use a silver based material, which actually increases the value of waste electronics (value of material / kg), thus creating an even greater economic interest to recycle electronics!

We could imagine such strategies for problematic wastes: imagine that you inject a few milligrams of diamonds (or any very precious material) in batteries, and I'm sure you won't find any in the trash can any more!