NEMO stands for “Near-zero-waste recycling of low-grade sulphidic mining waste for critical-metal, mineral and construction raw-material production in a circular economy”. NEMO develops, demonstrates and exploits new ways to valorise sulphidic mining waste. Focus is on the upscaling of innovative pilots, which comprise the bioleaching of sulphidic waste, the recovery of metals (Cu, Zn, Co, Ni, REE, Mn), the removal of sulphur as sulphate salts and the use of the mineral fraction in cement and concrete applications. 

NEMO project 

With an estimated volume of 600 Mtonne/yr and a historic stockpile of 28,000 Mtonne, sulphidic mining waste from the production of Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni, represents the largest volume of extractive waste in Europe. When poorly managed, these “tailings” may cause major environmental problems such as acid mine drainage. In 2016 EIP Raw Materials launched a “call to arms” to transform the “extractive-waste problem” into a “resource-recovery opportunity”, as “tailings” still contain valuable & critical metals. 

To support meeting this challenge, NEMO has established an interdisciplinary consortium, including 8 industrial partners (2 mining, 4 engineering, 1 machine manufacturing & 1 construction material company), 4 research institutes, 2 universities and 1 civil society group.  

NEMO Pilots 

Using a “4 PILOTS – 2 case-studies” concept, NEMO develops, demonstrates and exploits, new ways to valorise sulphidic mining waste. The 4 PILOTS are located at key points in the near-zero-waste flowsheet, encompassing the recovery of valuable & critical metals, the safe concentration of hazardous elements, the removal of sulphur as sulphate salts, while using the residual mineral fraction in cement, concrete and construction products. 

NEMO impact  

NEMO’s near-zero-waste technology will provide the EU with both direct and long-term, indirect advantages. The former range from new resources (e.g. base metals: Cu, Zn, Ni, Au; critical metals: Co, Sc, Nd, Y, Sb; SCM and aggregates etc.), CO2 savings from metal recovery and the replacement of Ordinary Portland Cement), new job creation, new revenues from the multiplication of the former benefits, while eradicating acid-mine drainage and other environmental issues, and ensuring an enhanced dialogue (framework) between industry and civil society, to obtain and maintain the License to Operate mines in EU.  

The NEMO project is very timely as it can contribute to achieve the objectives of the EU Green Deal as the transition towards a climate neutral economy is highly resource intensive. The research can unlock a huge potential for the resource recovery from residues and waste streams, and as such push for another necessary step towards a circular economy. 

VITO’s contribution 

Within the NEMO project, VITO is studying the valorisation of tailings as artificial aggregates (sand) for construction and as cement replacement. VITO is also building a pilot installation for the production of artificial aggregates (capacity ~~ 1 ton/day). 

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