Materials are fundamental to the progress of any civilisation, and attempts to change the way we mine to extract materials, would be a significant step towards course correction, said B. Muthuraman, former vice chairman of Tata Steel, at the launch of the Muthuraman and Sumathi Visiting Chair in Urban Mining at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) on Tuesday.
“The world is on an unsustainable path due to the way we have lived for the past 200 years. The way we have mined, the way we have generated power, the way we have transported ourselves, the way we have indulged in conspicuous consumption...We need to correct and change our path,” said Mr. Muthuraman.
The Muthuraman and Sumathi Visiting Chair was awarded to R. Ratheesh, director, Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (CMET), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Noting that India produced nearly 3.2 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019 but recycled only 17% of this, Prof. Ratheesh said there was a lot of opportunity for improving e-waste management in an environmentally benign manner.
Notably, new energy materials, mostly used in primary and secondary (rechargeable) batteries, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and high-grade manganese oxide, are all said to be imported. The most important aspect of the circular economy, he said, is recycling lithium-ion batteries. “The country has a lot of black mass which is exported abroad. Now, we have created an ecosystem where we can recycle the entire lithium-ion black mass and we can recover lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel that is 99% pure and can be used for further battery manufacturing,” he pointed out.
At IIT-M, Prof. Ratheesh will focus on a framework to recover critical metals such indium and germanium, as well as on the purification of metals.
According to experts, the whole process of urban mining, which has the potential to reduce our carbon footprint, will become increasingly significant as time progresses. It is predicted that by 2050, nearly 50% of all extraction of raw elements will be done using urban mining, and the remaining 50% by natural mining.
V. Kamakoti, director, IIT-M, said within the next couple of years, the Institute will ensure that not even one gram of waste will leave the premises.
Sumathi Muthuraman, wife of Mr. Muthuraman; T. Ramasami, former Secretary to the Department of Science and Technology; Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean, Alumni Corporate Relations, IIT-M and T. V. Narendran, Global CEO and Managing Director of Tata Steel also participated.