The INSPIRE consortium is an interdisciplinary partnership incorporating a diverse range of requisite disciplines including environmental and geotechnical engineering, environmental and social science, polymer chemistry, and microbiology. In addition, a number of industrial and governmental partners are involved.
Our objective is to understand and manipulate the in situ biogeochemistry of waste within waste repositories (e.g. landfills, industrial waste, municipal solid waste, metallurgical and mining waste) to recover valuable resources by leaching and other treatments whilst the material lies in situ, thus avoiding the need to actively extract the material and thereby minimise ecological and environmental impacts. We also aim to investigate how we can appropriately benchmark such recovery processes in terms of life-cycle (societal, economic, cultural and environmental impacts) and their impact on ecosystems services.
In specific, INSPIRE seeks to:
- Optimize the in situ recovery of ‘E-tech’ elements and Elements of Value (EoV) from waste repositories.
- Increase the recovery of energy (from methane) and metals through biotechnologically enhanced lignocellulose degradation.
- Develop Resource Recovery Models
- Perform environmental systems modelling to understand the health and social impacts of recovering resources from geological waste storage
Our research is divided into four complementary work packages that explore different (but interconnected) aspects of the main topic.
- Work package 1 is lead by Cardiff University with support from Warwick University. Its main objective is to understand and control waste repository biogeochemistry to maximise leaching of metallic elements. Some of the main questions that we aim to respond are:
- What are typical concentrations of valuable metals and elements in UK waste repositories?
- What lixiviants can be used/developed to increase mobilisation of these elements?
- How can we understand flow behaviour and micro- to macro- scale heterogeneity though various waste media?
- Work package 2 is lead by Warwick University with support from Cardiff University. Its main objective is the biotechnological enhancement of lignocellulose degradation for enhanced methane production and metals recovery from landfills. Some of the essential questions that we aim to aswer are:
- Can the rate and yield of lignocellulose degradation be increased by biotechnological means?
- And if so, what implications does this have for methane production rates and yields (and therefore on energy conversion in the landfill)?
- Do the breakdown products of lignocellulose degradation increase metals mobilisation (e.g. though chelation)?
- Work package 3 is lead by Cardiff University. Its main purpose is to develop an in situ leaching-based ‘resource recovery model’ for key UK waste repositories. The central questions that we seek to solve are:
- How can leaching data be combined with transport, mechanical and thermal responses to develop an in situ resource recovery model so that the potential extractable resource of a waste repository can be quantified?
- If valuable metals and elements are present within a waste repository, how long will it take to recover the potentially leachable fraction?
- Work package 4 is lead by the University of West of England with support by Cardiff University. Its main objective is to enable a ‘socio-techno-environmental’ assessment of candidate technologies specifically to allow robust comparison of environmental and social impacts of in situ leaching to ex situ mining approaches for the recovery of resources from waste repositories, and to a baseline of ‘no action’. The essential questions that motivate us are:
- How can the complex interactions of resource recovery rates and yields, environmental and health impacts and economics be assessed for decision making in a robust framework?
- When considering mining a repository is it preferable to leach the resource in situ or extract and process the waste?
- What is the acceptability of resource recovery from waste?