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€10m plan to strengthen Europe's silicon supply


Brunel engineers join European push for cleaner, kinder, more sustainable sources

Finding better ways to get silicon to make essentials like rechargeable batteries and solar panels is the aim of a new €10m project Brunel University London starts work on this summer.

The study aims to make Europe less dependent on imported silicon and other critical raw materials to make everyday things like car batteries, circuits and solar panels.

Only 32% of the silicon used in Europe is made here. It is difficult to recycle and produces high emissions.

The four-year Horizon-Europe-funded ReSilex project (Resilient Enhancement for the Silicon Industry Leveraging the European matriX) brings Brunel close to £600,000.

“We need raw materials like silicon to produce things that are important for our daily lives, like car batteries, chips for smartphones and laptops, and solar panels,” said environmental engineer Dr Shervin Shahvi.

“But supply is risky because most comes from outside Europe – countries that may become hostile and have bad records on human rights and the environment. This is why we need to strengthen Europe’s supply chain, because if our supply stops, then we are in trouble. Normal life will be disrupted.”

Led by the Iberian Sustainable Mining Cluster, the team will look to overhaul Europe’s entire silicon supply, developing a new carbon-free and more efficient process to produce silicon, and recycling end-of-use solar photovoltaic panels for lithium-ion battery manufacturing.

Brunel’s Water & Environmental Engineering Group aim to find the best ways to purify recycled silicon to bring it in line with EU product standards and waste regulations. They will work with governments and mine owners to work out whether recycling scraps from silicon mining would be worthwhile. The same team will also scrutinise the social impact of different sectors and products in the supply chain of silicon and other critical raw materials.

“I am excited to be part of this exciting project and contributing to the sustainability and exploitation activities,” said group leader Professor Evina Katsou. “ReSilex will make a make big contribution to the improvement of the resilience and sustainability of the entire silicon value chain in the EU.”