Prospecting Urban Mines of Amsterdam

Amsterdam as a built environment can be seen as an urban mine. Metals are potentially available in built structures. This 2016 collaborative research project yielded an interactive map and plan prospecting our city, rethinking traditional mining.

Mines have reached traditionally for underground resources where there is iron, copper and aluminum. These resources have been diminishing and have always been costly to mine. For instance, the concentration of ore has gone down and 8% of energy is consumed globally for producing new metals. Traditional mining will become more pollutant, costly and difficult as the “easy-access” mines run out of stock. Adding geo-political tensions, looking close to home will become necessary.

Alternatively, Amsterdam can be viewed as an urban mine with a wealth of metals such as aluminum, copper, gold and steel. It is less costly to mine urban buildings and structures such as high-rise buildings for steel, cables for copper, window frames for aluminum and phones for gold. Simply put, Amsterdam is a good prospect if metals are needed.

The metals in a city like Amsterdam are obviously in use. It requires planning as well as time and energy before the desired metals become accessible, yet it is valid to ask what can be done and whether it is worthwhile. The “Prospecting of Urban Mines in Amsterdam” (PUMA) project was set up with the goal of delivering two outcomes. To begin the process, prospecting is the first stage in mining where geological analysis including physical search for minerals and metals. The first goal was to produce a geological map of the built environment This visualization is ideally an interactive geological map indicating the quality and best time to mine. In addition, an urban mining plan including step-by-step suggestions for urban mining in Amsterdam is necessary.

Furthermore, the PUMA project yielded outcomes that are interesting for education. The principles used in the project were used as content for a two-year master course called Industrial Ecology - a cooperation between Leiden University and TU Delft.

PUMA’s research partners also participate in the European project MICA, a consortium involving the European geological bureaus, to develop the methodology of urban prospecting.

Taken together, the PUMA project thereby contributes to crafting a circular economy at large in Amsterdam. The results from the PUMA project can serve as basis for continuing research funded by the European Union, such as with the EU Horizon 2020 program or the KIC Raw Materials.

The PUMA project is one of AMS Institute’s stimulus projects. These projects give new and existing AMS partners support with innovative research that has a strong upscaling potential. They realize short-term research output and catalyze innovative concepts or solution directions.

The PUMA project is also a joint research project of TU Delft, Waag Society, Leiden University, and Metabolic. TU Delft developed methods to deduce metal content of buildings, Waag Society created the geological map of Amsterdam’s built environment, Leiden University wrote scenarios of urban mining and the final mining plan, and Metabolic performed the ground truth check.


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