Towards cleaner production: barriers and strategies in the base metals producing industry

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    The most pressing environmental problems of post-mining base metals production are solid waste production, gaseous emissions,

    and a high energy use. Most of the present solutions to clean up the post-mining base metals production can be characterised asincremental, end-of-pipe technologies. More sophisticated, radical solutions are scarcely implemented.

    The purpose of this study is to identify the barriers that impede the implementation of more radical solutions, with the aim to

    design strategies towards cleaner production in the base metals producing industry. The paper conceptualises the radicalness ofa technological innovation, and presents the current base metals production processes, their environmental impact, and cleanertechnologies. The most important barriers for radical innovations appear to be the cost of investment, the high risk involved in

    committing capital to unproven technology, and the intertwinement of the current production system. The paper presents rm-internal, inter-rm and rm-external strategies to overcome these barriers. 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Cleaner production; Incremental; Radical innovations; Metals production

    1. Introduction

    As a result of the rapid increase in human activitiessince the industrial revolution, huge quantities of re-sources and energy have been consumed in remarkablyshort time. This mass consumption, and the associatedindustrial production, has far-reaching inuences onthe earths ecology, exhausting non-renewable resources(e.g. oil, gases, ores) and causing severe environmentalproblems by polluting the air, water and soil.

    However, many possibilities to reduce the environ-mental burden of industrial production exist. For

    management, appropriate end-of-pipe techniques, recy-cling of waste and non-renewable products, substitutionof, or a ban on the use of environmentally unfriendlyproduced products, or by incremental and more radicaltechnological innovations.

    Technological innovation is an important factor foreconomic growth and seems to play a central role in thelong-term development of cleaner production [1,2].Hence, this paper focuses on the technological inno-vation perspective.

    Studies have shown that in the industrial North theeciency of production with respect to the claim on theTowards cleaner production: bametals produ

    Ellen H. M. Moorsa

    Philip J.

    aDepartment of Innovation Studies, Utrecht University, BestuursgebbDepartment of Technology Assessment, Faculty of Technology, P

    2628 BX Delft,cTellus Institute, 11 Arlington Str

    Received 1 May 1998; a

    Journal of Cleaner Productiexample; optimisation of the environmental perfor-mance through good housekeeping and total quality

    ) Corresponding author. Tel.: C31-30-2537812/1625; fax: C31-30-2533939.

    E-mail (E.H.M.Moors), k.f.mulder@ (K.F.Mulder), (P.J. Vergragt).

    0959-6526/$ - see front matter 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2003.12.010rriers and strategies in the basecing industry

    ), Karel F. Mulderb,Vergragtc

    ouw NWI, Heidelberglaan 8, NL-3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands

    licy and Management, Delft University of Technology, Jaalaan 5,

    The Netherlands

    eet, Boston MA, 02116-3411, USA

    cepted 23 December 2003

    n 13 (2005) 657e668 needs to increase by a factor 4e50 overthe next 50 years, in relation to the 1990 levels [1e5].That is because much better results will be necessaryover the next 50 years to achieve absolute reductions inmaterials and energy consumption. Taking into accountthat since Third World countries will almost inevitablyincrease their consumption of energy and materials as

  • initiate. It is necessary to understand the driving forces

    for cleaner production at a micro-level within the rm.Accordingly, this paper focuses primarily on theperspective of the rm, taking the base metals producingindustry (i.e. the production of zinc, aluminium, andiron/steel) as an example.

    Studies of technological development in scale-inten-sive rms, such as the base metals producing industry,have shown that radical change towards cleaner in-dustrial production is problematic [6,7]. More radicalsolutions for some environmental problems are avail-able, but in practice they are scarcely implemented,because the established production technologies in thebase metals industry are made up of mature technolo-gies, which are rather dicult to change. For example,the conventional Hall-Heroult aluminium reductionprocess is more than 100 years old. These matureindustrial technologies are part of highly embeddedproduction systems, both technologically and socially.This makes it very dicult to redirect these processesquickly and eectively towards cleaner production, evenwhen the need to do so is generally acknowledged. Itis necessary, therefore, to analyse the nature of thisentrenchment.

    Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to identifybarriers which impede implementation of more radicalinnovations, in order to develop strategies that could con-tribute to the base metals industries transition towardscleaner production.Fig. 1. Base metals production ane depletion of non-renewable natural resources,e moderate recycling rates and diculties with sec-

    ondary production (e.g. for complex aluminiumalloys).

    These environmental problems emphasise the need tostudy cleaner production alternatives in the base metalsproducing industry, both incremental innovations totackle the relatively small problems on the short-term,and radical innovations, to obtain higher environmentaleciencies on the long-term.

    We can discern various steps in the whole base metalschain, going from cradle to grave. Fig. 1 shows the basemetals production and consumption chain.

    This study focuses on post-mining base metal pro-duction, with the metal ore as input material and theprimary, non-manufactured base metal as output. Thisprimary metal can be processed further by additionalprocessing stages to value-added applications, such asalloys and composite materials, or comes back in themetals production system via recycling and secondaryproduction.

    The structure of the paper is as follows: the rstsection conceptualises the radicalness of a technologicalinnovation concerning metals production. The sub-sequent section provides a brief description of theconventional production processes for zinc, aluminiumand iron/steel and their environmental impact. Varioustechnological alternatives for base metals production arethey industrialise and raise their living standards, theneed for more radical, system innovations towardscleaner industrial production is quite evident. Thus, tomeet this cleaner production challenge, adaptation orimprovement of existing technology by only incrementalinnovations will not be sucient. Leaving existingmethods of improvement and looking for a fundamentalrenewal of technology, and complete new, radicaltechnological innovations will be essential in order toachieve the required improvements in environmentaleciency in the future. Yet, implementation of suchradical, breakthrough technologies is not easy to

    Why is the base metal, producing industry aninteresting case for the study of the driving forcestowards more radical cleaner production?

    Producing large volumes of commodity products, thebase metals producing industry is a relatively pollutingindustry, causing severe environmental problems, suchas:

    e production of large amounts of solid waste (e.g.jarosite, gypsum, spent pot linings, slag),

    e emissions of airborne and waterborne pollutants(e.g. SO2, NOx, uorides, dioxins),

    e high energy use, and CO2 emissions,

    658 E.H.M. Moors et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 13 (2005) 657e668d consumption chain in general.

  • npresented along a gradual scale of radicalness of theinnovation. Based on six case studies in the metalsindustry, the barriers for more radical technologicalinnovations are categorised and illustrated with someexamples. The analysis of barriers provides startingpoints for radical technological change at various levels.Strategies are presented at the rm-internal, inter-rmand rm-external level, and the paper ends with someconcluding remarks.

    2. From incremental towards radical innovations:conceptualisation

    A signicant distinction exists between a technologicalinnovation involving minor technological changes,which control, adjust, renovate, modify or improvea current technology based on an existing principle (andoften with a low degree of new knowledge), anda technological innovation that involves major changesof technological directions with entirely new technolo-gies, products, processes and/or systems, and a highdegree of new knowledge. This distinction is oftendiscussed in terms of incremental versus radical inno-vations. Yet, technological innovations are not justincremental or just radical. For our purposes, the degreeof radicalness of a technological process innovation isinteresting, and a technological criterion is used todetermine the extent to which an innovation constitutesa radical departure from the existing production pro-cess. Technological innovations can be further dividedon a gradual scale, which enables us to be more precisein describing the specic process steps to produce theprimary metal, and in describing the technologicalinnovations that can take place in those steps. In fact,it is not just incremental innovation on the one hand andradical innovation on the other, but degrees ofradicalness exist in between, with technological changerepresenting points in a continuum. Furthermore, wedene the conversion of the ore from one congurationin