Prospecting the Urban Mines of Amsterdam

Developing a method to assess the metal contents of buildings in the city.

Urban mining is a promising method of recovering valuable natural resources from buildings, products, and landfills. Short for ‘Prospecting the Urban Mines of Amsterdam’, PUMA aims to provide a first glimpse of the potential for harvesting the vast stocks of metals – such as steel, copper and aluminium – that are present in the city.
  • Client: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions
  • Partners: Leiden University, Waag Society, TU Delft
  • Date: January 2017
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The challenge

Construction is one of the world’s most material-intensive industries. With limited stocks of mineable materials, increasing prices of natural resources, and carbon reduction targets, there is growing interest in recovering valuable materials from the built environment. Mining materials like copper and steel from urban environments could ease this pressure, yet estimating the value and form of mineable materials is a critical first step towards bringing about a transition.

The challenge
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Our approach

The consortium of Leiden University, TU Delft, Waag Society, and Metabolic started by developing a methodology to estimate the metal content of buildings in Amsterdam. Metabolic refined this methodology, with initial assumptions based on the buildings’ age, height and facade, then tested by site-visits. Finally, a “geological” map was established, showing where valuable metals are concentrated, and thus where future extraction of these second-hand materials could be profitable.

Our approach
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The outcome

This study helped bring urban mining in Amsterdam one major step closer to wider implementation, through improving a methodology for estimating metal stocks in the built environment. It was a pioneering project that added significantly to the growth of circular construction ideals across the Netherlands, and has led to further urban mining studies with the cities of Utrecht and Amersfoort.

The outcome

“While the transition to sustainable urban development is critical, cities, developers and utilities face major challenges in adapting an industry that has worked well for over 100 years. Using circular construction and urban mining, we can reduce waste volumes and minimise demand for new materials across the sector”

- Merlijn Blok, Metabolic
Merlijn Blok_Metabolic

Merlijn Blok

Green Building Consultant

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