AMS Prospecting the Urban Mines of Amsterdam: student blog

written by: Hsiu-Chuan Lin, student Industrial Ecology at TU Delft & Leiden University

The circular economy, and everything it involves, is a focus of research of the academic discipline of Industrial Ecology and many students are working on subjects related to the PUMA project. Hsiu-Chuan Lin is one of them, and she describes her experiences in this blog.

“I am a Masters student studying Industrial Ecology under the Joint Program of TU Delft and Leiden University. My thesis explores how mineable is the City of Amsterdam going to be in 2050 for copper. Wait a second, did you just say that you want to mine the city? Is there a mine in Amsterdam? Well, yes, and you’re sitting right in it! I am treating the city as an artificial mine, an urban mine. The valuable metals are lying in your cellphone, in the heater, or in the tram car that you just hopped on. With a different scope but connected with PUMA, my thesis emphasizes on evaluating the city’s potential of urban mining to fulfil the copper demand in 2050. 

Let’s hop on the time machine built by Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back to the future”. Now, imagine yourself arriving in Amsterdam in 2050 and taking a picture of the city. What do you see? How many electric vehicles do you see running on the street? And what happens after the electric vehicles reach the end of their lives? Would we be able to reuse these metals that make our daily products such as cars, trams, and buildings in a smart and systematic way? Cities in the Netherlands are enthusiastically racing towards a circular economy with rising renewable energy systems and smart grids installations. But if we put on the “ambition-check” glasses, with the long term vision proposed by current policy, would we be ready to run the city without the help of fresh copper? What still needs to be improved to take us towards a more circular Amsterdam for copper? These are the questions I hope to explore in my thesis.

I am now in the first phase of the research, quantification. I am using a bottom-up method, which means I need to first make a list of where copper is used in the city. Then find out the copper content of all the applications, and their quantities. Of course, no one knows what happens in the future. So I will be constructing a scenario that is in line with the current policy. 

The biggest challenge I’ve had so far is language barrier. Being a foreigner that speaks only a handful of Dutch phrases, I struggle to find my way in information that are only available in Dutch. I am teaming up with colleagues in my program that are also associated with PUMA to facilitate the work. With this research I hope to provide some reality check for the current sustainability ambitions, and use some examples to show where could the copper gone if they are missing in the cycle.”

Project leader / contact: Ruben Huele,