Innovation in the management of excavated materials: an FCC contribution to circular economy

Innovative proposals received during the first stage of CERN’s “Mining the Future” competition.


Completion of HL-LHC civil engineering at P1
Innovative proposals received during the first stage of CERN’s “Mining the Future” competition. (Image: CERN)

Earlier this autumn, leaders across the globe gathered for the COP26 to collectively accelerate action toward the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. CERN, as an international research organisation with a considerable impact on our society, can play a role in this direction and the feasibility study for a post-LHC particle collider, like the proposed FCCs, provides a unique space to explore ideas that could tackle the colossal challenge of a more sustainable future and test technologies that can find application beyond particle physics.

To that direction, CERN and the Montanuniversität Leoben in Austria, with the support of the EU-funded H2020 FCCIS project, launched the international competition Mining the Future with a clear challenge: identify credible solutions for the innovative reuse and sustainable management of the large quantities of molasse material expected during the construction phase of the new future research infrastructure FCC. As Johannes Gutleber (CERN) mentionedSolutions presented for the construction of new underground tunnels to host future colliders, could also apply on other future tunnel and underground civil engineering projects. CERN has a long-standing record of pioneering technical solutions that are put to good use in areas lying beyond its core scientific mission”.

The competition kicked off on May 1st with an end date of phase 1 on October 31st. Applicants from all over Europe stepped up to this challenge, forming large consortia, and submitting high-quality proposals that carry a huge innovation potential. By keeping excavated materials in play, circular economy models offer a clear pathway toward achieving our collective climate goals, and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions tied to the extraction, processing, manufacturing and landfilling of natural resources. Over the next months, the jury committee will carefully evaluate the applications, during the second stage of this contest, while the final winner will be announced in August 2022 and an award ceremony will take place at ZaB – Zentrum am Berg, Austria in October of the same year.

The Mining the Future competition proved that in the long path towards the FCCs, there is plenty of room for developing new construction models that can create economic value, build local resilience, and spur innovation across sectors. The proposed solutions for the treatment of excavation material not only minimise the impact of future civil engineering and construction activities in the region but have a wider contribution in transforming Europe into a more competitive and resource-efficient economy. And the good news is that the Mining the Future contest enters stage 2 offering the opportunity to closely work with the selected candidates and refine their proposals thus championing circular business models that could gain traction for a new particle physics research infrastructure and beyond.

The FCCIS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 951754.

The 5th FCC Physics workshop will take place in Liverpool, 7-11 February 2022. More details here.