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MHS Library | How can chemical principles be applied to create a more sustainable future?

Investigation topic 4: The sustainability of a commercial product or material

In Australia, new materials that are useful for society tend to be produced through a linear economy in which products are purchased, used and then thrown away. Increasingly, manufacturing companies are moving towards a circular economy, which seeks to reduce the environmental impacts of production and consumption while enabling economic growth through more productive use of natural resources and creation of less waste.

Research questions that may be explored in this investigation include:

· Research a metal mined in Australia: for example, gold, copper or lithium. How is the metal processed and what are its useful properties? To what extent has the metal production and use moved towards a circular economy over the last decade? What innovations have led to the production of the metal being more sustainable over time?

Metals mined in Australia

Click on the map to see a list of metals and where they are mined in Australia.

Australia – Mining by the Numbers, 2023. (2023, February 15).

Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, June 5). List of mines in Australia. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

Metal processing

Metal processing, also referred to as metalworking, involves a wide variety of fabrication techniques for processing metal materials into goods, parts and components. Metal processing is the base of metal production and includes some form of metal processing operations, which usually reshapes a metal blank or material into a part with specific geometry or dimensions.

Metal processing - the basics.

Metal Processes Summary - Types of Metal Processing Techniques & Methods | IPQCCO. (2022).

Some common metal processing techniques include casting, forging, cutting, bending and joining.

What is Metal Processing? Beginners Guide. (2022, December 2). MellowPine; MellowPine.

Metal processing is used in many industries to produce a wide variety of goods and components. Some examples of metal processing techniques used in industry include casting, where molten metal is poured into a mold or die and allowed to cool and harden into the desired shape; cutting, where a workpiece is split into smaller sections; drawing, where tensile force is used to pull metal into and through a tapered die; folding; forging; extrusion; machining; and punching.

Click are examples of metal processing in

Metal uses

Individual pure metals may possess useful properties such as good electrical conductivity, high strength and hardness, or heat and corrosion resistance. Commercial metal alloys attempt to combine these beneficial properties in order to create metals more useful for particular applications than any of their component elements.

Common uses of metal in our society.

Metal - Energy Education. (2015).


Blog-manager. (2022, March 16). 5 Most Common Metal Alloys and Their Uses. Metal Exponents.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. It is based on three principles: 

Eliminate waste and pollution

Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)

Regenerate nature

It is an alternative to traditional linear economies where we take resources, make things, consume them and throw them away.

Flannigan, S. (2021, April 19). The beginner’s guide to the circular economy.; Sendle.

Metals in a circular economy

Recycling and circular economy—towards a closed loop for metals in emerging clean technologies

Hagelüken, C., & Goldmann, D. (2022). Recycling and circular economy—towards a closed loop for metals in emerging clean technologies35(3-4), 539–562.

Metal Recycling Factsheet

Metals Scrap Recycling Industry in the EU

Metal Recycling Factsheet. (n.d.).

Challenges in recycling metals

One of the main challenges is having to meticulously sort through all the products sent to the recycling center. Without correct sorting ahead of time, other waste materials such as plastic, paper, and glass need to be separated from reusable metal scrap. Another challenge is maximizing scrap usage and striving to constantly make the most of each piece of recycled metal.

Read more here.

FisherDigital. (2022, April 13). C.D. Dodd Scrap Metal Recyclers. CD Dodd.

Recycling is often inefficient or essentially nonexistent because of limits imposed by social behavior, product design, recycling technologies, and the thermodynamics of separation. The most beneficial actions that could improve recycling rates are increased collection rates of discarded products, improved design for recycling, and the enhanced deployment of modern recycling methodology.

Read more in the article below.

Reck, & Graedel, T. E. (2012). Challenges in Metal Recycling. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science)337(6095), 690–695.

What innovations have led to the production of the metal being more sustainable over time?

Metallurgy Guru - Sustainability Materials Science. (2022). Making Green Steel with Hydrogen [YouTube Video]. In YouTube.

Katha's ePoint. (2021). How does Fossil-Free Steel Production work? [Green Steel | Hydrogen Steelmaking] [YouTube Video]. In YouTube.

How you can achieve sustainability in metal production?

Lawson, K. (2017, June 26). Sustainability in metal production - Process productivity. Process Productivity.