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The economic conditions for urban infrastructure mining: Using GIS to prospect hibernating copper stocks
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Environmental Technology and Management. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Technology and Social Change. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. (TEVS)
Independent Scholar, Sweden.
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Environmental Technology and Management. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
2015 (English)In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, ISSN 0921-3449, E-ISSN 1879-0658, Vol. 103, 85-97 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In this article, we suggest a methodology that combines geographic information systems (GIS) and material flow analysis (MFA) into a secondary reserve-prospecting tool. The approach is two-phased and couples spatially informed size estimates of urban metal stocks (phase 1) to the equally spatially contingent efforts required to extract them (phase 2). Too often, even the most advanced MFA assessments stop at the first of these two phases, meaning that essential information needed to facilitate resource recovery, i.e., urban mining, is missing from their results. To take MFA one step further, our approach is characterized by a high resolution that connects the analysis of the stock to the social practices that arrange material flows in the city, thereby enabling an assessment of the economic conditions for secondary resource recovery.

To exemplify, we provide a case study of the hibernation stock of copper found in disconnected power cables in Linköping, Sweden. Since 1970, 123 tonnes of copper or ≈1 kg per person have accumulated underneath the city, predominantly in old, central parts of the city and industrial areas. While shorter cables are more numerous than long ones, the longer ones contribute to a larger share of the stock weight. Resource recovery in specific projects reliant on digging comes at great costs, but integrating it as an added value to ordinary maintenance operations render eight locations and 2.2 tonnes of copper (2% of the stock) profitable to extract. Compared to the budget sizes of regular maintenance projects, the integrated recovery of a significant share of the stock comes with relatively small economic losses. Therefore, we suggest integrated resource recovery and regular maintenance as an interesting environmental measure for any infrastructure provider to engage with.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2015. Vol. 103, 85-97 p.
Keyword [en]
Urban mining, Hibernating stocks, Infrastructure, Material flow analysis, GIS, Economic assessment
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-121463DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2015.07.025ISI: 000362618600009OAI: diva2:855391
Städer som gruvor II: utveckling av affärsmässiga koncept genom implementering av pilotprojekt
VINNOVA, 2013-03015

Fundin text: Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning, FORMAS; Swedish Innovation Agency, VINNOVA

Available from: 2015-09-21 Created: 2015-09-21 Last updated: 2016-02-23
In thesis
1. The Urk World: Hibernating Infrastructures and the Quest for Urban Mining
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Urk World: Hibernating Infrastructures and the Quest for Urban Mining
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Urkarnas Värld : Infrastrukturer i dvala och staden som resursbas
Abstract [en]

This PhD thesis concerns urban mining, an umbrella term for different recycling strategies aimed to recover materials from the built environment. More specifically, it focuses on hibernating urban infrastructures, that is: cables and pipes that have been left behind in their subsurface location after they were disconnected. I term this subsurface urban realm of system rejects the “Urk World”. “Urk” is short for “urkopplad”, the Swedish word for “disconnected”, an abbreviation often found on old infrastructure maps denoting discarded system parts. Since urks contain high concentrations of copper, my normative stance is that the Urk World should be “mined” as a contribution towards diminishing the persistently wasteful handling of mineral resources in society.

The thesis has three focus areas. The first of these discusses how the Urk World has emerged, that is: how the creation of urks is sustained in sociotechnical processes related to infrastructure’s provision. The second concerns the potential of urk mining, how much copper the Urk World contains, where these quantities are located and by which implications they could be recovered. The third focus area is devoted to the politics of urks, and is concerned with the political embeddedness of infrastructure and where politics might intervene for the sake of increased urk recovery.

Five papers complete the thesis. The first paper investigates how much copper, aluminium and steel there is in the Urk World of the Swedish city of Norrköping, and how these quantities are spatially dispersed in the urban environment. The second paper is based on interviews with system owners and repair crews, and investigates how urks come into existence in relation to three different infrastructural processes: maintenance, larger installation projects and shutdown. The third paper describes how environmental systems analysis can be beneficially coupled with theories and methods from the social sciences to create knowledge useful to aid the development of urk recycling schemes. The fourth article makes use of the inherent ambiguities of urks to investigate a spectrum of locations where politics aimed for increased urk recovery can intervene as well as what is at stake there. The fifth and final paper investigates urks in Linköping’s power grid in spatial and weight terms, and analyses the implications of urk recovery from several different viewpoints.

In overall terms, the major contribution of the thesis is how it improves the knowledge of societal stocks of materials, thereby giving an increased recognition of the built environment as a resource base. In overall scientific terms, it sets an example of how a coherent interdisciplinary research design can provide knowledge useful for the implementation of urk recycling schemes as well as for political decision–making for increased urk recovery.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2015. 99 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1720
urban mining; infrastructure; material flow analysis; hibernating stocks; copper
National Category
Social Sciences Other Environmental Engineering
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-122758 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-122758 (DOI)978–91–7685–907–0 (print) (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-12-11, ACAS, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Swedish Research Council FormasVINNOVA
Available from: 2015-11-20 Created: 2015-11-20 Last updated: 2015-11-20Bibliographically approved

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