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Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises FINAL REPORT

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Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine
tailings and global sand sustainability crises
FINAL REPORT
Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises Final Report
2
This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones as a consequence of mine tailings storage
facility failures worldwide, and the artisanal sand miners who work in circumstances of poverty and informality
to mine the material that constructs our world.
Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand
sustainability crises
Final report
Authors: Artem Golev, Louise Gallagher, Arnaud Vander Velpen, Josefine R. Lynggaard, Damien
Friot, Martin Stringer, Stephanie Chuah, Diana Arbelaez-Ruiz, Douglas Mazzinghy, Luanna
Moura, Pascal Peduzzi, Daniel M. Franks.
UQ Team: Daniel M. Franks (Project Leader; d.franks@uq.edu.au), Artem Golev (Project
Manager), Martin Stringer, Diana Arbelaez-Ruiz; Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University
of Queensland, Australia.
UNIGE Team: Pascal Peduzzi (Team Leader; pascal.peduzzi@unige.ch), Louise Gallagher, Yaniss
Guigoz, Arnaud Vander Velpen, Josefine R. Lynggaard, Damien Friot, Stephanie Chuah;
University of Geneva, Switzerland.
UFMG Team: Douglas Mazzinghy, Luanna Moura; Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Acknowledgements:
Vale S.A. and Vale International S.A.
Yaniss Guigoz, University of Geneva.
Members of Independent Scientific Committee: Jian Chu, Ian Selby, Kari A. Aasly, Laura J.
Powers, Madhira R. Madhav, and Patrice Christmann.
Citation: Golev, A., Gallagher, L., Vander Velpen, A., Lynggaard, J.R., Friot, D., Stringer, M., Chuah,
S., Arbelaez-Ruiz, D., Mazzinghy, D., Moura, L., Peduzzi, P., Franks, D.M. (2022). Ore-sand: A
potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises. Final Report.
Version 1.4 (March 2022). The University of Queensland & University of Geneva.
Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises Final Report
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Executive summary
After water, aggregates (sand, gravel, and crushed rock) are the second most exploited natural
resource in the world. Their use has tripled over the last two decades to reach an estimated
50 billion tonnes per year, and the demand is growing exponentially around the world with
urbanisation, development, population growth and sea-level rise. Yet, their extraction from
rivers and the nearshore environment is already a global environmental and resource problem.
Despite increased recognition of sand (and aggregates broadly) as a strategic resource for
sustainable development, the issue remains largely unaddressed and unresolved in many places
around the world. With infrastructure and construction a major feature of post-COVID recovery
plans and aggregates the largest input demanded by this sector, the sustainability of aggregate
production requires urgent global attention.
In 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme released the report ‘Sand and
Sustainability: Finding New Solutions for Environmental Governance of Global Sand Resources.’
In the same year, United Nations Member States adopted the United Nations Environment
Assembly (UNEA-4) Resolution of Mineral Resource Governance, which explicitly called for
solutions to the challenges of global sand sustainability.
Awareness of sand sustainability is generating clear calls for alternatives at scale. Among
secondary sources, one stands out globally mineral ores. Currently large volumes of sand-
and aggregate-like materials are produced by crushing mineral ores for the extraction of metals
(and other commodities), which are then discarded as part of mine waste rock and tailings.
Currently, it is estimated that 30 to 60 billion tonnes of mine waste are generated per year,
making it the largest waste stream on the planet, an order of magnitude higher than all urban
waste.
Attempts to give mining residues a second life have been made in the past, and suitability for
certain applications has been proven. However, serious uptake has been impeded because:
1) these residues must be technically and economically competitive with conventional materials
and 2) they were residues, rather than by-products that required their own optimisation to
achieve specific properties during mineral processing. In this report we introduce the term ore-
sand to signify this distinction and to differentiate sand produced as a by-product (or a co-
product) of the processing of mineral ores.
After a series of catastrophic failures of mine tailings storage facilities in recent years that left
severe environmental, social, economic, and human costs, the United Nations Environment
Programme, International Council on Mining and Metals and the Principles for Responsible
Investment introduced a new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. This and other
recent reforms of mining, environmental and waste policy mean that large volumes of mine
waste, in particular tailings, now need to be managed differently in many places in the world.
The rising value of sand, the costs of storing mining residues, and the possibility of optimising
mineral processing circuits for both primary commodities and ore-sand may give new impetus
to a circular economy synergy with the potential for a strong contribution to sustainable
development.
Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises Final Report
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This 12-month project aimed to investigate whether by-products of mineral ores, with
favourable mineralogical and physicochemical characteristics, can be a viable and sustainable
source of substitute aggregate material for construction and other industries, and reduce the
rising demand for sand extracted from the natural environment. Focusing on promising real-
life examples, our research explores whether ore-sand from iron ore can provide a suitable,
responsible and just alternative source of sand, and a solution to be considered as part of the
UNEA-4 Resolution on Mineral Resource Governance.
In this report we share the findings of our analysis of an independently collected sample of ore-
sand from one of Vale’s largest iron ore processing sites in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Since the devastating tailings facility failures that occurred at two iron ore mines owned or co-
owned by Vale, the Córrego do Feijão and Germano mines, both in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Vale
has accelerated its investment in the adoption of circular economy approaches to mine waste.
In 2013, Vale initiated the Quartz Project to investigate whether sand by-products could
drastically reduce the amount of tailings requiring storage at its mine sites, and a number of
products are already undergoing market trials. These innovations are a significant shift for the
mining industry and an innovation response that has the potential to address two global
sustainability issues simultaneously: the safe management of mine tailings and the large and
growing demand for sand. The potential is even more pronounced when we consider that the
tailings storage facilities that present the highest safety risks to people (those located near
where people live) offer the greatest opportunity of finding a market for ore-sand (because of
the local demand for the material).
The recovery and supply of alternative aggregate materials, previously discarded as mine waste,
can be viewed as a disruptive innovation that can challenge the existing norms and attitudes in
the market. In this report, we also explore the sand market and different uses of sand; overview
previous attempts of mine tailings (direct) reuse and its limitations; discuss the initial results
from the life cycle assessment; develop an approach to mapping and matching mine tailings
generation with sand consumption in different parts of the world; and present current results
from interviewing major stakeholders in the aggregates market across several countries and
regions. The results outline the broad landscape within which the relative advantages,
compatibility, complexity, trialability and observability of alternative sands from mineral ores
would have to be demonstrated and communicated. While relative economic and technical
advantages seem to be the most critical factors, it is also vital to find a niche and pass regional
and national regulatory gateways, work closely with customers and “allies” who would support
demonstration of the material in use, and have a sound sustainability agenda including a holistic
assessment of the environmental and social impacts and risks.
We need to use our sand resources wisely. We can reduce their use, recycle from construction
and demolition waste, and substitute by other materials. Ore-sand is one of the possibilities but
given the amount of such material (in the order of several billion tonnes per year), it is the
option showing the largest potential to have a significant impact. If ore-sand can be used
instead of sand taken from the natural environment, this will be a no regret option, as it would
bring environmental, economic and societal benefits.
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Contents
Terms and definitions ......................................................................................................................................... 8
1 Global sand and mine tailings challenges ........................................................................................ 9
1.1 The global sand and sustainability challenge ...................................................................................... 9
1.2 Mineral ores as an alternative source of sand ................................................................................... 10
1.3 Are there opportunities for a circular economy transition? ......................................................... 12
2 Circular economy transitions with alternative sands .................................................................. 13
2.1 What is the innovation? ............................................................................................................................. 13
2.2 Who are the innovation adopters to focus on? ................................................................................ 13
2.3 Crossing ‘the Chasm’ for ore-sands ...................................................................................................... 15
3 Demonstrating the possibilities ........................................................................................................ 18
3.1 Project background and description ..................................................................................................... 18
3.2 Methods and materials .............................................................................................................................. 20
4 Barriers and incentives to adoption of ore-sand by mainstream aggregates market
players ...................................................................................................................................................... 25
4.1 Relative advantages:
Why make the change to ore-sand?
.......................................................... 25
4.2 Compatibility:
Do ore-sands match my constraints, needs and expectations in a given
situation?
......................................................................................................................................................... 27
4.3 Complexity:
Will ore-sand be easy to use?
......................................................................................... 31
4.4 Trialability:
What kind of ‘try before you buy’ factors matter most for ore-sands?
........... 31
4.5 Observability:
What are the performance factors around which ore-sands need
to show proven results?
............................................................................................................................. 32
4.6 Opportunities for adoption of ore-sands in mainstream markets ............................................ 33
5 Sand products and markets ............................................................................................................... 37
5.1 Major areas of application ........................................................................................................................ 37
5.2 Sand products for different applications ............................................................................................. 37
5.3 Alternative sources of sand ...................................................................................................................... 40
5.4 Technical standards and codes ............................................................................................................... 41
6 Sand production, consumption and trade..................................................................................... 46
6.1 Data and information challenges ........................................................................................................... 46
6.2 Regional production trends ...................................................................................................................... 46
6.3 Export and import trends .......................................................................................................................... 47
6.4 Sand consumption data ............................................................................................................................. 48
6.5 Opportunities for circular economy solutions to river & marine sand consumption
in the construction sector ......................................................................................................................... 48
6.6 Sand prices ...................................................................................................................................................... 49
7 Sampling and material characterisation of Vale sand ................................................................ 52
7.1 Overview of mineral processing and sand recovery ....................................................................... 52
Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises Final Report
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7.2 Material sampling and delivery ............................................................................................................... 53
7.3 Physical and chemical tests ...................................................................................................................... 54
7.4 Particle shape and texture......................................................................................................................... 56
7.5 Shear strength ............................................................................................................................................... 57
7.6 Options to enhance the properties of ore-sand for industrial use ........................................... 59
7.7 Summary of findings ................................................................................................................................... 60
8 Safeguarding sustainable and just transitions.............................................................................. 61
8.1 Limitations of mine tailings (direct) reuse ........................................................................................... 61
8.2 Potential contaminants in ore-sand ...................................................................................................... 62
8.3 Management of residual tailings ............................................................................................................ 65
8.4 Displacing or sustaining other sand mining practices? ................................................................. 67
9 Life cycle assessment ........................................................................................................................... 69
9.1 Introduction .................................................................................................................................................... 69
9.2 Methodology.................................................................................................................................................. 70
9.3 Description of the case-study .................................................................................................................. 71
9.4 Results and discussion ................................................................................................................................ 73
9.5 Recommendations for next steps .......................................................................................................... 81
10 The geography of circular economy opportunities .................................................................... 82
10.1 Potential supply of ore-sands .................................................................................................................. 82
10.2 Modelling global consumption ............................................................................................................... 83
10.3 Comparison of supply locations with demand for sand ............................................................... 85
11 Conclusions and recommendations ................................................................................................ 88
References ........................................................................................................................................................... 92
Technical Annexes .......................................................................................................................................... 102
A. Project outreach & engagement ......................................................................................................... 102
B. Stakeholder interview research design ............................................................................................. 103
C. Independent Scientific Committee members & process ........................................................... 104
Figures
Figure 1. Crossing ‘the chasm’ in innovation adoption. ............................................................................. 15
Figure 2. An overview of elements needed to ‘cross the chasm’ in innovation adoption of
ore-sands. ............................................................................................................................................ 36
Figure 3. Minimum SiO2 and maximum Fe2O3 contents in sand for industrial applications. ...... 40
Figure 4. Estimates of global aggregates production in 2017/2018 (50 Bt). ..................................... 47
Figure 5. Schematic of iron ore production and ore-sand recovery at Brucutu. .............................. 52
Figure 6. Independent sampling at Brucutu processing plant. ............................................................... 53
Figure 7. Transportation and delivery of Vale sand sample. .................................................................... 54
Figure 8. The framework and analysis of particle shape parameters.................................................... 57
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Figure 9. Shear stress with various levels of normal stress. ...................................................................... 58
Figure 10. Shear stress horizontal displacement under different levels of normal stress. ........ 58
Figure 11. Final silica sand products after experimental trials. ................................................................ 59
Figure 12. System boundaries of the LCA of Vale sand. ............................................................................ 73
Figure 13. GHG emissions from sand extraction (in g of CO2-equivalent per kg of sand). .......... 75
Figure 14. GHG emissions per kWh of electricity in Brazil. ....................................................................... 77
Figure 15. GHG emissions from transportation in Brazil (in g of CO2-equivalent per kg of
freight). ................................................................................................................................................. 78
Figure 16. Impacts on human health and ecosystem quality per kg of sand (Impact 2002+,
in points). ............................................................................................................................................. 79
Figure 17. Prediction of global aggregate consumption by extrapolating from known data
using correlations with GDP and Human Development Index. ...................................... 84
Figure 18. A comparison between the demand for sand and aggregates (blue) and the
potential supply of alternative aggregates from mineral ores (red). ........................... 84
Figure 19. A comparison between the location of demand for aggregate and sand, and
the location of mining projects. ................................................................................................. 85
Figure 20. Absolute substitution potential within ground transport range of a potential
ore-sand source. ............................................................................................................................... 86
Figure 21. Relative substitution potential (fraction of total national demand) within ground
transport range of a potential ore-sand source. .................................................................. 86
Figure 22. Comparison of potential ore-sand supply with the estimated demand for sand
in the surrounding areas. .............................................................................................................. 87
Tables
Table 1. Summary of stakeholder interviews (January-December 2021). ........................................... 21
Table 2. Distribution of demand for aggregates among products in Europe. .................................. 48
Table 3. Distribution of demand for aggregates among end-uses in Europe & India. ................. 49
Table 4. Sand pricing for marine dredging projects. ................................................................................... 50
Table 5. Silica sand pricing. ................................................................................................................................... 51
Table 6. Physical and chemical tests results. .................................................................................................. 55
Table 7. Chemical content analysis of samples before and after experimental trials. ................... 59
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Terms and definitions1
Development minerals
are minerals and materials that are mined, processed, manufactured and used
domestically in industries such as construction, manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture (Franks
2020).
Aggregates
is a term for granular material of natural, processed or recycled origin used essentially for
construction purposes with an upper grain size limit of 75 mm. Segmenting into three aggregates
subcategories is useful:
Primary aggregates include rock, sand and gravels sourced from the natural environment. Crushed
rock is extracted in hard rock quarries by blasting and crushing; and sand and gravels are extracted from
pits by excavation, crushing, screening and washing (if required), dredged or pumped from lakes
(lacustrine sand) and rivers (river sand), removed from coastal beaches, or dredged from the seabed
(marine sand or marine aggregates).
Secondary or recycled aggregates include crushed rock, sand and gravels produced by sorting,
crushing and screening of construction and demolition waste materials.
Industrially-processed aggregatescrushed rock and other sand and gravels substitutes produced
through mechanical crushing of rock or an industrial process involving thermal or other modification.
Sand
is a mineral granular material which does not stick together when wet and remoulded and where
the combined weight of 50% of the particles is smaller than 4.75 mm. These materials are sourced from
pits on land, hard rock which is mined and processed, from lakes, river beds and banks, wetlands, coastal
beaches and nearshore waters. Additional qualifiers are needed for a precise and correct description of
sand as a form of aggregates, for example a limit on the percentage of fines (material smaller than 75
µm) is often specified for concreting applications.
Gravel
is a mineral granular material which does not stick together when wet and remoulded and where
the combined weight of 50% of the particles is larger than 4.75 mm but smaller than 75 mm. These
materials are sourced from pits on land, hard rock which is mined and processed, from lakes, river beds
and banks, wetlands, coastal beaches and nearshore waters.
Manufactured sand
(m-sand) is an artificially produced sand from a suitable source rock. The major
production processes include crushing, screening and classifying to achieve the required properties for
the use in concrete, asphalt, and other specific products.
Ore-sand
(o-sand) is a type of processed sand sourced as a co-product or by-product of mineral ores.
Typically, it is a result of mechanical crushing and grinding, different physical and physicochemical
beneficiation processes for mineral concentrates recovery, including optimization of these processes and
additional processing stages to achieve the required properties of sand.
1 There are no universally accepted definitions for the terms sand, gravel and aggregates. The definitions in this report are
based on the ISO 14688-1:2018, ASTM D2487:00, and 2020 UNEP/GRID-Geneva expert discussion ‘What is sand?’. The term
ore-sand is introduced in this report and defined by the present authors.
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1 Global sand and mine tailings challenges
This section provides a brief overview of the global sustainability challenges associated with
sand extraction and mine waste production, as well as recent international efforts to tackle both
of these issues.
1.1 The global sand and sustainability challenge
Sand, gravel and crushed rock use has tripled over the last two decades to reach an estimated
50 billion tonnes per year, with demand still growing because of urbanization, population
growth and infrastructure trends (UNEP, 2019). Sand, gravel and crushed rock are mined all over
the world, accounting for the largest volume of solid material extracted globally (Peduzzi, 2014).
Without them, there is no concrete, no asphalt, no glass to build the necessary schools,
hospitals, roads, solar panels and other necessary infrastructure under current construction and
industrial production systems and methods.
Sand is ubiquitous in construction and industrial production because it is cheap, versatile and
easy to acquire. Yet, all indications are that we are approaching a future where access to this
resource is a critical barrier to sustainability, and the full costs of uncontrolled sand extraction
come due. Extraction rates of sand from dynamic natural systems are exceeding natural sand
replenishment rates in many parts of the world (UNEP, 2019). There are growing concerns about
shortages and scarcity of certain types of sand in different regions of the world (Sverdrup et al.
2017; Bendixen et al. 2019, 2021; Torres et al., 2017, 2021). Mounting scientific and anecdotal
evidence across different countries and continents of over-extraction from dynamic river and
coastal environments suggest geological and hydrological replenishment systems are no longer
keeping up with human demands (Leal Filho et al., 2021).
Sand resources have been considered “a matter of national security” in some cases (Comaroff,
2014); but more often it fits the description of a Development Mineral (Franks et al., 2016; IRP,
2020; Franks, 2020): vital to economies and societies, but invisible in many ways. A call for
improved sustainability in sand consumption and production practices is growing, however. In
its resolution on Mineral Resource Governance (UNEP/EA.4/L.19), the 4th United Nations
Environment Assembly asked all stakeholders to identify knowledge gaps and options relating
to sustainable management of metal and mineral resources including sand resources. A
second UNEA-4 resolution on Sustainable Infrastructure (UNEP/EA.4/L.5) recognises
infrastructure’s centrality to the 2030 Agenda and requests the UN Environment Programme to
collect best practices and identify existing knowledge gaps.
These two resolutions intersect when it comes to the issue of sand, gravel and crushed rock.
Together, they encourage governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations,
academia and international institutions, within their different areas of competence, to pursue
our Sustainable Development Goals by promoting:
Awareness of how sand extractive practices can have negative impacts on the
environment when these activities are not properly managed, especially when they take
place in dynamic environments like rivers, deltas, beaches and coastal waters.
Due diligence and best practices along natural sand and gravel supply chains,
addressing broad-based environmental, human-rights-, labour- and conflict-related
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risks in extractive practices, including the continuing increase in transparency and the
fight against corruption, with the support of the extractive Industries and infrastructure
developers.
Transparency initiatives, implementation and monitoring of existing social and
environmental standards, and accountability.
Public-private partnerships for sustainable management of metal and mineral resources
particularly within Sustainable Infrastructure initiatives.
Research & development for technological, social, business and policy innovation to
sustainably manage sand resources in the transition to green and circular economies.
If the UN sustainable development goals are to be met, efforts will need to move towards
responsible sand sourcing that includes new alternatives to sand with comparable technical
performance. Sand cannot be produced from our terrestrial, river and marine environments
alone without irreversible environmental impact if we are to meet the increasing demand from
a world preparing for 10 billion people. Where construction or traditional concrete cannot be
avoided, reduction of natural sand use can be achieved through some tried and testedas well
as new emergingtechnologies and materials. Reusing and recycling aggregates, either
directly or from construction and demolition waste streams, is a long-established option where
countries have mature built environments. Substitution with alternatives like by-products from
other production and consumption processes (i.e. steel slag, fly and bottom ash from waste
incineration, marble dust, waste foundry sand) is also common. Experimentation has led to a
wide variety of green cements and concretes such as ultrahigh performance concrete,
geopolymer concrete, lightweight concrete and limestone calcined clay cement (LC3). However,
at current consumption rates, total sand avoidance is not possible and available alternatives
cannot yet substitute a significant share of the global aggregates demand (UNEP, 2019).
The recently released final report on the implementation of the UNEA-4 resolution on Mineral
Resource Governance, ‘Mineral Resource Governance and the Global Goals: An agenda for
international collaboration’, called for “research on innovations in tailings management,
reduction, recycling and re-use, in particular
the potential to re-use benign tailings material as
an alternative to natural aggregate in the construction and land reclamation sectors
” (emphasis
added). This report responds to this call.
1.2 Mineral ores as an alternative source of sand
For most mined commodities (with the exception of construction materials and some industrial
minerals), the valuable minerals or metals of interest represent only a small portion in the overall
mined volumes. Thus, the global mining industry generates billions of tonnes of waste every
year. Due to the relatively low value of potential by-products from mine waste, remote location
of most mines, as well as conventional waste management practices and environmental
regulation allowing for massive waste storage, most mine waste currently ends up in waste
storage facilities, such as waste rock dumps and tailings dams. In fact, mine waste is the largest
waste stream on the planet, estimated to be in the range of 30 to 60 Bt per year (Lottermoser,
2010; Mudd & Boger, 2013), an order of magnitude higher than all urban waste (i.e. 2-3 Bt per
year; Kaza et al., 2018).
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The two major types of mine waste are waste rock and tailings. Waste rock typically comes from
removing either uneconomic or barren rock in order to access the economic ore in the deposit
(for a particular mineral). It is made up of a very coarse rock mass, stored in the waste rock
dumps, sometimes also segregated based on its size, mineralogical and environmental
properties (e.g. benign versus potentially acid-generating). In contrast, tailings originate from
the processing of economic ores. They are the result of ore crushing and grinding, and are left
over from mineral beneficiation processes, such as gravity-based separation, magnetic
separation, and flotation, which are widely used for the recovery of valuable minerals.
Consequently, tailings are mainly represented by fine and/or very fine material (sand, silt and
clay size particles). Due to the fine nature, tailings typically have to be stored in specially
engineered facilities such as tailings dams, requiring maintenance and regular monitoring of
their physical and geochemical stability, as well as special measures for rehabilitation and
closure at the end of operations. Franks et al. (2021) reported on the most comprehensive
database of tailings storage facilities assembled, estimating that at least 8,100 (active, inactive
and closed) facilities are present in the landscape, with 10 billion cubic meters (m3; ~13 Bt) of
additional tailings per year requiring storage in existing or planned facilities over the coming
five-year period.
The amount and types of generated mine waste can vary drastically, depending on the type
and size of the ore deposit, mineralization, mining and processing methods, and may also be
affected by water and waste management practices, which are influenced by geographical
location, climate, environmental regulation, technical expertise and social licence to operate.
The opportunities for mine waste minimization, reuse, and repurposing have been investigated
for a long time. However, these investigations have not resulted in any serious global uptake
due to both technical and economic barriers. At the same time, significant efforts are often
required to mitigate environmental impacts from mine waste storage facilities, e.g. acid and
metalliferous mine drainage and dust emissions, ensuring their physical stability, rehabilitation
and return to natural environment and/or finding another alternative land use at the end of
mine life.
Whether mine waste is characterised as a hazardous or non-hazardous material, there may be
opportunities for reuse and recycling that can provide sustainable alternatives to conventional
waste management. This would allow additional valuable by-products (with potential
substitution of other natural resources) to be recovered, as well as minimizing or avoiding
massive waste storage facilities, which are often associated with the risks of geochemical and
physical (in)stability over time and have been the cause of some of the most severe
environmental disasters of humankind (Franks et al., 2011, 2021).
Some well-known options for the reuse of mine waste include feedstock for cement, bricks,
tiles, and ceramics; aggregates for concrete, roads and other construction related applications;
agricultural use such as soil amendments, pH control, and fertilisers; and feedstock for the
chemical industry, e.g. pigments, and sulphuric acid production (Lottermoser, 2011). At the mine
site, the reuse of mine waste can also include backfill materials for open voids and underground
mines; aggregates for roads, landscaping, and embankments (e.g. for waste repositories);
capping, cover (fill) and engineered soil materials for waste repositories rehabilitation and
revegetation.
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There has been no global reporting and no detailed estimates on the actual amount of mine
waste being beneficially reused. The general assumption is a few per cent at best, with the
majority of mine waste still destined for disposal. One explanation for the slow rate of uptake
is that for the most part, reuse has focussed on mining residues, rather than producing by-
products that require their own optimisation during mineral processing. This is a crucial
distinction because mineral residues may not be fully optimised for the intended reuse purpose
and can contain environmentally harmful minerals, elements and compounds (such as sulphides
and metals), which unless separated from the product, can be a cause for concern. In this report
we introduce the term
ore-sand
to signify this distinction and to differentiate sand produced as
a by-product of the processing of mineral ores from the reuse of mineral residues. An ore-sand
refers to a type of processed sand sourced as a co-product or by-product2 of the crushing and
beneficiation of mineral ores.
A second explanation is attributed to the disproportion between the total amount of waste
generated versus amount needed in potential applications. While far more of the former is
generated than there is a need for the latter, there is one potential exception the reuse as a
construction aggregate. The comparison of mine waste (~30-60 Bt/year) with the demand for
construction aggregates (~50 Bt/year) shows that they are on the same scale. The generation
of finer waste materials such as mine tailings (~10-15 Bt/year) also closely matches existing
estimates for the extraction of sand from dynamic natural environments (~10 Bt/year). Although
not all mineral ores can meet the requirements for sand as an aggregate material or are located
close to markets, it is clear that there might be great opportunities for the production of ore-
sands, contributing to a circular economy, both at the local and global level.
1.3 Are there opportunities for a circular economy transition?
The latest advancements in mining and processing technologies, combined with regulatory
changes, growing global environmental awareness and expectations, and need for a transition
to a circular economy, may assist in changing current approaches and practices in mine waste
management, essentially leading to the possibility of “eliminating waste”. The recovery of
different by-products, progressive or con-current rehabilitation, stockpiling of pre-
concentrated residual materials containing remaining valuable minerals for potential future
recovery and reuse, as well as considering options and planning for alternative (economic) reuse
of the land and some mining infrastructure at the end of mine life are some key examples. For
almost all materials that are mined and processed, there may be a beneficial application, which
would result in generating additional economic, environmental, and/or social value (Golev et
al., 2016). “Handling and processing mined materials in a way of and/or until reaching zero
liability” could become a new disruptive business model in the resources sector aligned with
the circular economy.
2 The traditional distinction between terms co-product and by-product is strictly a function of mineral economics related to the revenue and/or profit
from a given mining operation. A situation when a collective extraction of several minerals is required for a feasible operation represents the case of co-
products. In contrast, by-products are rather incidental products that may or may not be recovered. With an increased recognition of environmental
impacts and expected transition towards zero waste management, including affecting the permitting for mining in the first place, potential by-products
from mine residues are in some cases becoming co-products. This highlights their equal importance in the design of mining operations and for the
assessment of company’s sustainability performance. In this report, we use both terms interchangeably, although by-product is the preferred term for
known case-studies, while co-product refers to the (full) potential of alternative sand from mineral ores.
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2 Circular economy transitions with alternative sands
The recovery and supply of alternative aggregate materials, previously discarded as mine waste,
can be viewed as a disruptive innovation that can challenge the existing norms and attitudes in
the market. In this section we explore the issues of innovation adoption and potential strategies
for market penetration in relation to alternative sands.
2.1 What is the innovation?
Given that many alternatives already exist to sand extracted from natural environment, we frame
the uptake of alternatives to sand at scale as an innovation adoption challenge in the transition
to green and circular economies that enable economic prosperity based on ecological integrity
and social equity (Kirchherr et al., 2017). Socio-technical transitions towards green and circular
economies involve interlinked processes to create systemic shifts in production, consumption
and waste management practices.
Niche innovations
in products, technologies, ideas, practices,
regulations and policies emerge in localized settings. Successful innovations reform the relevant
regimes
of rules and institutions, which in turn can influence the wider
landscape
(the patterns
shaping the interactions between social and natural systems and how they evolve) and
transition from one state to another (Scoones et al., 2020). The notion of a ‘just transition’
extends to include the consideration of both broader inclusion in decision making around
transitions, the distribution of costs and benefits of making these happen across different scales
of geography, social groups etc., as well as the politics and power dynamics involved (Swilling,
2020).
There are at least three dimensions of niche innovation important to consider in the uptake of
alternative sands:
The technical innovation of a new aggregate material. Ore-sands are a new input
material that comes from an unconventional source for the aggregates market. While
there is currently no perfect solution to substituting sand in concrete, this material offers
some potential worth exploring.
Producing and using this material potentially require some degree of process
innovation within mining companies, especially with regard to comminution (crushing),
beneficiation (upgrading) and tailings management, and within use sectors, depending
on the application for which naturally-sourced sand is being displaced.
Diffusing technical and process innovations for ore-sand will require changes in policy,
legislation, sourcing and use practices, and a transformation of the operating
environment for aggregates sourcing and use, led by government, private sector and
civil society actors. This is institutional innovation, defined by Raffaelli and Glynn (2015)
in organisational and sectoral change applications as: “novel, useful and legitimate
change that disrupts, to varying degrees, the cognitive, normative, or regulative
mainstays of an organizational field”.
2.2 Who are the innovation adopters to focus on?
The classic framework of Everett Rogers (Rogers, 2010) theorises the process of innovation
diffusion and categorises types of adopters, while the work of Geoffrey Moore (1999) explores
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behaviours that characterise the process of adoption. The concept of ‘Crossing the Chasm’ is a
critical idea in innovation theory that is highly relevant to the question of adoption of alternative
sands innovation. Moore (1999) identified that the motivations and behaviours of innovators
and early adopters and early majority and late majority adopters are fundamentally different:
the adoption curve is discontinuous, with cracks between the different groups, recognizing that
strategies for encouraging adoption in each of them must be different. Considering different
categories of adopters allows for different needs, change and risk appetites, and incentives and
barriers to change to be considered for different segments of the aggregates market.
Applying these insights, the primary user categories in the innovation adoption curve for ore-
sands are:
Innovators: Forward-looking individuals, teams and organizations inventing,
experimenting with producing and/or using alternative aggregates, often motivated by
technology-based problem-solving in local contexts, or specific applications. These may
include materials innovation teams within larger companies, research entrepreneurs in
university settings or inventive individuals in local settings.
Early adopters: The early movers in mainstream aggregates markets, i.e. large scale
aggregates producers and traders, infrastructure project commissioners and
construction companies who watch outcomes from early adopters and are motivated
by pragmatic considerations of economics, product price, quality and security of supply
and infrastructure of supporting services.
Early majority: The early movers in mainstream aggregates markets, i.e. large scale
aggregates producers and traders, infrastructure project commissioners and
construction companies who watch outcomes from early adopters and are motivated
by pragmatic considerations of economics, product price, quality and security of supply
and infrastructure of supporting services.
Late majority: The mainstream aggregates market who are skeptical of change until the
new technology has been proven to work. They are strongly influenced by market
competition considerations: they are market leaders who are motivated to change
sourcing, operations etc. only to maintain their position.
Laggards: Traditionalists who lag behind the mainstream aggregates market who will
only adopt new aggregates materials, sourcing practices or construction practices when
there is no other viable option.
While still keeping an open mind, we have assumed that the adopters of alternative sands are
mainstream organisations within the aggregates market or the early and late majority
categories of innovation adopters. Alternatives to sand exist in niche innovations like green
concretes (e.g. review - Liew et al., 2017), reclaimed or recycled aggregates (e.g. reclaimed
asphalt Shi et al., 2018; scrap plastics Aneke & Shabangu, 2021), other industrial by-products
(e.g. waste foundry sand Bhardwaj & Kumar, 2017) that address local aggregates supply or
waste management challenges. The issue is not a missing innovation in technical materials but
the movement of these materials into the mainstream aggregates market at volumes that can
be considered a scaled solution to the sand and sustainability challenge. Such innovation is
being impeded by the interconnected challenges of poor availability of large volumes of
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materials that can displace sand and gravel use in construction (aggregates) and a lack of
demand for such materials from the mainstream aggregates market. In short, there is currently
no perfect substitute for naturally-sourced sand and gravel in the major applications in which
they are used in the construction sector, i.e. concrete production, backfilling.
FIGURE 1. CROSSING THE CHASM IN INNOVATION ADOPTION.
Image source: https://shahmm.medium.com/design-for-crossing-the-chasm-1c4d4c68a3f1.
2.3 Crossing ‘the Chasm’ for ore-sands
The Chasm in the adoption curve for ore-sands is the gap between values, preferences,
incentives and constraints for innovators and early adopters on one side, and the early majority
and late majority on the other. How each category considers what is “novel, useful and
legitimate” (Raffaelli & Glynn, 2015) varies in function of the incentives and constraints for early
and late majority and that needs consideration.
Making a just transition (Section 8) across the Chasm to circular economy solutions for sand
consumption and production challenges will involve addressing core questions of technical
performance, economics, security of supply and plural values and interests, and changing
formal and informal rules that are operating in the real world to determine the mainstream
market options for aggregates. Understanding the circular economy solutions to the sand
sustainability challenges, that are perhaps present in mine tailings, entails understanding the
challenges to overcome and the incentives for changes in behaviour by key end-users of sand
extracted from rivers the desired early and late majority adopters.
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We use existing frameworks in innovation adoption studies (Kapoor et al., 2014; Polhill et al.,
2019) to frame a set of interrelated hypotheses on what will influence adoption of ore-sands in
accordance with the pragmatic motivations of the early and late majority to be explored in this
analysis:
Relative advantages: the degree to which ore-sands are considered better than the
preceding product, technology, concept or approach by key stakeholders in the context of
market conditions. Uptake of ore-sand as an alternative to sand and gravel taken from
rivers, coastlines and the nearshore environment by the early majority is likely to depend
on the alternative materials being technically and economically competitive with these
conventional construction materials, as it has been shown by other recent explorations of
tailings resource potential (e.g. Seal & Piatak, 2017). Economic factors for innovation
adoption are likely to include traditional internal drivers (profitability, lower costs) and
external factors (competitor behaviour, market drivers; Kempkens, 2015). Sustainability
agendas and net contributions to the 2030 Agenda is a live issue for the mineral resource
governance world, and as a result affecting the construction sector and the production,
trade and use of aggregates. Sustainability opportunities and constraints are increasingly
important as policy and citizen-driven changes affect the economics of production and
consumption of mineral resources (Northey et al., 2018) as well as the ‘Sustainable
Development License to Operate’ (IRP, 2020). As these trends continue to expand into the
exploration, development and utilization of sand resources, we expect that early and late
majority adopters will also want to know whether or not they
can and
should
pursue
alternative sands as contributions to sustainability goals in line with their core missions,
financial performance and risks management (e.g. Ghassim & Bogers, 2019).
Compatibility:
the
degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with
existing organizational goals, current or future technical and legal constraints, values, past
experiences, and needs of the potential adopters and broader social goals. Many
standards, both voluntary and legal, are likely to be a concern for early and late majority
adopters: Many standards, both voluntary and legal, are likely to be a concern for early and
late majority adopters: Concrete performance standards (e.g. ISO 19338:2007
Performance and assessment requirements for design standards on structural concrete;
BS EN 206:2013+A1: 2016 Concrete: Specification, performance, production and
conformity); Infrastructure project standards (e.g. the FIDIC Principles3, World Bank’s
International Finance Corporate (IFC) performance standards4, Standard for Sustainable
and Resilient Infrastructure SuRE); Building standards (e.g. International Code Council);
mine tailings management voluntary disclosures, standards and regulatory changes (e.g.
Global Industry Tailings Management Standard, Global Tailings Dam Portal Project). In
3 The International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) provides international standard forms of contract for use on
national and international construction projects cover a range of issues including risk management, project sustainability
management, environment, integrity management, dispute resolution techniques and insurance and a number of guides for
quality-based selection, procurement and tendering procedures. https://www.fidic.org/, accessed 21 June 2021.
4 IFC's Environmental and Social Performance Standards define IFC clients' responsibilities for managing their environmental
and social risks.
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addition, even if technical, economic viability and sustainability conditions are met, ore-
sands will also need to be compatible with broader values and needs, including informal
sectoral norms or culture (e.g. Ciganek et al., 2014 timing; Dearden et al., 1990 hierarchy
effects; Mazzucato, 2011 public policy-driven innovation).
Complexity: the degree to which an innovation is considered as difficult to understand and
use. Perceived complexity not even actual complexity can be a deterrent to adoption
of new products or processes (Schlindwein & Ison, 2004). It is likely to be relevant at many
different points of potential adoption of ore-sand within the sand value chain and in how
these products are communicated and implications for trust building with early and late
majority adopters (Molina-Castillo et al., 2012). It has been posited that where
technological products or process innovations are viewed as too complex, potential
adopters may fear increased transaction costs5 like increased uncertainty, information
searches, changing supplier relationships and contracts and require strong positive
incentives to overcome them (Wang et al., 2012).
Trialability: the degree to which new ideas or innovations can be experimented for a limited
time ahead of making larger commitments. Uncertainties around relative advantage,
complexity, compatibility are likely to be compounded by a few opportunities to trial ore-
sand with scaling potential and observe the results. Even when relative advantage and
other criteria are met, an inability to ‘try before you buy’ can prevent or slow the rate of
adoption of a new product or process (Stryja & Satzger, 2018).
Observability: the degree to which the results of an innovation become clearly visible to
decision makers and stakeholders within organizations and in industry sectors. It is not
sufficient that relative advantages and compatibility are proven the results have to be
clearly communicated to decision makers at different points in the aggregates market
supply chains and individual organizations (Molina-Castillo et al., 2012). Beyond internal
business decisions, perceptions of broader groups of state and non-state actors are likely
to matter (Cashore, 2002), perhaps even more so in a period of growing calls for social and
environmental justice in COVID-19 recovery: for example, environmental, governance and
social risk issues can motivate investor behaviour (Innis & Kunz, 2020; Liekefett et al., 2021),
intensify political action by local community and Indigenous Peoples and other civil society
actors (Menton et al., 2021), all of whom are public policy actors engaging with both sand
and mine tailings management sustainability concerns.
5 Transaction costs: the costs incurred in undertaking an economic exchange. Practical examples of transaction costs include
the commission paid to a stockbroker for completing a share deal and the booking fee charged when purchasing concert
tickets. The costs of travel and time to complete an exchange are also examples of transaction costs. The existence of
transaction costs has been proposed as the explanation for many of the economic institutions that are observed. For example,
it has been argued that production occurs in firms rather than through contracting via the market because this minimizes
transaction costs. Transaction costs have also been used to explain why the market does not solve externality problems. See
also Coase theorem; transaction cost economics.
https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803105309121, accessed 21 June 2021.
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3 Demonstrating the possibilities
This section describes the scope and overall approach of the project, and introduces the case-
study on Vale sand. The case study demonstrates a change in attitudes from treating waste as
a liability to recognising its potential as a valuable resource, and helps in the investigation of
real-world solutions aligned with the circular economy in the area of mine tailings management
and use of alternative construction materials.
3.1 Project background and description
Objective
The aim of the project is to investigate whether co-products of mineral ores, with favourable
mineralogical and physicochemical characteristics, can be a viable and sustainable source of
substitute aggregate material for construction and other industries, and reduce the rising
demand for sand extracted from the natural environment. Focusing on promising real-life
examples, our research explores whether ore-sand from iron ore can provide a suitable,
responsible and just alternative source of sand. The project includes the analysis of a real-world
case-study, including sampling and testing of the material, consistent with the design of the
project as a 12-month pilot. There is potential to further extend the project and to apply the
methodology to other case-studies.
Assumptions underpinning project design
If we focus on keystone actors in the construction industry and understanding their
interests, constraints, beliefs and habits this will yield the most useful missing
understanding of ‘the chasm’.
If we can reduce uncertainties around technical and economic viability (Relative
advantage, Complexity, Compatibility), keystone actors are more likely to state that their
beliefs are different and they intend to change behaviour. [Note: bounded by project
duration].
Even if keystone actors believe alternatives with technical and economic viability are
already on the market, there will be other factors impacting adoption, including the
power, interests and values of other actors.
Key questions
Does ore-sand meet technical, environmental, economic and regulatory requirements
to offset the expected increase in demand for river and marine sand in construction
industry uses?
What uses of river and marine sand in the construction industry can ore-sand
substitute?
What are the key factors likely to determine adoption of ore-sand in the mainstream
aggregates market?
How can any potential displacement impacts on traditional local sand markets be
addressed to ensure a just transition, and what partnerships and business opportunities
are possible with such actors?
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Vale is a Brazilian multinational corporation and one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore.
It operates more than 20 iron ore mines in Brazil, generating millions of tonnes of tailings each
year. Over the years, many initiatives to increase material efficiency for the recovery of iron led to
an associated increase in silica content in tailings. These silica-rich tailings essentially sand
present new opportunities for both commercialisation and reduced environmental impacts from
mining. In addition, in the case of surface mining of highly weathered (oxide) ores such as iron
ore, the excavated materials often contain very low concentrations of heavy metals and other
elements of concern from an environmental and human health perspective. This may present an
opportunity to simplify the recovery processes and broaden the options for the reuse and
repurpose of these (previously) wasted materials.
One of the first dedicated sand recovery projects at Vale the Quartz Project was developed in
2013 by a Swiss-based staff memberDr Emile Scheepersin partnership with four other team
members while undertaking his Executive MBA at EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Its
purpose was to test an idea as well as commercial applications for the silica-rich material derived
from mine tailings, with an estimated potential production of 10-20 Mt a year. This initiative led
to the first demonstration of alternative sand application in the engineered stone industry.
Engineered stone is an alternative to natural stone in household bathrooms and kitchen finishing
in the construction sector. It is typically made from primary silica (93%) and resin (7%), plus added
colour pigments and other aesthetic materials. The Vale silica-rich waste provided a low-cost
substitute to raw quartz materials and produced engineered stone in line with industry standards
(EN14617) in its resistance to stain, strength and impact. Aiming to scale this success beyond the
engineered stone market, the Vale Quartz Project continued to develop and test new applications
for sand by-product, including concreting, construction fill, paving, and cement manufacturing.
Most recently, an additional incentive was introduced with the introduction of stricter regulation
in tailings management, including a ban on new and existing upstream type dams (the most
common and low-cost option). The ban was introduced by the Brazilian government as a response
to the iron ore tailings dams disasters in 2015 and 2019 and led to accelerated exploration of
possibilities for Vale sand, potentially drastically reducing the amount of tailings for disposal. In
2020, Vale received its first environmental licence for the production of sand, and launched several
large-scale initiatives for application of ore-sand and tailings residues in the state of Minas Gerais.
Looking into the future and responding to global efforts to address the sand challenge, Vale now
also considers opportunities for the application of ore-sand worldwide. This may contribute to
resolving conflicts around sand supply and avoid significant environmental damage from
unsustainable practices in sand mining, in particular excessive extraction from rivers and sensitive
coastal areas. As a part of this response, Vale provided funding and sand material samples for
independent testing and review, aiming to facilitate the investigation of opportunities for ore-
sand globally. This work is led by the Sustainable Minerals Institute at The University of
Queensland (Australia), in collaboration with University of Geneva (Switzerland).
INTRODUCING VALE SAND
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3.2 Methods and materials
We employed an exploratory approach using a mixed methods research design, in line with
best research practices for evaluating transition pathways that include uncertainties around
disruptive innovations (Turnheim et al., 2015; Bamburger et al., 2016).
Material characterization and testing
Rigorous and independent sampling included two steps. A preliminary sample, from a pilot-
scale production, was shared by Vale in December 2020 for which basic characterisation was
undertaken. Two independent samples, from an industrial full-scale operation, were collected
from the Brucutu iron ore processing plant in Minas Gerais, Brazil on the 28th of July, 2021. All
major testing and analysis were conducted by the Sustainable Minerals Institute at The
University of Queensland, Australia, with additional testing conducted at Federal University of
Minas Gerais, who assisted with the sample collection on behalf of the research team.
Stakeholder interviews
We applied a definition of stakeholders as all who might be affected by extraction of natural
sand, and transition to alternative sands (Reed et al., 2009). We initially assumed a need to focus
on keystone actors in the construction industry and their interests, constraints, perceptions,
beliefs and habits to assist with:
Identifying potential opportunities for circular economy solutions in the aggregates
market;
Cataloguing additional incentives and barriers to adoption of sand alternatives in the
aggregates market; and
Evolving sustainability requirements in the major use sectors, specifically targeting the
construction sector.
Decisions concerning uptake of ore-sands will not depend on a single decision maker. Such
decisions are widely distributed amongst organisations, individuals and groups with varying
agency, and they are influenced by many other factors in market and policy environments. This
process fits the description of a complex decision-making situation. We need to catalogue and
understand additional incentives and barriers to adoption in major use sectors with respect to
a) plural values, institutions (rules) and “rules-in-use”, and b) changing sustainability trends in
major use sectors, and c) artisanal and small-scale mining sector impacts and what they mean
for sustainability outcomes as per best practice in sustainability science on transition planning
(Scoones et al., 2021). For these reasons, we expanded to a multi-stakeholder design as a wider
set of perspectives that are beneficial to understanding incentives and barriers to alternatives
in regional and national contexts and contributing to sustainability assessment framework
design.
The expansive number and diversity of stakeholders in the interviews generate qualitative data
for analysis that contributes insights to defining the focus and boundaries of the economic,
technical and sustainability assessment, as well as generating some insights for promoting ore-
sand as an alternative sand to river and marine sand in construction uses.
Interviews were scheduled from January to December 2021 according to the protocol and
procedures in Annex 2. A total of 21 interviews were conducted.
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TABLE 1. SUMMARY OF STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEWS (JANUARY-DECEMBER 2021).
Interviewee
profiles
Number
of inter-
views
Country / regional
situations explored
in interviews
Aggregates
market players
perspectives
captured
Industry roles held
by different
interviewees
Public officials in
in Kenya, Jamaica
and Sierra Leone
(3 national and 1
subnational
government)
4 South East Asia
Cambodia
Japan
Vietnam
Africa
Kenya
Nigeria
Senegal
Sierra Leone
America
USA
Caribbean
Jamaica
Europe
France
Netherlands
Switzerland
UK
CRH plc.
Lafarge Holcim
Jamaica
Aggregates Ltd.
Bamburi Cement
Ltd.
International
Recycling
Federation
Lathion
Carrières et
Garages SA
AECOM
Jan De Nul
Minerals
Product
Association
IRMA
Global
Infrastructure
Basel
British Standards
Institute
R&D materials
scientist
Global and regional
sales and
commercial
development
Trading units
(export-import and
domestic
procurement of raw
materials)
Senior project
manager
Quarry manager
Logistics expert
Sustainability lead
Recycled
aggregates policy
design/advocacy
Standard-setting
body analyst
Aggregates
market
employees
8
Academics
directly engaged
in national sand
extraction
monitoring
3
Analysts in
standards setting
bodies
2
Civil society
organisation
members
(Environmental &
Social Justice)
4
Review of technical and sustainability standards and requirements
In this study we undertook a review of existing technical standards and norms in different
regions for different applications of aggregate materials. The review included major
international or regionally recognised standards, such as International Standards (ISO), the
European Standards (EN), British Standards (BS), American Standards (ASTM), the Indian
Standards (IS) and Australian Standards (AS). Different applications of sand include, for example,
concreting, road base materials, land reclamation, and industrial uses of silica sand. The
technical findings from the case-study in this project have been cross-compared with the
standards review and other regulatory requirements.
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In parallel, we overviewed existing sustainability standards and norms for different applications
of aggregate materials (e.g. SuRe® Standard), focusing on major global voluntary standards in
construction sector applications. In combination with stakeholder interviews, this helped us to
assess the general landscape of responsible sourcing and use of sand, and potential constraints
in the uptake of alternatives in the mainstream aggregate market. A full-scale assessment is
beyond the scope of this report, but further investigation of the sustainability dimensions in the
sand value chain is recommended, including extraction/production and transportation.
Together, this allowed us to confirm whether ore-sand can meet current norms, the definition
of potential applications, as well as contribute to the development of new guidelines that may
be required for making a transition across the chasm to adopting sand alternatives in the
aggregates market.
Review of sand production, consumption and trade data
A review of sand production, consumption and trade was conducted with the following data
sources, complemented by additional literature review (Friot and Gallagher, 2022):
Data published by two aggregates associations. The Union European Aggregates
Association (UEPG) publishes data (per type of aggregate) for Europe (EU28, EFTA,
Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia), Israel, Russia and
Turkey. The Global Aggregates Information Network (GAIN) communicates data from
their member associations (22 associations over 17 major producing regions) as well as
production estimates per global region.
Two harmonized trade databases: the BACI (Base pour l’Analyse du Commerce
International)6 from CEPII and the Chatham House Resource Trade Database. Both
databases include monetary values and volumes trade for natural resources and
resource products, including, sand and gravel (natural sands, silica sands & quartz
sands), bitumen, asphalt, among others7. Reporting differences between importing and
exporting countries is a standard problem with trade data. The BACI dataset attempts
to harmonize these differences and reports by product. Resourcetrade.earth was used
in this first exploration because it provides data already aggregated by regions.
A world economic-environment model called Exiobase8, a Multi-Regional Input-Output
model (MRIO) covering the whole world (49 countries/regions) and close to 200 sectors
in 2011 (latest available year; Merciai & Schmidt, 2018; Stadler et al., 2018). This model
was created by a consortium of European universities with European Union funding.
The main limitations of the above sources are:
Although more aggregates are extracted from nature than any other material after
water (UNEP, 2014), reliable data on their extraction is only available in certain
industrialised countries. As a result, proxies are used with all the inherent uncertainties.
6 Gaulier and Zignago (2010), http://www.cepii.fr/cepii/en/bdd_modele/bdd_modele.asp.
7 https://resourcetrade.earth/.
8 Exiobase.eu.
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Moreover, publicly available trade information draws from similar sources like the
United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade), which is self-
reported data and at times incomplete and inconsistent (see discussion in Dittrich &
Bringezu, 2010: 1839).
Input-Output Tables (IOT) used in MRIO models are generated from multiple data
sources requiring harmonization between classifications and are thus only
approximations which can differ from official national accounts. In addition, many
countries do not provide IOT and part of the models are thus extrapolated from
available data. In addition, computing global supply-consumption chains using MRIO
models is subject to known biases such as aggregation biases (since a country
production, trade and consumption are represented by a reduced number of
sectors/product categories compared to reality) and allocation biases (due to the law
of one price per sector/product category).
A third issue is that there is no universally accepted and commonly used terminology
for basic terms and definitions to model global sand availability, movement and use.
Common technical standards for soil, sand and gravel overlap but are different in
meaningful ways, and often vary from industry to industry and region to region which
impacts how data is collected and aggregated.
Life cycle assessment
A life cycle assessment of the case-study was conducted to consider the real-world impact of
ore-sand, and a number of modelled scenarios. Procedures for life cycle assessment help to
balance likely and actual outcomes at the nexus of plural societal goals, values, interests and
capabilities, considering different scales of social groups, geography and time and issues of
rights, justice and equity (Uitto, 2021). The sustainability of material production and
consumption, the environmental and social implications of the whole value chain, including
post-consumption, are important considerations (EC-JRC, 2010).
Sustainability frameworks for comparing outcomes from sand sourced from the natural
environment to outcomes from ore-sand do not currently exist. In this exercise, combining
literature review with data from the stakeholder interviews allowed us to construct a conceptual
framework that:
Links changes in sand extraction, trade and use activities, or the use of ore-sand, to
changes in environmental and social conditions, for better or worse, based on
evidenced causal relationships.
Links changes in environmental and social conditions to economic effects, impacts on
vulnerable groups, and systemic-wide effects including long-term social and
environmental resilience.
Given our particular concern with environmental impacts from current sand extractive practices,
we want to know if switching to ore-sand is likely to reduce them significantly. To this end, we
undertook a limited (i.e. cradle-to-gate) life cycle assessment (LCA)one of the best established
quantitative environmental impact assessment methodsto explore this question with
published data and data made available by the Vale co-products group.
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Validation and verification mechanisms
The project team established an Independent Scientific Committee which includes leading
experts in sand and aggregates extraction, material analysis, distribution, use and market
development. The Committee was consulted in matters such as validation of the materials
characterisation and testing design, verification of the findings from the project, as well as
providing additional insights and networking opportunities (see Annex C). In addition, some of
the technical findings have been discussed with the stakeholder focus groups / dialogues, along
with other aggregates industry players.
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4 Barriers and incentives to adoption of ore-sand by
mainstream aggregates market players
This section describes the barriers and incentives for early and late majority adopters based on
a qualitative analysis of stakeholders perspectives (n=21) across stakeholder groups including:
national government line ministries, quarry managers, logistics managers, sustainability
strategy and materials innovation staff in major aggregates producers, analysts in standards
setting agencies, and civil society representatives. Incentives and barriers are a function of local
conditions, actor-specific needs and resources, and the applications or use for which the
material is being sourced. Rather, this information shared here outlines the broad landscape
within which the
relative advantages
,
compatibility
,
complexity
,
trialability
and
observability
of
ore-sands would have to be demonstrated and communicated.
4.1 Relative advantages:
Why make the change to ore-sand?
Relative advantage is the degree to which ore-sands are considered better than the preceding
product, technology, concept or approach by key stakeholders in the context of market
conditions. Initial background reviews pointed to technical, economic, and sustainability factors
being the likely keys to understanding primary incentives and barriers for the uptake of ore-
sands and mining co-products, as alternatives to sand and gravel taken from rivers, coastlines
and the nearshore environment by the early and late majorities of aggregates mainstream
players. The stakeholders interviewed in this project confirmed these major factors, for the most
part, and complemented them with some additional perspectives.
Relative advantages in availability-transport interactions shape key incentives and
barriers
The most significant reference point for aggregates market players and their clients is
undoubtedly cost structures for sourcing and using sand and gravel, or cost-effective solutions
for sourcing. Availability and transport were repeatedly mentioned across all stakeholder
groups in different contexts as the major factors for aggregates sourcing decisions. As one
interviewee remarked: “
geology is a key limiting factor in the current paradigm”
when it comes
to aggregate availability; and, conversely, transport distance, modalities, network quality and
fuel costs are the key enabling factors.
If aggregates are needed in a region where naturally-sourced sand and gravel are scarce, then
people will pay for these materials to be transported across quite significant distances. Or, if the
transport economics do not support that, a switch to alternative materials like manufactured
sand from crushed rock, recycled construction and demolition waste among other materials
can happen in a market-led transition. Twenty years of river sand overexploitation in central
Kenya has reduced aggregate availability and water availability. As a result, one of the central
players in the regional aggregates market introduced a new concrete mix based on
manufactured sand (m-sand made from crushed rock), that conforms with Kenyan national
standards, to their main concrete product lines in 2016. Today, just 5 years later, this product is
the default choice unless a client specifies otherwise. The company can source m-sand at a
lower price compared to river sand and passes on some savings to their customers.
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Where sand and gravel are readily available, normal transport distance ranges from a few
kilometres up to 50-60 km. However, in practice, transportation range depends on a number of
factors and the exceptions (e.g. 100 km by road) are common enough to recommend avoiding
too general a rule of thumb. The significance and acceptance of transportation costs are a
function of the type of material needed and its availability or scarcity, transport mode and fuel,
client preferences and their willingness to pay extra, the quality of road transport infrastructure
in some contexts, and finally whether the end-application or use is high-value or low-value.
Three other examples were shared by interviewees in addition to the often-quoted cases of
Singapore and Dubai:
In Moscow, the local geology cannot provide decent aggregates with the characteristics
needed to produce high-strength concrete. Aggregates are imported from all over the
continent, including hard rock from coastal quarries in Scotland and Norway. Indeed,
these quarries are the source of hard rock for much of Europe.
In France, high speed train ballast is used across the country but is sourced from just 12
quarries and can be transported over significant distances by rail.
In Sierra Leone, mine tailings are known to be available and suitable as alternatives to
naturally-sourced sand. They are being explored by some bauxite mining companies
with the knowledge of the National Environmental Protection Agency in the context of
fulfilling some commitments to local communities to develop local road infrastructure
and educational facilities. However, the cost of transport is currently a barrier to extend
the use of these materials in construction beyond local areas. It was even perceived as
being more expensive than offshore sand sourcing (currently not used in this situation)
by one knowledgeable interviewee, who considered nearshore marine sand bank
mining likely to be more profitable and therefore more likely to reduce pressure on
beach extraction9.
Sand entering into the aggregates market is often aimed for concrete, yet global and regional
traders will rarely transport sand for concrete applications. One exception noted in the
interviews was the case of Jamaica which is exporting some sand for use as concrete raw
material to other islands in the Caribbean. The Pacific is another location where such transport
occurs.
Relative advantages of scale/volumes is not necessarily a strong incentive for
aggregate industry players until the material has been proven
Sourcing decisions, including the decision of which materials and how far to transport them,
are weighed against urgency, importance and profitability on a project-by-project basis. One
perspective that emerged was that the quantity of alternative aggregates is not an issue in
regions where recycled aggregates are available where there is a great deal of construction
and demolition waste, for example. The issue is in the applications for which that alternative
material can be used successfully. For example, the EU Waste Directive and national legislative
9 Sand mining in the active nearshore beach system usually does have a direct environmental impact on the beach
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and economic instruments instituted new protocols to reduce construction and demolition
waste going to landfill are creating pressure to find more commercial applications for this
material. However, not all construction and demolition waste are suitable, or can be easily made
suitable, to displace naturally-sourced sand and gravel. A number of Europe-based interviewees
raised the need to find a solution for some technical solutions, including local construction
standards and building codes that currently do not allow and block the greater use of available
recycled aggregate in construction applications
A missing perspective here is that of major project developers in regions where recycled
aggregates are not available in large volumes, i.e. where built environments are not mature
enough to be considered ‘urban mines’.
Relative advantages on sustainability outcomes are desirable but they are, in
practice, incompletely considered and not perceived as an essential part of
materials offering in local markets
“Circular economy is also a focus for us, a focus for the majority of people working in my
company because we do understand how important this is.
This sentiment from one
interviewee reflects the view and opinion of a number of industry interviewees that are
operating on a strategic level for aggregates players.
However, sustainability goals seem to be largely viewed through the lens of carbon emissions
and not on the place-based or ecological system basis that is more likely to reflect the extent
of social and environmental impacts that can occur when sourcing sand and gravel from rivers,
lakes, coastlines and nearshore environments. And while shifts may be happening in the largest
of the mainstream players, sustainability concerns are considered after economic costs and
benefits for most people in contexts where construction and development are seen as critical
non-negotiables.
Finally, sustainability concerns and circular economy policies are generating interest and
investment in a range of alternative materials already strongly present in mainstream regional
and domestic markets. These include traditional building materials, manufactured and recycled
aggregates, and new materials emerging out of local settings in response to local supply or
waste management issues. This implies that ore-sands have to demonstrate relative advantages
or complementary characteristics to both naturally-sourced sand and a wide range of
alternative materials already known and used.
4.2 Compatibility:
Do ore-sands match my constraints, needs and
expectations in a given situation?
Compatibility is the
degree to which ore-sands are perceived as being consistent with existing
organisational goals, current or future technical and legal constraints, values, past experiences,
and needs of the potential adopters and broader social goals. Background reviews have already
highlighted the need for compatibility with technical standards, legal and regulatory
requirements and more intangible sets of values. Stakeholders interviewed confirm these major
factors, for the most part, and complement with additional perspectives.
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Compatibility with performance goals is a key factor shaping incentives and barriers
There was a sentiment expressed in many interviews that river sand in particular is a hard
material to beat for performance in applications for making cement and concrete. This
sentiment is not only a question of meeting legislative requirements or technical performance
standards, however. There are many decisions and decision makers to consider when adopting
an alternative, including the different types of performance goals:
Technical performance standards for concrete and construction: While meeting current
standards is needed to enter the market, stakeholders also shared that materials science is an
evolving science and the norms are updated regularly, and in certain regions. There is a live
conversation around performance-based vs ingredient-based standards for concrete and
cement, as one example. One interviewee remarked, giving the example of how concrete norms
have been changed to reduce clinker use to reduce CO2 emissions in cement production, how
norms are changing (
”we no longer use Portland cement as the norm”
) as materials technology
innovation occurs:
I know it looks like the cement and concrete industry moves very slow
maybe for some cases that is true but in terms of the properties of a material I think there’s
really a huge driving force in making changes because there are advantages for everybody[….]
We are moving and we are moving faster than people think”.
Ultimately, technical norms are in
place to help an alternative reach a certain technical performance but industry innovation is
moving beyond the established norms in cement and concrete production. The underlying
performance criteria driving experimentation for high-performance applications include:
durability (
”a concrete must last at least 50 years”
); water absorption problems for using recycled
aggregates with real world conditions leading to issues with concrete consistency (
”this is the
killer”
); on the other hand, the fresh state concrete must be liquid and easy to spread (essential
to workers). Where high-performance is required, more than one stakeholder expressed
preferences to continue working with virgin naturally-sourced material and avoid alternative
materials. Where a lower performance is required, and building codes/ construction standards
would allow, this is the opportunity for alternatives to be used instead of river and marine sand
and gravel.
Client-demanded sustainability performance: Major aggregates firms are experiencing a mix of
drivers on sustainability performances: political and policy in some cases, but social drivers of
client or consumer questions and requests seem to be moving major firms ahead of any political
momentum or legislative push on sustainability. The CO2 emission reduction performance has
driven some strong market demand for green concretes, and environmental concerns have
driven design and materials selection in some high-profile projects (one stakeholder mentioned
the construction for Google in California). There is a perception gathered from the aggregates
market interviews that energy use and associated carbon emissions create a greater negative
environmental sustainability impact than in extractive phases.
Circular economy performance targets: For example, in Switzerland, there is a legislative
requirement that obliges new construction to include 20% recycled aggregates that is driving
increased uptake of alternative materials, even to the point where they are transported long
distances to fulfil quotas. Where such circular economy instruments (other examples in the
interviews include UK aggregates tax and landfill tax combination) favour alternative materials,
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they are largely focussed on recycled aggregates from construction and demolition waste
streams.
Compatibility with the ‘direction of travel’ of the public policy environment
Broadly speaking, two basic value structures emerged in interviews to describe policy
environments: 1) those weighted towards naturally-sourced sand extraction because it is
impossible to envision not building what needs to be built, and 2) those leaning towards green
and circular economic systems either because loss of resilience and resource security or because
of anticipatory stances. In the latter, ore-sands are compatible with policy goals and incentives
for uptake increase because institutions, structures and processes shape the landscape to make
it so. However, the barriers are high in the first structure so much so that the relative
availability, economic and other advantages must be incontestable and perhaps benefits shared
strategically with beneficiaries of the current status quo. Many people benefit from the current
system of naturally-sourced sand extraction from small scale miners, local institutions (‘head
men’ of the villages, local municipalities/sub-national governments) who extract rents, local
construction companies, larger industry groups some of these groups will need to see
observable results for economic security and livelihoods from alternatives or some equivalent
or better situation.
The place naturally-sourced sand and gravel holds in many economies is a complicated one.
National governments are key in high-value mineral resource extraction dynamics but
subnational governments are playing a more significant role in driving both overexploitation
and the shift to more responsible sourcing of sand and gravel. Much depends on the ability to
transport large volumes of materials (the available infrastructure), financial structures of public
budgets, mandates and overall availability of resources for enforcement, which are influenced
by the degree of vertical integration of public administrations and the tendency for
decentralised governance. Extraction rents are a major source of revenue for some subnational
government agencies, but it is overlooked by key line ministries with stakes in regulating sand
mining because it is not a high-value mineral resource.
Negative externalities are too common. Environmental impact assessments, extraction permits
and restoration/rehabilitation requirements in extraction concessions are the primary
regulatory instruments to identify and manage social impact, ecological integrity, biodiversity
impacts and other environmental sustainability concerns. Where resources and incentives are
in place in the policy environment, these instruments function to constrain resource access
successfully (though rehabilitation seems to be a concern in many locations). However, more
often than not, interviewees raised issues about the poor quality of environmental impact
assessments, conflict of interests involving those who conduct them, the absence of permitting
rationales, plans and volumetric monitoring relative to real situations of sand availability, and
remarked that rehabilitation was rarely required. The shortfalls of these instruments affect the
opportunities to influence the economics of sourcing sand from the natural environment and
therefore the incentives and barriers for alternatives.
Public policy leadership shapes incentives and disincentives strongly when it has the buy-in
from citizens. It is worth highlighting that improvements have happened in sand management
even in contexts of generally poor regulatory enforcement when other basic resource threats
have emerged locally from sand exploitation. One example surfaced in interviews was how
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water quality and availability in Kenya impact the scarcity of aggregates for local development.
Resource flows from outside the county for construction in Nairobi and the Nairobi-Mombasa
transport corridor have motivated the creation of the Makueni County Sand Conservation and
Utilization Authority.10 The authority regulates access to local sand resources and prioritises
extraction for local development purposes and recovers cost of their operations through a fee-
based system which is implemented on anything above 2 tonnes extracted from specific
approved sites. Successful management was credited to the strong community support and
buy-in secured in part through participatory monitoring committees which determine where
and how much sand can be extracted.
Compatibility with private voluntary or informal norms & standards
Additional elements raised in interviews linked to compatibility with values, needs, expectations
and interests include compatibility with:
Internal stakeholders – organisational business models and mindsets: Introducing ore-sands to
product lines can be easier or harder depending on whether the organisation considers their
core mission to produce and trade naturally-sourced materials or developing products and
services that can draw upon a
“family of aggregates”,
as it was termed by one industry
interviewee based in Europe
.
Indeed, some European stakeholders seemed to hold the
perspective that alternatives were already well embedded in the market (fly ash, bottom ash,
construction and demolition waste, slag sand though these are largely acknowledged as
substitutes within cement production and not in concrete production, which is perhaps the
largest consumption application of sand). The issue is more that these materials demonstrate
fundamental technical and cost challenges, and lack some basic enabling policy conditions
including adoption of already established or well-proven policy instruments for encouraging
circular economy processes in waste management`.
Internal stakeholders Laborer expectations and needs for working with concrete material.
Laborers, and on the ground workers, are critical stakeholders who can advocate for or block
new materials uptake (“
they are not important, they are essential”
). Also, without training and
their buy-in, laborers can also harm the wider perception of ore-sand technical performance by
mixing and using alternative sand concretes incorrectly, creating poorer quality products.
Personal interests of powerful actors. In two national cases, stakeholders mentioned the
important role of the informal use of political power by national and subnational level politicians
in reducing or preventing extraction from beaches in areas where they own property, either for
personal use or as investments.
“Bread and buttergoals of achieving basic social security and maintaining stable societies.
Whatever is going to be done, it has to consider local livelihoods. No matter how good the
objectives are, if it threatens additional poverty or economic burdens for vulnerable people, it
will not gain support. One stakeholder’s reflection:
“There is this notion that we can’t do without
sand, and that we can do without using sand as a way of livelihood, and therefore going that
10 Makueni County Sand Conservation and Utilization Act, 2015.
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route to regulate it in a strict sense might cause chaos”.
In line with the
Mosi-oa-Tunya
Declaration on Artisanal and Small-scale Mining, Quarrying and Development
(Franks et al.,
2020) it is critical that any change process with the potential to impact artisanal and small-scale
miners, involves those very same miners in the decision-making from the outset.
Aspirational consumption goals for building with concrete. Strong incentives to build with
concrete rather than traditional building materials that surfaced in all three interviews reflect
concerns about durability of traditional materials, status-seeking behaviours, conformity with
perceived and actual emerging social norms and a desire for contemporary design.
4.3 Complexity:
Will ore-sand be easy to use?
The degree to which ore-sands are considered as difficult to understand and use must consider
some varied perspectives that shape incentives and barriers. Some examples raised in interviews
include:
Operations and logistics of working with recycled aggregates are more complicated than
working with virgin material sourced from rivers. This is a barrier to uptake beyond what use of
recycled materials is required legally.
Changes in well-established practices. Any additional processes or changes in existing
processes (i.e. concrete mixes) required to use ore-sands compared to river sand run the risk of
noncompliance and negative perceptions about the quality of application performance
achieved with ore-sand. Training and capacity building for masons and laborers were
recommended based on the Kenyan example of a transition to manufactured sand.
Environmental pollution concerns from materials associated with mining. Concerns about
having to treat mine tailings for toxic elements or other pollutants come quickly to the mind of
nontechnical actors when ore-sands from mine tailings are mentioned, justifying the need to
clarify the difference between the use of tailings residues as sand,
vis-à-vis
the production of
sand by-products from mineral ores.
Regulatory and coordination complexity. This is already a challenge for naturally-sourced sand
and gravel and for using bottom ash, recycled aggregates and other alternative products in
some jurisdictions. Perhaps this can work as an incentive to shift to ore-sands if the relative
complexity is proven to be lower for users.
4.4 Trialability:
What kind of ‘try before you buy’ factors matter most for
ore-sands?
Trialability generally means the degree to which new ideas or innovations are experimented for
a limited time period, i.e. perceived ease/usefulness, voluntariness, image and membership.
Uncertainties around relative advantage, complexity, compatibility are being compounded by
a few opportunities to test ore-sands in the mainstream market. The project team started out
with the view that the scale of mine tailing volumes is likely to be perceived as an advantage to
market actors. However, the interviews with the aggregates actors suggested that
communicating the potential volumes of ore-sands may actually create hesitance initially. As
one aggregates sector actor drew on a parallel example of steel slag when it was first exported
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from Europe (Germany) to Africa (Nigeria), as a material that was new and not well understood
in the importing market - though one with proven technical and economic benefits:
“When people are buying imported material, it’s normally in large quantities. The average size
of a cargo is going to be 30-40,000 tonnes of material. It’s a huge amount of material. So, it’s a
big commitment to take something for the first time. If you haven’t used it before, you don’t
know how it’s going to go. No matter how great a story I tell you, to spend several million
dollars on 30-40,000 tonnes of material is a big commitment. So, we would often come up
against people who were reluctant because it hadn’t been done before in that country. They
hadn’t used that material. So, they wanted to sit back and wait until someone else had done it.”
4.5 Observability:
What are the performance factors around which ore-
sands need to show proven results?
The degree to which positive outcomes from using ore-sands need to be clearly visible to the
potential users of that material, as well as other stakeholders who influence the incentives and
barriers to its adoption. The following perspectives emerged from the qualitative data analysis:
Proving relative advantages to internal stakeholders in aggregates market firms: Since
the primary drivers are largely economic in nature, results around profitability of ore-
sands, a likely future of growing demand for these materials, their contribution to
preparedness for adapting to changing regulatory environments with circular economy
motivations, all seem critically important to communicate.
Tangible demonstrations to aggregates clients that ore-sand can be used as an
alternative to river, lacustrine and marine sand. Other alternatives are better known and
trusted. Ore-sands are a brand-new concept for many. They also have some risk
perception hurdles to overcome by their association with the primary material extraction
sector with already complex society and environment interactions, and some poor track
records in mitigating environmental and social impacts.
Proven possibilities for providing livelihoods equivalent to or better than sand
extraction. The benefits of sourcing sand and gravel from the natural environment are
currently very visible for many stakeholders: generating livelihoods, providing desirable
concrete for building. These stakeholders, however, do not see the downsides of such a
transition. If the international community or any actor starts to talk about change on the
ground for responsible sand sourcing and management, it needs to be ready with a plan
and resources to manage expectations and concerns carefully with real possibilities to
support economic activities that are the equivalent or better than those that are
currently being supported through sand extraction. This is an imperative in a COVID-19
context where sand extraction is providing cash-in-hand jobs for younger people with
daily incomes in economies where other livelihood sectors like tourism have been
severely impacted by the global pandemic.
Contribution to national development goals, policies and plans. If ore-sands want
national government support, they will need to secure allies within national line
ministries related to mining, transport and infrastructure, environment and natural
resource management based on the potential for high-value applications.
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Contribution to improving equity outcomes. The theme of equity came up in a number
of distinct ways. One stakeholder expressed how those who can afford to use or
promote ore-sands should be the ones to do it, giving the example of mining companies
who the interviewee thought should bear the cost of increasing the availability (and
reducing the cost) of ore-sand. A second stakeholder mentioned the injustice of sand
being extracted and transported out of localities for development gains elsewhere.
There are also equity considerations related to sand extraction. On the one hand there
is a potential that ore-sand could displace artisanal and small-scale miners who may
rely on informal sand extraction as a livelihood in circumstances of poverty. This might
manifest where the introduction of ore-sand is at greater volumes than any expected
increases in future demand for sand. Displacement may meet the desired goal of
reducing the pressure of sand extraction from dynamic natural systems where
environmental impacts are greatest, but if not accompanied by a just transition it is
unlikely to result in an equitable outcome. On the other hand, where local communities
are standing up to overexploitation of naturally-sourced sand and gravel by elite actors,
part of the underlying motivation is the unfairness of a situation whereby only a few
individuals are benefiting from what is generally a publicly-owned resource. In such
cases benefits may not be shared with the community and, worse, they can also reduce
the availability of other public or common goods like water, or aggregates for local use.
4.6 Opportunities for adoption of ore-sands in mainstream markets
Stakeholder data suggests that the most critical factor for adoption of ore-sands in mainstream
markets is
relative economic advantage
. This is however not simply a question of ensuring
alternatives are cheaper than conventional aggregates. Relative advantage here goes beyond
accounting cost to include opportunity costs of foregoing aggregate consumption, i.e. project
failures; the value derived from managing potential future supply constraints and ensuring
consistency in materials inputs; avoiding reputational risks; etc. Stakeholder engagement has
also confirmed that sand sourcing and material efficiency are currently poorly addressed across
sustainability standards. From our analysis, stakeholder perspectives generated several insights
essential to any strategy for introducing ore-sands to mainstream aggregates markets. In
addition, evolving sustainability requirements in the major use sectors (including construction)
can be a gateway for ore-sands to enter mainstream aggregates markets.
Developing a niche
If it can be shown that ore-sands add niche value in key construction sector activities, incentives
are likely to emerge for the uptake at scale as it has for other alternatives in some
regional/national aggregates markets. Solving real problems for the sector is a way in.
Introducing ore-sands into aggregates markets requires developing and honing a well-crafted
market niche in the construction industry emphasising the alternative’s sustainability
credentials. This entails telling an authentic story, for example emphasising ore-sand’s ability to
abide by sustainability standards. Simultaneously, it requires showcasing this circular economy
solution’s net sustainability impact when sourced for construction projects.
Aggregates market players increasingly perceive strong calls to engage in sustainability
certification processes across the sand value chain, including for extraction, transport, and
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construction sector applications. It reflects how the aggregates sourcing landscape is changing,
Back then, cost was the main concern for our projects, we’re now adding sustainability
(Aggregates market analyst). Carbon reduction is increasingly becoming part of construction
companies’ tender applications and is often embedded within sustainability criteria to win
contracts.
Finding allies and engaging in cross-sectoral dialogue
Who are the allies who can help construct a bridge over the Chasm by: a) changing current
narratives about sand from natural sources being the ideal (river sand in particular), to talking
about “a family of aggregates” that includes alternatives as common place, b) supporting
demonstration of the material in use, c) shaping the conversation on circular economy in
mineral resources and construction applications.
Engaging in cross-sectoral dialogues with industries and standard-setting institutes with an
interest in sand and gravel procurement offers multiple opportunities for introducing
alternative sands into the aggregates markets. Potential allies include new market partners,
including standard-setting institutes who can facilitate setting-up new opportunities to
research, test and promote ore-sand’s adoption.
As confirmed by stakeholder interviews with aggregates market players, to cross the innovation
chasm it is essential to promote pilot projects with real world results that showcase the
material’s easy-win and replicability, with an emphasis on the material’s performance, durability,
and sourcing process. These lesson-learning, stakeholder engagement and networking
opportunities will help provide real-world testimonies to alternatives’ potential.
One opportunity to find allies is namely to engage with regulatory authorities as market
partners. When issuing contracts for construction projects, governments and regulatory
authorities increasingly seek to incorporate a sustainability dimension into the procurement
process. Such a sustainability dimension can namely include the use of alternative construction
materials in projects.
One avenue for finding such allies amongst regulatory authorities is through construction
projects targeting to be recognized as ‘sustainable infrastructure(UNEP 2021b). Sustainable
infrastructure projects are often anchored within local authorities’ regional decarbonisation and
longer-term development strategy. These project tenders embed sustainability criteria into the
evaluation phase, giving more weight to sustainability factors and performance-based criteria
when awarding contracts.
Finding such allies within the sustainable infrastructure landscape can help build a shared
pragmatic narrative around ore-sand as a material procured in sustainable infrastructure, in line
with end-users’ organisational goals, values and past experiences.
Reframing the agenda
Sustainability factors are important. However, how positive and negative impacts are
considered and accounted for currently in the sector are unlikely to create strong incentives for
alternatives. The current emphasis is on CO2 emission reduction and the risks posed by
observable inaction on climate change, which may or may not be sufficient to change the
agenda for ore-sands. The debate needs to include environmental and social impacts and risks
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they pose for different stakeholders, translated into economic impacts and risks for adjacent
economic sectors in sand extraction zones and their downstream, including informal sectors
that are supporting livelihoods and societal stability.
Sustainability is increasingly a key factor in aggregates sourcing practices and decision-making.
As our interviews confirmed, altering how buildings are designed and constructed require
changing aggregates sourcing processes. Time, cost, and legislative requirements are often the
main factors defining which materials are used.
One way to reframe the agenda is to collaborate with standard setting institutes to reset norms
so as to promote the inclusion of sand sourcing and efficiency considerations into accredited
sustainability standards, namely those focused on construction end-use applications.
If the standards allow for the use of ore-sands, it will incentivise interest, especially during the
project’s design phase. However, the main challenge for ore-sands to cross the chasm remains
at the issue of certification in line with local technical standards and performance requirements.
“A lot of the solutions we’ve led people to, their response has been to us it will take 10 or 20
years before these materials have the same local certification in place for us to use them”.
Enabling access
Meeting the technical standards that are gateways for market access is not a concern for the
stakeholders interviewed, since these standards are performance-based. To strengthen
incentives, the mainstream market needs ways to access alternative aggregate
materials/products that are a) ideally, built into existing supply chains and distribution
processes to reduce complexity of switching to the alternative, or b) cost competitive so that
the transaction costs implied in changing sourcing procedures can be overcome by a
profitability argument. Finally, two critical constituencies who need to be aware of the
alternative and convinced of its benefits include people selling and working with the materials
on-the-ground.
Giving the mainstream market ways to access ore-sands requires re-thinking sourcing practices.
Stakeholder perspectives generated insights for three entry points in introducing ore-sands into
existing sourcing practices:
What supply chain management does the project have in place? Sustainable sourcing
practices should go in-hand where possible, the public disclosure of aggregates
sourcing practices of contractors, sub-contractors, and primary suppliers.
Where is the project getting the materials from? Incorporating sustainable sourcing
practices increasingly matters to clients in larger construction projects. Implementing
such sustainable sourcing practices implies sourcing-where possible-from recycled
materials and/or by-product synergies. Simultaneously, it implies sourcing materials at
the minimal distance, ideally from regions in the proximity, all where cost-effective and
financially feasible to do so.
Is the project using the material wisely? Incorporating sustainable sourcing practices
likewise implies the need for material resource efficiency, such as using alternative
materials, whenever it is financially feasible and cost-effective to do so.
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Barriers: We have placed a lot of emphasis on how to bridge the innovation chasm, but it is also
worth considering how to address ‘trolls’ that might be present under that bridge, such as
vested interests, structures governing trade and distribution in supply chains.
Overcoming these barriers could be another challenge for ore-sand to access the market in the
early days.
FIGURE 2. AN OVERVIEW OF ELEMENTS NEEDED TO CROSS THE CHASM IN INNOVATION ADOPTION OF
ORE-SANDS.
Adapted from: (Polhill et al., 2019).
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5 Sand products and markets
This section overviews major properties and requirements for different types of sand used in
the construction sector and industrial applications, and the role of technical standards.
5.1 Major areas of application
Sand and gravel are very broad groups of materials which are usually extracted and used locally.
They are versatile but depending on their use, they can be subject to stringent requirements.
Whether a material can be considered as a product or viable alternative to sand and gravel
often depends not just on its technical performance, but also regulatory requirements,
environmental impacts, as well as cost and proximity to market.
The three major (economically significant) end-user groups for sand products include:
Construction;
Land reclamation and restoration; and
Industrial applications.
In addition, ecosystem services and agriculture are also important applications. Each end-user
group has its own set of standards and practices and often relies on a specialized sand producer
for their supply. However, this does not exclude the fact that certain large-scale
producers/suppliers work across several fields.
5.2 Sand products for different applications
Different areas of application may seek different properties from sand and aggregate materials,
resulting in rather unique products supplied to the market. In general, however, there are three
major types of properties and characteristics that the end-users take into account:
Physical: shape, colour, particle size distribution, density and other mechanical
characteristics;
Chemical: pH, mineralogical and chemical composition, organic content, etc.; and
Environmental: toxicity, bacteriology, specific contaminants, compatibility with target
eco-system.
For industrial applications, consistency of the material characteristics is equally important, while
for large scale projects of any nature, continuity of supply can be crucial. However, what type
of sand is used for which application is often determined by traditions in construction and
industrial applications, which in turn have evolved with different locally available raw materials,
geographical conditions and measurement systems. Several of these traditions have evolved
into norms, standards or codes and were subsequently replicated by various other regions
(UNEP/GRID-Geneva, 2021).
Construction
Construction related applications are by far the biggest market for sand (both in volume and
value). Sand is mainly tested for its physical properties, while chemical characteristics are
identified to determine whether chemical processes or reactions might negatively affect the
physical/mechanical integrity of the structure or end product over its envisaged lifespan. The
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environmental impact from a user perspective is only tested if there are prior concerns or
indications that the sand might be a source of pollution.
The key physical characteristics of interest for construction sand or fine aggregates include the
particle size distribution, abrasion resistance, grain shape, resistance to crushing, water
absorption and percentage of fines smaller than 75 microns or 63 microns (Harben 2002; Evans
2009). The grain size distribution, percentage of fines and shape are, however, the three most
important parameters. Applications which require medium to coarse sand usually come with
clear upper and lower limits for the particle size distribution whereas applications that accept
fine to medium sand usually only indicate a single upper value for the percentage of fines and
coarse material. For most construction applications, subangular and angular sand are preferred.
In construction and infrastructure work there are many “types” of sand. The type of sand is
usually named after the application it is intended for or the source of sand it is derived from
e.g. infill sand, masonry sand and ready-mix construction sand. The specification of these sand
types vary from region to region (see below section on Technical standards and norms).
Land reclamation and restoration
Similar to construction applications, sand used for land reclamation and restoration purposes
is mainly tested for its physical properties. Although, additional checks are required for harmful
trace elements (e.g. lead, arsenic, mercury), potential changes in chemical properties (e.g. pH in
water), and the amount of fines to be introduced into the environment. Another important
characteristic is the material’s compatibility with the environment where it is introduced and
how this may affect the ecosystem dynamics.
There are three major types of direct sand use for reclamation and restoration:
Beach nourishment and habitat restoration;
Sand bodies which require a high retaining and/or bearing capacity and need to be
compacted, e.g. sand bunds/quay and certain types of “sand foundations”;
Infill material.
In beach nourishment and habitat restoration, the original (native) sand has certain
characteristics, including mineralogy, composition, and grain size which are to some extent in
equilibrium with the local conditions (Dean & Dalrymple, 2004). The same is true for other
dynamic ecosystems such as rivers and lakes. Even if these environments are in erosion, the
original sand provides an indication of what type of sand would be stable in that particular
environment (e.g. Dean & Dalrymple, 2004; Speybroeck et al., 2006). Moreover, the ecosystem
is to an extent adapted to the conditions shaped by a certain type of sediment. In order to avoid
adverse effects on the river and coastal fauna, the dredging industry has to use the sediment
(sand) that closely matches the target environment (Greene, 2002). The sand is not only
important for its direct effects on the ecosystem but also for the longevity of e.g. the beach. It
defines how well the system can withstand the cumulative impacts of storm events, waves
and/or climate and thus how soon this beach will need to be renourished again (e.g. Dean &
Dalrymple, 2004; Speybroeck et al., 2006). In practice, this generally means that sand needed
for beach nourishment and habitat restoration has to be approached on a case-by-case basis.
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Land reclamation projects usually require highly compactable sand and infill material. The fill
material is usually sandy material which is pumped or placed into an area retained by a wall of
compacted sand, called the bund or retaining quay. The fill material makes the bulk of sand
used for this application. Generally fill material consists of free-draining sand with particle sizes
in the range of 100 to 600 µm (e.g. BS 6349-5). In most cases, the retaining quays require highly
compactable medium to coarse sand, used in smaller volumes. The precise specifications
depend on the required bearing capacity, slope stability, the technique used for placement
and/or time needed for the material to settle and compact, environmental requirements and
the risk of erosion, flooding and liquefaction. The major requirements for infill material relate
to sufficient stiffness, shear strength (i.e. resistance against deformation) and drainage. The
requirements for the compactable sand tend to be more strict as it needs to provide a higher
bearing capacity and retaining strength. In the last decades, major technical progress has been
made in the design of artificial islands to allow for various types of fill material including fine
sand.
Industrial applications
In contrast to construction and land reclamation, physical, mineralogical and chemical
properties are equally important for industrial applications of sand. Silica based sand is the most
important form of industrial sand, and the main focus of this project, but other types of sand
are also widely used, e.g. olivine, chromite, staurolite and zircon sands (e.g. Brown, 2000; USGS,
2021). Industrial applications typically require a much higher silica content than construction
sand, to distinguish between industrial grade sand and construction sand, ‘silica sand’ is a widely
accepted term for industrial sand with a high silica content.
Silica sand has a very broad range of applications. According to the report by Freedonia ‘World
Industrial Silica Sand Report 2016’ (in Sibelco, 2019), industrial sand production is mainly driven
by five sectors: glass (34%), foundry (22%), oil & gas (20%), high end building materials and
ceramics (7%), and chemicals (6%). Also the sports industry is a growing market for industrial
grade sand. Silica sand is used for football pitches, golf courses and in equestrian sports. In
glass making, sand is the principal source of SiO2. It is digested together with various additives
in the melting process for various kinds of glass including fiberglass, flint container glass, flat
glass and optical glass, glass wool and a large variety of specialty glasses (Scalet et