Facilitating networking is at the core of COST Actions. The collaborations and connections established are often very long-lasting and the starting point for sustained threads of research activities.
An example is COST Action NORMFORBUILDING (TU1301 – NORM for Building materials). This Action stimulated a continuing collaboration between scientists, industry and regulators to gather appropriate knowledge, experiences and technologies, and boost research on the safe reuse of waste streams containing enhanced concentrations of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM).
In the context of establishing a viable circular economy and the European Green Deal, there is growing interest in the development of new construction materials from a range of industrial waste streams. However, any recycled waste materials must be safe for reuse and many processes concentrate toxic or harmful substances in their waste streams including NORM.
The Chair of the Action was Professor Wouter Schroeyers of the University of Hasselt in Belgium. He describes two main research outputs from the Action.
“Firstly, we published a holistic evaluation of NORM reuse practices in a book ‘Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in Construction’ with contributions from over 50 COST Action partners,” he explains. “And secondly we developed a semi-automatic data mining tool for gathering information and established an accessible, updatable database containing all the available knowledge in the field.”
In addition, the main continuing outcome of the Action was the formation of a new European NORM Association (ENA) through the merger of two existing networks that was effectively catalysed by the Action’s activities.
The establishment of the new association was a significant step. “The size of the organisation means it can have more impact. ENA provides a clear, single voice towards the legislators to enable them to better understand feasible reuse options for NORM,” says Wouter.
“The Action stimulated lots of new research and collaborations resulting in a big boost of publications in the field.”
Under the umbrella of ENA, research initiated by NORMFORBUILDING is continuing. “The Action stimulated lots of new research and collaborations resulting in a big boost of publications in the field,” explains Wouter.
The main findings from the Action are leading to new types of production processes, complemented by suitable separation and pre-treatment techniques, that are providing novel materials for the construction sector including research towards new types of phosphor-gypsum-based construction materials.
“There is now much greater connection between industry and research. Industry comes to us for specific solutions and there is a much more integrated approach,” comments Wouter. “And we want to go further: in Belgium, currently, we are making a first attempt at enhanced landfill mining that could produce safe and high-quality materials from an extremely heterogeneous waste source.”
2021 saw the launch of the RadoNorm project under the EURATOM Horizon 2020 programme involving several of the Action’s partners. The project aims to answer open questions related to radon and NORM exposure of humans and the environment and provide a range of solutions for radiation risk reduction that should be widely acceptable to society.
And in 2022 the NORM-X event, the largest international NORM conference co-organised by ENA, will take place in The Netherlands. “This will feature the future of residues in the circular economy and the impact that the Action – and the continuing work of its network – is having,” concludes Wouter.