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Tom Heldal

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Tackling the challenges of the green shift with mining


The transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy depends on mining. At the same time, we need to aim for a higher rate of metal and mineral recycling, writes the NGU blogger. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Each year the EU Commission directs its focus on mineral resources by organizing the Raw Material Week in Brussels. At this conference, participants look at the role of resources for value chains in Society and sustainable development. This year, the event provided more evidence that Europe is the main driving force for a global green shift.

Mineral resources are the main ingredient in everything around us. In addition, minerals are necessary for growing our food. Simply put, without mineral resources, people and society would collapse. 

Electric vehicles which run on green energy present us with a new challenge. Electric cars will demand more minerals than cars with an internal combustion engine that consumes "brown" energy. This means that the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is totally dependent on mining. At the same time, we need to ensure increased recycling of metals and minerals, so that in the future we need fewer mines. For some minerals, market availability is not guaranteed, but they are critical to key applications; such as, electricity and batteries, solar and wind power. 

Starting to see results

The EU Raw Mineral Initiative was the starting point of a wide range of R&D activities that collectively serve as the basis for a more sustainable society. Many of these have been run under the auspices of the research program Horizon2020. Now we are starting to see the results of all this activity – results that will be used by the European Commission to design a policy for a sustainable future. To reach this point, the geological surveys in Europe, through the EuroGeoSurveys, have had a central role. NGU has participated, and continues to participate, in many projects that have steadily laid the path forward. We have enormous, complex challenges that have no easy solutions. Hence, the plethora of projects and activities – each necessary to address a piece of a larger whole. Listed below are a handful. Don't be intimidated by all the acronyms; instead, click and explore! 
 
Europeans consume a large proportion of the world's mineral resources, but we produce very little. Therefore, we aim to make better use of European mineral deposits and find new ones. One important step is to harmonize data from all European countries so that "we know what we have". This task began with the Minerals4EU project and is currently being carried out in GeoERA Raw Materials through a project called Mintel4EU. There was also a dedicated project looking at European sources of rare earth metals (REE), EURARE
 
The next step is to predict better where in Europe lies the best chance of finding new mineral deposits – "What we can have." Project FRAME has begun with this task, and MINDeSEA collects information about resources on the seabed in European waters. 

Common "Language" 

EuroGeoSurveys has now undertaken a process that can lead to even more of this in the framework of the next research programme – Horizon Europe. Without a common "language," where data from different countries can be compared, it is futile to begin assessing which European resources will be useful in the future. For a standard terminology, we propose adopting the UN System of Classification of Mineral Resources (UNFC). A report on the application of the UNFC in Nordic countries has inspired the European Commission to use the classification system at a European level. We are also faced with the challenge of the destruction (and preservation) of areas with potential for mineral resources, both known or yet to be determined. Hence, the Horizon2020 project MinLand will ensure better visibility of mineral resources in European land management. 

Metals and industrial minerals are not the only geologic materials vital for the Green Shift. Natural construction materials have a role to play. Here, "locally sourced" is the catch phrase, and the Norwegian research project Kortreist Stein (Locally-sourced rocks, link just in norwegian) stands behind the reporting all its results. In the European context, EUROLITHOS aims to put European natural stone resources on the map to help make it easier for us to produce locally-sourced natural stone.  

Ethically responsible 

On the road to a more sustainable society and a circular economy, many agents must work together and have the same understanding of the challenges we face: Our entire society, our business community and our institutions are based on linear thinking. On such a basis, how can we build a circular economy? MINFUTURE places the spotlight on our material assets, how commodities and material move through value chains, and the knowledge behind restructuring. For the way forward, ORAMA suggests a number of measures we need to implement to procure data on the primary (resources in the ground) and secondary resources (including mining waste and end-of-life products). 

But where is industry?  We find industry well represented in Eit Raw Materials (European Institute of Innovation and Technology); many of project results are being revised for commercial use. More green mining, more recycling, a smaller carbon footprint. NGU participates in one project here: MAP. Greener mines apply not only to the external actors; everyone should be more concerned about what we consume. Also, manufacturers should be able to document that raw materials used in its products were produced under good ethical standards. This means that mineral and metal production should not involve child labor or high-risk working conditions or involve warlords or corruption. EU's new Due Diligence Ready Portal is a step in the right direction. 

Policy design

Overall, these projects and collaborative platforms provide a substantial contribution to the EUROPEAN Commission policy design and thus also important to Norway. The new Commission, running already, has clearly announced the "European Green Deal". These guidelines will certainly have a great impact on how climate and raw materials are dealt with in the future. The EU's own research establishment, the Joint Research Centre, has created its own portal on commodities, which EuroGeoSurveys partially feed with information from the geological surveys through the datasets and services of the European Geological Data Infrastructure. 

So, will all this work? Personally, I am convinced that it is the best path we have right now. This is a broad, global cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the extremely demanding goals of the Paris Treaty: researchers, industry, bureaucrats and politicians have united. The work is in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in pursuit of a path that will lead to a circular economy. 

Vi ser i på muligheter for å utnytte europeiske mineralforekomster bedre, og finne nye.
In Europe we consume a large proportion of the world's mineral resources.  But we produce little. Therefore, we are looking for opportunities to improve production of European mineral deposits and locate new ones. 
Photo: NGU. 

NGU’s participation 

NGU is a member of EuroGeoSurveys. Through this cooperation, and in direct cooperation with other geological surveys and universities, NGU is involved in several European projects related to resources. Listed here are projects in the EU Framework Programme for research and development that NGU has participated, or participates in: MINERALS4EU, EURARE, MINFUTURE, ORAMA, MINLAND, GEOERA including subprojects EUROLITHOS, FRAME, MINDeSEA, MINTEL4EU. As a third party: PROSUM and MICA. Through EIT Raw Materials: MAP and UNFC: Nordic report. NGU leads one project (EUROLITHOS) and is responsible for work packages in several; For battery Metals (FRAME), UNFC (MINTEL4EU) and volcanic sulfide deposits on the seabed (MINDeSEA). 

Want to learn more about mineral resources and European cooperation?