Politicians, industry manager and researchers all seem confident that Norway can succeed in creating the world's most sustainable mining industry. However, success requires that the government's mineral strategy very quickly is followed up with necessary tools and means, and that prospecting activity speeds up.
This was the panel's main conclusion in a debate during the annual Arendal festival (Arendalsuka) in August '23. The debate headline was "How can we create the world's most sustainable mineral industry?". Representatives from SINTEF Industry, NTNU and the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU) each gave a key note introduction to the topic.
Asociate professor Kurt Aasly at NTNU emphasized education and recruitment as crucial factors. Aasly claims that expertice itself is a critical commodity in the supply chain of critical raw materials and rare earth elements. NTNU is Norway's main education and research institution within the field og mineral geology. Nevertheless, only 5-8 master and PhD mineral geology candidates graduate from NTNU each year.
- This number is by no means high enough if Norway is to meet the requirements and goals of the government's national mineral strategy, says Aasly.
Long-term financing crucial
Head of Department Henrik Schiellerup at NGU stated that geological mapping of potentially viable critical raw material deposits demands both time and economic funding.
- NGU has received an earmarked funding for mineral mapping in 2023. This is a positive signal, well alligned with the national mineral strategy. However, it is not enough. Both Sweden and Finland are way ahead of Norway in public mapping and private prospecting. In order to catch up, NGU needs long term financing, says Schiellerup.
Member of Parliament Karianne B. Bråthen (Labour party), confirmed that the government is well aware of the need for funding, education, research and recruitment.
- Government budgets are annual, hence the annual earmark for 2023. However, the signals and intentions in our national mineral strategy are clear. On the positive side, we note that the public opinion, both in the local municipalities and on a national level, are more pro-mining than earlier, stated Braathen.
Alf Reistad, acting CEO in Rare Earths Norway, followed up on Braathen's statements:
- It's worth noticing that the Nome municipality and a majority of Nome's population support new mining activity in Fen, says Reistad. He further explained how his company Rare Earths Norway systematically works to ensure sustainability throughout the value chain.
- Close and contiuous dialogue is hihly emphasized, says Reistad.
Sustainable value chain
Sustainability is highly prioritized by the mining company Rana Gruber, as well. CEO Gunnar Moe elaborated:
- We aim to make Rana Gruber the world's first zero-emission mining company, and we believe to pass that milestone by 2025, says Moe.
- Zero emission means total electrification. However, sustinability is so much more than emission. All aspects of our value chain must be sustainable, including our staff recruitment and work environment. If our employees and their families can live close to work and avoid commuting, their foot print is reduced and our business more sustainable, says Moe.
We need to speed up!
The panel's mining industry representatives clearly stated that they are able to meet national and international demand for critical raw materials.
Pål Runde from Battery Norway and Ole Christian Selsås from Elkem both confirmed that they can supply Europe:
- Clearly, raw materials are critical to Europe. For instance, solar panel production requires silisium, which we extract from Norwegian quarts, and our supply capacity is strong.
- However, in addition to critial minerals and materials, power is crucial within our industry. Sustinable mining and the transition to zero emission production requires stable and predictable green power supply. We need to speed up within all parts of the value chain, and the government must give us the necessary tools if we are to succeed in creating the world's most sustainable mineral industry, say Runde ans Selsås.