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Τρίτη, 21 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

Development of a Framework and a Decision Support System (DSS) for the Sustainable Exploitation of Rare Earth Elements (REE)

The process that promotes the sustainable mining of REEs
[by Sotirios N. Kamenopoulos, PhD thesis]

Global debates on mineral resources access, use and availability have gained a multidimension view the last years. The enormous economic and technological development of China, and other countries, leads to increased demand for critical raw materials such as Rare Earth Elements (REEs).

The global production of REEs currently is monopolized by China. Both European Union and U.S. are almost 100% dependent on imports of REEs. The gap regarding exploration and process of REEs between Europe and U.S. from one side and China on the other side is growing, thus, turning China into a global dominant player. 

Global REEs reserves by country (source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/277268/rare-earth-reserves-by-country/, 2016)
The relevant importance of REEs in terms of their uses, trade, the number of recent global initiatives, and the number of related geopolitical events/reports is doubtless. Consequently, mining of REE is an important challenge to the mining sector. 

Mining and production of REEs may be considered unique and different than other mining activities for two reasons: first, the presence of thorium and/or uranium in almost all REEs-bearing ores and, second, the complex metallurgy of REEs where there seems to be a lack of a standardized procedure for the extraction and refining of REEs. The concept of sustainable mining becomes even more complicated when applied to the mining of REEs since there are multiple paths for possible conflicts with stakeholders. 

Currently, there is a lack of a roadmap which may provide essential principles/best practices to sustainable mining of REEs. In addition, there is a lack of information regarding the assessment of REEs mining projects from the sustainability point of view. 

The best method to achieve the assessment of REEs mining projects is to use measurable qualitative and/or quantitative indicators. REEs mining projects are characterized by specific particularities as well as the potential presence of radiation. Thus, there is a need for a set of REEs-specific criteria and indicators to supplement Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)-based indicators

Moreover, the integration of Sustainable Development challenges and opportunities into the decision making process during the design and/or implementation of multi-disciplinary mining projects is generally not supported by Decision Support Systems (DSS). 
The scope of this dissertation is the following: (a) to provide an insight and make efforts to highlight the multi-dimensional global importance of REEs, (b) to set the starting point and discuss potential important steps in a roadmap which may provide essential principles/best practices to sustainable mining of REEs, (c) to identify existing indicator sets and to lay out the importance of effective communication in both estimating a mine’s contribution to sustainable development and gaining social license to operate, (d) to propose the adoption of a framework that can be used to guide the extraction of Rare Earth Elements under Sustainable Development principles, and (e) to propose a new hybrid Decision Support tool which features an integrated assessment of Sustainable Development issues as they apply to mining projects. 

The proposed DSS framework named “ACROPOLIS DSS”, can be used to assist involved stakeholders in critical decisions, especially when addressing issues such as stakeholder participation, transparency, and trade-offs. The proposed DSS is based on MultiCriteria Decision Analysis combined with Multi-Attribute Utility Theory. 

This thesis investigates the development of a framework and a decision support system for the sustainable exploitation of rare earth elements. Results may be extrapolated also to metallic mines or aggregates quarries under the condition that the proposed Decision Support System will be properly modified in order to include relevant criteria and indicators.

ΠΕΡΙΛΗΨΗ. Στην παρούσα διατριβή πραγματοποιήθηκε η διερεύνηση της σχετικής σημασίας των σπάνιων γαιών (ΣΓ) σε σχέση με το εμπόριο, τον αριθμό των σχετικών πολιτικών και ερευνητικών πρωτοβουλιών που έχουν αναληφθεί τα τελευταία 6 έτη στις ΗΠΑ και στην ΕΕ, τον αριθμό των σχετικών γεωπολιτικών γεγονότων/αναφορών, και των προσπαθειών για το μετριασμό από την εξάρτηση από τις ΣΓ. Επίσης αναπτύχθηκε το διάγραμμα ροής (stream mapping) της παραγωγικής διαδικασίας για την εκμετάλλευση των ΣΓ, η αναγνώριση των εμπλεκομένων μερών (stakeholders) και η ανίχνευση των κινδύνων και των τρωτών σημείων της παραγωγικής διαδικασίας των ΣΓ. Στη συνέχεια προτείνεται το πλαίσιο για τη βιώσιμη εκμετάλλευση των ΣΓ και δημιουργήθηκε ένα καινοτόμο (state-of-the-art) Σύστημα Υποστήριξης Αποφάσεων-ΣΥΑ (Decision Support System-DSS) με την ονομασία «ACROPOLIS DSS» με τη χρήση του οποίου θα υποβοηθούνται οι αποφασίζοντες και τα εμπλεκόμενα μέρη (stakeholders) να αξιολογήσουν ένα έργο εκμετάλλευσης ΣΓ και να λαμβάνουν αποφάσεις του τύπου «GO-NO-GO» υπό την οπτική της Βιώσιμης Ανάπτυξης.

[Επιμέλεια: Π. Τζεφέρης]