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Δευτέρα, 8 Ιουλίου 2019

Europe’s dependence on Critical Raw Materials (CRM) and growing supply needs for battery minerals-based value chains (II)

Economic geology of European CRM and battery minerals. The problem seems not to be the CRM Geology approach at EU level although this will also need to take some time developing the Economic Geology models and achieve credible resource potential estimates and exploitation schemes.

Securing raw materials supply sustainability, further surveys and exploration need to be conducted on two challenging resource potential targets indigenous to the EU.

PRIMARY RESOURCES
. The main challenges for sustainable supply of primary CRM in Europe are:
  • Development of innovative technologies addressing exploration of CRM to discover new potential deposits on land and off shore.
  •  Development of new primary CRM production in Europe will decrease import dependence and make sure that exploitation takes place under sustainable conditions. This includes the necessity for exploration of deep-seated deposits in brownfield areas across the EU where potential CRM resources may occur in genetic associations with common industrial and other high-tech metals.
  •  Adapting technology, economical constraints and mind-set to allow for the exploitation of smaller and lower-grade deposits.
  • Mining technologies adapted to the treatment of primary mineral resources with increasing complexity and decreasing grade.
  • To refine low grade ores and materials containing CRM while reducing energy consumption and environmental impact.
  • The need to develop methods for extracting all valuable metals from currently-mined ores and recycled materials, including minor elements that are commonly now rejected.
  • Development of the technologies adjusted to the properties of the processed CRMs to increase
  • extraction efficiency and metal recoveries

MINERAL-BASED WASTES. The main challenges related to supply of secondary CRM from mineral-based wastes, e.g.mining waste, processing tailings, in Europe are:
  • Insufficient information about CRM compositions and volume characteristics in the mineral resources from primary ore deposits.
  •  Insufficient information about CRM compositions and volumes in mineral based wastes like for example mining waste such as dumps and tailings.
  • Insufficient knowledge about mineralogical and geochemical behavior of CRM during mining and processing using physical and chemical methods.
  • Insufficient information about the mineral-based character of residues, and their physical and chemical properties.
  • Insufficient information about overall availability and resource potential of historic mining sites.
  • Insufficient information about historical smelter locations and metallurgical wastes.
  • High losses of CRM during pre-processing, impurities degrading product/residue quality.
  •  Lack of systematic identification/mapping of mining waste sites for future CRM extraction.
  • Lack of a unified system for resource classification of CRM (e.g. UNECE/UNCF system) in various types of mining waste.
  • Lack of specific methods of extracting metals and other valuable products from secondary, often heterogeneous sources.
  • Overall lack of a full inventory and range of metals to anticipate future demand.
Potential challenges, opportunities, risks and barriers
  • The problem seems not to be the CRM Geology approach at EU level although this will also need to take some time developing the Economic Geology models and achieve credible resource potential estimates and exploitation schemes. 
  •  Recycling and substitution are not now reliable CRM resource providers. In a way, recycling is a target but not a solution
  • Dubious, lame, limping and failing progress of CRM value chains, and lack of balance between upstream-downstream efforts e.g. electric vehicles boom when energy transition and battery mineral resources are yet not secured. 
  • Car-makers are keener to increase their production and sales in EVs and forget to pay proper attention to issues concerning the CRM supply needed.
  • Increased regulation vs Regulatory risk: Need for innovative policy instruments that are beneficial to all parties and work constructive rather than contradictory.
  • Considering the long period of time (from exploration to mining takes about 15 years) needed for the CRM value chains to be fully operational, the technologies addressing the implementation plan of climate change goals might not always readily available due to lack of the mineral resources needed.
  • Determined authorisation, decision-making and permitting procedure for a sustainable CRM EU-based industry is necessary if stakeholders are really interested and committed to develop and use climate-smart technologies, and to make the energy transition happen.
  • The Social License to Operate concept or principle makes at present an old approach, needs to be left behind and should be replaced by currently sound societal challenges, such as the low-carbon and low-waste future. 
  • Ethics will have an impact on resource and supply issues related to some raw materials, such as Co, Nb, Ta. 
  • Financial uncertainties e.g rising costs, digital effectiveness, artificial intelligence, energy.
  • China will continue controlling and driving mineral geopolitics in relation to high-tech value chains.
The way forward
  • Raw Materials from European primary and secondary resources are ideally suitable for establishing a system of responsible sourcing: raw materials produced in Europe can be taken as a guarantee for high standards in social, environmental and economic terms. 
  •  Further surveys and exploration need to be conducted on primary and secondary resource potential targets indigenous to the EU.
  • Criticality in the future also needs to include the issue of “responsible production and consumption” according to the SDG 12 goal.
  • Elements and practices related to circular economy, responsible sourcing and resource efficiency addressed by the new EU industrial strategy, should be particularly considered
  • Major European mineral belts, such as Fennoscandian, Iberian, Carpathian-Balkan, host highly potential exploration targets challenging the likelihood for discovery of new resources and feasible mining prospects. 
  • Europe’s opportunity to become self-sufficient and sustainable in mineral raw materials supply from own sources and resources, is strongly favored by its geological setting and metallogenetic evolution.
  • For the EU to secure and maintain a full operational capability and capacity of the value chains mentioned above access to land is fundamental, making sure that responsible and innovative land stewardship throughout the mining life cycle is considered.
  • Sustainable land- use related value chains integrates and maximises the multiple benefits related to economic, social, environmental and cultural values. 
  • The value chain approach enhances the steering capacity for the preparation and implementation of sustainable land-use plans addressing minerals development.
  • Looking for optimisation of future balances between supply and demand.

Sources, links and references

https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/cobalt-demand-supply-balances-transition-electric-mobility
http://iapgeoethics.blogspot.com/2019/01/circular-economy-is-about-resource.html
https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/raw-materials/specific-interest/critical_en
Alves Dias P., Blagoeva D., Pavel C., Arvanitidis N., 2018: Cobalt: demand-supply balances in the transition to electric mobility. JRC Science for Policy Report, European Commission.
Blagoeva D., Pavel C., Alves Dias P., 2018: Critical raw materials in strategic value chains. JRC Petten, Raw Materials Week, 2018. 



By Dr N. Arvanitidis, Green Minerals

Europe’s dependence on Critical Raw Materials (CRM) and growing supply needs for battery minerals-based value chains (i)