Sustainable Discovery and Supply Lighthouse (EIT RawMaterials)
Challenge: Europe is highly dependent on raw materials that are predominantly sourced overseas: it is using 23% of the world’s mine production for metals and minerals but only produces 2-3 % itself. Hence, Europe is vulnerable to scarcity and supply shortage and there is a need and political will for increased exploration activity and the development of mining operations and processing capabilities. Furthermore, the positive impact that exploration, mining and processing have on our economy and their critical role in a sustainable circular society have to be clearly communicated, as social opposition to mining remains one of the biggest hurdles to investment and development in the raw materials sector.
Approach: Raw, processed and advanced materials, from primary and secondary sources, are the backbone of the economy, and a radical shift is required from linear to circular thinking. End-of-life products must be considered as a resource for another cycle, while losses and stocks of unused materials must be minimized and valorized along the value chain. In addition, the interactions between materials must be considered to define the best circular solution from a systemic standpoint. Awareness of the benefits of closing material loops must be raised in society. The successful transition to the circular economy at the global scale, depend on the reliable and sustainable supply and management of raw materials.
LH topics across the value chain:
Smart solutions that significantly reduce water and energy consumption are of critical importance to achieve more sustainable mineral processing operations that will have a positive impact along the entire value chain. Decreasing ore grades combined with larger volumes at smaller grain sizes are further challenging aspects that require new innovative ideas and cost-effective solutions for optimized performance.
The raw materials sector is still at a hunter-and-gatherer stage when it comes to data—in its 2018 Flagship Report, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) states that ‘…the digital transformation of society has just begun…’. New innovative solutions are required to fully integrate existing data from all sources and scales of observation and to apply the latest developments in AI and machine learning to create reliable exploration models, ensure ethical sourcing (certification) of raw materials and to lead the way to Industry 4.0 and beyond.
How do we create and operate the mine of the future—from remote and deep-seated deposits to mining in populated areas and the valorisation of tailings—in a safe and sustainable fashion? This topic is at the interface between technology, society, legislation and industry and therefore requires smart multifaceted approaches (from mine development to operation and maintenance to remediation) to yield tangible results within the framework of a social licence to operate.