Improving mineral exploration efficiency in Europe
Improving mineral exploration efficiency in Europe
Europe imports most of its raw materials used in renewable energy and digital technologies. But Europe has its own deposits of key raw materials and boosting domestic production would help to secure strategic and industrial value chains. A new Horizon Europe project, VECTOR is coordinated by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) with 18 partners from seven countries. VECTOR partners aim to understand the acceptance and improve the efficiency of exploration in Europe by developing new technologies and exploration models and providing all stakeholders with guidelines for more sustainable metal sourcing.
VECTOR's overall objective is to deliver evidence-based and accessible knowledge that integrates the scientific and social pathways to improved mineral exploration and mining.
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State of the art technologies, such as in electric cars, wind turbines, and ICT hardware, are essential to the green and digital transformations but are also raw material-intensive. The EU imports 80 percent of its industrial raw materials, which are necessary to manufacture these technologies. Only 1 percent of the raw materials needed for wind energy and 2 percent of the 44 raw materials utilized in robotics are currently provided by EU production. This dependence on non-EU countries makes European industrial and strategic supply chains highly vulnerable to disruption. To overcome that, Europe has to improve its own value chain.
Recycling and reuse of metals are increasing but mining is still required to bring raw materials into the circular value chain of the future. A report by the European Commission on critical raw materials recommends increasing mining of key raw materials in the EU. Dr. Richard Gloaguen, project coordinator at HIF, states that "Europe possesses significant mineral potential but development is limited by the lack of sustainable, low-impact exploration methods and by social opposition to mineral projects. Thus, there is a pressing requirement for environmentally friendly and minimally invasive exploration methods to identify new deposits. With VECTOR we will generate new knowledge about these technical and social barriers, unlocking Europe's raw material potential and improving the resilience of EU raw materials supply chains."
To overcome the known barriers against exploration and mining, all affected parties need to be heard and engaged. That´s why VECTOR's overall objective is to deliver evidence-based and accessible knowledge that integrates the scientific and social pathways to mineral exploration and mining. To gain that, three pillars will be examined: First, the project team will create a geological prospectivity toolkit based on less invasive geological, geochemical and geophysical measurements. This is an entirely new workflow using machine learning. The workflow will be validated in three European sedimentary basins and transferable worldwide. The second pillar is a social acceptance study that identifies, for the first time, the values that the European public invokes when deciding about mineral development. This will result in a Social Acceptance index and a new body of knowledge that reflects diverse values-based perspectives. And third, an integrated toolkit consisting of a unique, distributed, multimodal, self-learning, and interactive platform. Both geological exploration potential and socio-economic factors will be considered to yield an assessment of regions more suitable for exploration and, if appropriate, mining.
The project coordinator, HIF, will focus on the data integration and machine learning aspect to develop innovative, open-source 3D modelling methods based on geology, geochemistry and geophysics. "With the 3D models we will produce improved mineral deposits models to better define mineralization pathways and we will create interactive maps displaying the main parameters that affect social acceptance. Furthermore, the HIF will generate the backbone of an interactive platform for the visualization of integrated geodata and social data to support decision making and education by policy makers, industry, and the public. The results will be freely available via an engaging, web-based interface designed to support evidence-based decision making and the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources and United Nations Resource Management System." Dr. Gloaguen outlines the HIF research work.
The VECTOR project is based on the premise that a prerequisite to any sustainable human activity is to minimize the environmental and social costs and include all the stakeholders in the decision-making processes. Identifying opportunities for domestic production would help to secure strategic and industrial value chains. It would provide a significant number of skilled, high paying jobs enabling economic growth, including in rural and less-developed areas and it would ensure that mineral extraction complies with strict EU environmental and social standards.