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The landscape of mineral and metal supply and demand is rapidly changing as European countries transition towards a more sustainable and digital future. As geopolitical tensions keep rising, Europe’s diversification strategy shifts towards replacing trade partners and developing its own mineral and metals potential. Europe’s true mineral potential is still not fully understood due to under-exploration, outdated geological surveys, and lack of investment in mining technology. New exploration technologies and strategies can potentially unlock new reserves. Mining these resources in a sustainable way is a major challenge. Mining operations can have significant environmental impacts, including habitat destruction, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. As such, it is vital that these operations are carried out responsibly, with robust environmental protections in place. Additionally, developing these resources will require substantial investment in infrastructure, skills, and technology. This includes not only the mining operations but also the downstream industries needed to process and refine these minerals.
Opportunities in Eastern, Central and wider Europe to develop the supply of metals and minerals to EU’s green energy transition.
Central and Eastern Europe region looks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and transition to more sustainable energy sources. Many countries in the region have set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the share of renewable energy in their energy mix. This means that the coal mining industry in Central and Eastern Europe is facing significant challenges, as the demand for coal is expected to decrease in the coming years. This is particularly true for countries like Poland, where coal accounts for a large share of the energy mix. However, there are also opportunities for the coal mining industry to adapt to the changing energy landscape, such as by investing in carbon capture and storage technology, developing alternative uses for coal mining sites and infrastructure, and re-skilling and re-employing displaced coal workers. Additionally, the role of government and regulatory bodies in promoting sustainable mining practices and implementing energy transition policies will be crucial for the success of coal phase-out plans in the region.
To achieve green and digital transitions, Europe must significantly increase and diversify its critical raw materials supply, strengthen circularity and support research and innovation. In the context of the overarching objectives of the European Critical Raw Materials Act, European Green Deal and the REPowerEU will help to remove regulatory barriers and accelerate domestic development and sustainable supplies of battery materials such as nickel, cobalt, lithium, and graphite for ensuring rapid energy and mobility transitions. Increasing domestic capacity and investments across the battery value chain including exploration, mining, and refining will be essential. This initiative will aim to reinforce EU monitoring capacities and strengthen both the EU value chain – through the identification of mineral resources and raw materials projects in the EU’s strategic interest, with strong environmental protection – and EU external policies on CRMs.
In recent years, Ukraine has been exploring the potential for a critical raw materials alliance with European markets to secure its supply of these materials and increase its economic growth. To achieve this, Ukraine is promoting cooperation and collaboration between its critical raw materials stakeholders and European partners, and creating a favourable policy and regulatory environment for this alliance. The country is also investing in new technologies and innovation for critical raw materials production and processing, addressing the challenges of critical raw materials supply chain management, and exploring opportunities for critical raw materials recycling and secondary recovery. The war with Russia prevents Ukraine to develop its critical materials potential and build sustainable supply to the international markets. Additionally, there is a need to address the environmental and social impacts of the extraction of critical raw materials. Despite these challenges, the potential for a critical raw materials alliance between Ukraine and European markets is significant. It can help Ukraine to increase its economic growth by providing European countries with a secure and sustainable source of these materials.
The EU has recently unveiled its Net-Zero Industry Act and Critical Raw Materials Act as part of its Green Deal Industrial Plan, aimed at ensuring that the EU can compete with the US and China in making clean tech products and accessing raw materials. In line with this, the EU has set a target of producing at least 40% of the products it needs for “net-zero” technologies, such as solar power or fuel cells, by 2030. About €23 trillion of this investment would come from redirecting investments that would otherwise have funded carbon-intensive technologies. This amounts to roughly 25% of the annual GDP of the EU. The Mining and Metals industry would need to take decisive action to achieve the EU’s climate goals, and stakeholders would need to address several hurdles to accelerate the transition. To meet climate targets, the industry must develop and commercialise new low-CO2 technologies within the next 5-10 years.
Central and Eastern Europe offer a variety of mineral exploration opportunities and developed best-in-class resource management practices. The region is rich in a wide range of minerals, including base metals, precious metals, and rare earth elements. Mineral exploration opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe can be developed through innovative exploration techniques such as geospatial technologies, digital mapping, 3D modelling, and Machine Learning. These technologies can help to identify new mineral deposits and improve the efficiency of exploration activities. Resource management best-in-class practices in Central and Eastern Europe include the use of sustainable mining practices, such as environmental impact assessments, community engagement programs and stakeholder consultation. These practices can help to minimize the environmental and social impacts of mining operations and promote transparency and good governance. Additionally, companies can improve the value of mineral resources through downstream processing and beneficiation. Collaboration and partnerships between mining companies, government and local communities can also help to promote mineral exploration and resource management in Central and Eastern Europe.
Best-in-class mining practices for managing resources of metals and minerals involve a combination of strategies and techniques to ensure sustainable extraction and use of these resources. These include the use of advanced technologies for exploration and extraction, and the adoption of circular economy principles for efficient and sustainable use of resources. Additionally, mining companies are also focused on minimising their environmental footprint through the use of green remediation techniques and the integration of renewable energy sources. The industry is also investing in advanced operations technology, managing environmental regulations and stakeholder engagement, and developing assets in remote locations.
Technology and digital transformation are playing an increasingly important role in the mining industry in Europe. Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and automation are being used to increase efficiency and reduce costs in mining operations. The use of data-driven decision-making, geospatial technologies, and 3D modelling is also helping to improve mineral exploration and resource management. Additionally, advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain technology, and virtual and augmented reality are helping to improve supply chain traceability, mineral rights management, and mining operations. In order to fully leverage the potential of these technologies, companies are investing in digital infrastructure and training workers in digital skills. The use of these technologies can also help to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of mining operations and promote sustainability and transparency in the mining sector.