The supply of raw materials, the lifeblood of today's high-tech industry, is increasingly under pressure. With a view to increasing Europe's own production, the European Commission has proposed today to set up a European Innovation Partnership on raw materials.
Pulling together capital and human resources, Member States, companies and researchers will join innovation efforts to support exploration, extraction and processing of raw materials. For example, it has been estimated that the value of unexploited European mineral resources at a depth of 500-1,000 metres is about € 100 billion. New technologies will help to extract deeper, in more remote areas and under harsh conditions. Action is also needed to develop substitutes for critical raw materials and to improve recycling of the 17 kg electric and electronic equipment waste that each EU citizen produces annually today.
Innovation to improve access to raw materials
Innovation can be a powerful vehicle in meeting Europe's challenges in the field of raw materials. For example, advanced remote controlled operations and automation in underground mines and the innovative use of bioleaching can make mining in the EU more competitive and sustainable. New recycling techniques or waste collection and treatment best practices have a great potential to improve the efficiency and quality of the recycling of key raw materials.
This situation calls for targeted innovation and research efforts, breakthrough technologies and multidisciplinary approaches to bridge the gaps in our knowledge.
To speed this process up, the Commission proposes concrete targets to be achieved by 2020 at the latest:
Up to ten innovative pilot actions (e.g. demonstration plants) for exploration, extraction and processing, collection and recycling;
substitutes for at least three key applications of critical and scarce raw materials;
enhanced efficiency in material use and in prevention, re-use and recycling of valuable raw materials from waste streams, with a specific focus on materials having a potentially negative impact on the environment;
a Network of Research, Education and Training Centres on Sustainable Mining and Materials Management (M³);
European standardised statistical instruments for the survey of resources and reserves and a 3-D geological map;
a dynamic modelling system linking trends in supply and demand and a full lifecycle analysis;
a pro-active strategy of the EU in multi-lateral organisations and in bilateral relations, such as the US, Japan, Australia in the different areas covered by the Partnership.
Stakeholders will be invited to express their interest in being part of the Partnership in the coming weeks.
The European Innovation Partnership is not a funding instrument. Likewise, it will not replace the conventional decision-making process. Nonetheless, by defining common objectives in the fields relevant to raw materials, this Partnership will promote coherence between the different funding opportunities available.