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EU master plan for raw materials: innovation is the key

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We face increasing demand for unprocessed minerals and metals and, in parallel, strong challenges to the supply of certain raw materials, including price volatility and market distortions.

Raw materials are the lifeblood of EU industry. At least 30 million jobs in the EU depend upon access to them. But we face increasing demand for unprocessed minerals and metals and, in parallel, strong challenges to the supply of certain raw materials, including price volatility and market distortions. In response, today the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials released a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) describing how we can act to ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials to the European economy and make Europe a world leader in raw materials exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020.

The SIP outlines detailed actions which the parties involved - EU countries, companies, researchers and NGOs – can use to foster technological and non-technological innovation in our raw materials value chain, as well as in the international arena. These include a wide range of  initiatives such as new cost-effective exploration concepts and technologies, better recovery and recycling of demolition waste and finding substitutes for critical raw materials such as the indium used in touch screen technologies.


European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship and a leader of the High Level Steering Group, commented: "Innovation in raw materials – be it in mining, processing, recycling, or substitution – holds the key to future growth and jobs. With today's proposal we underline that Europe is capable of addressing these important challenges, drawing on our innovative EU research capabilities, as bolstered by Horizon 2020. This will help our industry both create jobs and protect the environment."

In order to secure a sustainable supply of raw materials, Europe is confronted with a number of challenges along the entire raw materials value chain - exploration, extraction, processing/refining, recycling as well as substitution.

The SIP aims to address all actions necessary to achieve the objectives and targets, including research and development along the value chain, raw materials knowledge, exchange of best practices, revision of selected legislations, licensing steps, standardisation, and policy dialogues.

Concrete targets of the SIP include the launch of up to 10 pilot projects to promote technologies for the production of primary and secondary raw materials, to find substitutes for at least three applications of critical and scarce raw materials as well as to create better framework conditions for raw materials in Europe.

The SIP also lists actions to improve Europe's waste management framework conditions and excellence, and to reinforce EU knowledge, skills and raw materials flows; by developing an EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base and potentially setting up a EIT Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC).

Actions are also proposed to support an international co-operation strategy, at bilateral and multilateral level. Some examples of initiatives proposed within the 24 action areas proposed by the SIP include:

  • New cost-effective exploration concepts and technologies providing high quality data and information, including high resolution 3D geo-data at 150-4000 meters depth.
  • Developing solutions for a better recovery and recycling of construction and demolition waste, particularly in the most promising targets, such deconstruction of non-residential buildings.
  • the substitution of indium in transparent conductive layers, such as those used in touch screen devices, flexible electronics, solar energy and OLED lighting (organic light-emitting diode used to create digital displays in devices such as television screens, computer monitors, portable systems such as mobile phones, handheld games consoles and PDAs).

 

Next steps

A public Call for Commitments to be issued at the end of October 2013 will allow all potential stakeholders to express their concrete intention to contribute to the implementation of the SIP. A Communication will follow in 2014, to explain how the European Commission, Member States, industry and academia intend to implement the SIP.


Background

European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) were launched under Innovation Union to accelerate the market take up of innovations addressing key challenges. The EIP on Raw Materials' objective is to reduce raw materials import dependency by improving supply conditions from the EU and outside and providing resource efficiency and alternatives in supply. It also aims to bring Europe to the forefront in raw materials sectors while also mitigating their negative environmental and social impacts.

We must move from today's linear economy, where we mine, manufacture, use and throw away, towards a more "circular economy", where one industry's waste becomes another's raw material. Building such a circular economy will be essential to EU industrial competitiveness and resilience in a world of increasing competition for scarce resources. The EIP will play an important role in achieving this transition and will provide valuable lessons on how to boost recycling and re-use of valuable materials for the integrated "resource efficiency & waste policy review package" which the Commission will present in 2014. The EIP will also support the development of practical ways to reduce the impact of mining activities on the environment.

Drawing together EU countries, companies, researchers and NGOs, it ultimately aims to contribute to the objective to increase the share of industry to 20% of the EU's GDP by 2020 as well as the objectives of the flagship initiatives ‘Innovation Union’ and ‘Resource Efficient Europe’.

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