The EU metallic minerals sub-sector produces a wide range of ores which, following processing yield metals or metallic substances. European metal mines compete in a global market and most metallic ores are imported to supply the European metallic industry. Only a small number of metal ores are extracted within the EU, which is still a relatively important producer for some, such as chromium, copper, lead, silver and zinc. The current distribution of active mines is, however, limited to a relatively small number of Member States. Only Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Sweden have metal mining industries that contribute more than 1% to global production of one particular metallic mineral.
Eurostat records data under NACE codes CB13.1 and CB13.2.
Especially certain "high tech" or "minor" metals essential for future environmental technologies, such as Rare Earth Element (REE) metals or the Platinum Group Minerals ( PGMs), are currently only produced outside of the EU in significant quantities.
Competitiveness and trade
Producers of metallic ores usually also undertake the initial processing, such as milling, to reduce the bulk and concentrate the ore before it is transported to a smelter for further processing.
There is much more global trade in metallic minerals than in industrial or construction minerals. For most base metals (copper, lead, zinc, aluminium, nickel, aluminium alloy) and steel, prices are set by central exchanges, such as the London Metal Exchange (LME). Precious metals, such as gold and silver, are not traded on the London Metal Exchange, but on the over-the-counter market usually referred to as the London Bullion Market, by the members of the London Bullion Market Association. Platinum and palladium are traded on the London Platinum and Palladium Market. Several minor metals, often by-products of base metal mining, are traded through companies which are often associated in the Minor Metals Trade Association (MMTA).
Metal mines do usually also require considerably more investment reflecting the generally larger scale or complexity of operations, processing requirements to concentrate the ores and in many cases the need to operate underground.
Underground mining also requires significantly more energy than surface operations because of the need for ventilation, pumps and the longer haulage distances involved. Estimates of the cost of energy as a proportion of total operating costs for metallic minerals producers show that it accounts for between 10% and 20% of total operating costs, depending on the mineral and the nature of the operation.
In Europe, recycled metal (scrap) is used since many decades as input for the metals producing industry, particularly as the metals processing techniques are often similar to those originally developed for metal processing from ores in refineries. The use of recycled scrap now represents 40% to 60% of input to EU metal production. The advantage of recycling is that it often contributes to energy efficiency, the recycling of alumina being the best example with an energy consumption of only 15% compared to the processing of the ore (bauxite).
Unlike construction-or industrial minerals, metals only occur in low percentages in an ore. Consequently, the waste resulting from the extractive operation (i.e. waste from extraction and processing of mineral resources) is one of the larger waste streams in the EU. It involves materials that must be removed to gain access to the mineral resource, such as topsoil, overburden and waste rock, as well as tailings remaining after minerals have been largely extracted from the ore. Following serious mining waste tailing spills in 1998 and 2000 the Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries and amending Directive 2004/35/EC provides a framework to ensure the long-term stability of disposal facilities and to prevent or minimise any water and soil pollution arising from acid or alkaline drainage and leaching of heavy metals. Main Directive requirements are that all installations must have a permit based on "Best Available Techniques" approach, that there must be a waste management plan and a financial guarantee before obtaining a permit. Dangerous facilities (category A) need to have an accident prevention policy. Finally, the Directive provides for closure and after closure procedures, focussing on health and safety and the prevention of water, soil and air pollution. The Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for the management of tailings and waste-rock in mining activities covers activities related to tailings and waste-rock management of ores that have the potential for a significant environmental impact.