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Tapping Europe’s mineral potential to increase competitiveness

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The development of an advanced pan-European raw material database is helping mining companies identify untapped sources, thus reducing our reliance on imports. In addition, new cleaner processing technologies promise to make Europe’s mining industries more competitive, creating jobs.
The EU-funded ProMine project, which was completed in 2013, has developed the first pan-European geographic information system (GIS)-based database of all known and predicted raw material reserves in the EU. This database is now online, and most parts of it are publicly available. Volumes of potentially strategic metals not currently extracted in Europe – such as cobalt, niobium and platinum group elements – are also calculated. 

The project team developed both 3D and 4D mineral exploration geo-models. During the project, these were used to find previously unknown deep mineral deposits in four major European ore belts covering Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Greece and the Iberian Peninsula. These belts collectively contain the bulk of Europe’s metal and mineral deposits. They also cover areas with high unemployment, which are in need of investment.

“The societal and environmental potential of all this is huge,” says project coordinator Juha Kaija of Geologian Tutkimuskeskus in Finland. “Mines are often located in remote and sparsely populated areas, where alternative job opportunities are limited. A one-year life extension of these mines would directly employ up to 100 000 people, and indirectly benefit four times that number.”

Finally, the project introduced new, more sustainable processing techniques capable of transforming currently unused by-products into novel products for other sectors. For example, extremely pure nano-silica was successfully produced through the interaction of mining waste (magnesium silicates) and industrial acids. Nano-silica can be used as an additive for high performance concrete and other applications.

A bright future underground

ProMine, which brought together 31 partner organisations from 11 countries, worked to make a significant contribution to reduce Europe’s dependency on imports, and ensure that its resources are exploited efficiently and sustainably.

“Already today, some of the world’s smartest, and most energy and resource efficient mines and quarries are operating in Europe,” says Kaija. “By 2020, Europe will maintain and develop further technological leadership aiming at economically viable and environmentally sound mineral extraction operations.”

One of ProMine’s lasting legacies is likely to be the establishment of a new diverse network of experts in fields from geology to metallurgy and biochemistry to communications.

“This network will live long after ProMine, creating new projects and new innovations,” he says. “There have already been project proposal preparations for the Horizon 2020 programme (the EU’s new research funding programme). For many young researchers, this was their first big European project, and for all of us, it was an excellent chance to enhance our contacts and exchange views about many professional challenges.”

ProMine demonstrated that the EU’s mineral potential remains open for exploration.

“These results can now be taken forward and used by industry and policy-makers to better target new mineral deposits and create sustainable jobs,” concludes Kaija.

As an example, a new EU-funded project, Minerals4EU, is developing an EU mineral intelligence network structure based on the ProMine’s results.

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