Despite growing demand for mineral resources in Europe, and the importance of raw materials in the production of clean technologies, there remain a range of obstacles to raw material exploration. The INFACT project targets the delivery of solutions across social, legislative and technical domains that will promote and facilitate sustainable mineral exploration via research on low-impact technologies, outreach to the general society and practical field work. Researchers are studying good practices in countries that are more active in mineral exploration, such as Australia and Canada, to adapt guidelines applicable in Europe. They are working to tailor stakeholder engagement in the exploration industry to the European context. Project coordinator Leila Ajjabou notes that INFACT also aims to “provide a narrative to stakeholders by offering a base for an informed decision for all the stakeholders of mining – from the general public and industry to national and EU authorities.”
A further aim, elaborated on in a short INFACT movie, is to assess the technical performance of non-invasive technologies as well as the factors that impact on their acceptance by the public. In practical terms, scientific coordinator Richard Gloaguen reports, “the project has pushed drone-based geophysics and hyperspectral imaging developments as well as new airborne geophysics techniques called full tensor magnetic gradiometry.”
Laying the groundwork for sustainable exploration
INFACT is currently establishing three reference sites in Saxony (Germany), Andalusia (Spain) and Lapland (Finland). Here, technologies will be assessed and evaluated based on legal, environmental, sociological and technical performances. “These European reference sites have been selected to provide a rich and diverse exploration portfolio including extensive drill hole and geophysical databases,” Gloaguen explains. These cover a wide range of geological, social and climatic conditions to ensure a rich variety of exploration challenges are catered to. The team is also developing a business model for defining the range of services these three sites will offer. Amongst others, these include training in responsible exploration practices, evaluation, and the attribution of a responsible exploration label for future exploration technologies. Project work and developments are not without challenges. Ajjabou comments on this: “The very heterogeneous legal framework in Europe regarding mining-related activities is a challenge to any harmonised view on European mineral exploration.” Another difficulty lies in the industry’s lack of culture of stakeholder engagement in exploration projects already running in Europe.
Towards Exploration 4.0
Notwithstanding, INFACT is set on achieving Exploration 4.0 defined by Gloaguen as “technologically efficient and acceptable mineral exploration.” Strides have already been made in this direction. Hence, centres of excellence in mineral exploration at the three reference sites will boost visibility and business appeal. The impact of INFACT is also already evidenced by numerous offers to join the project by technology providers and relevant institutions in the EU and beyond. Another example of a successful project initiative involves a stakeholder event held in Geyer, Germany, in 2018 that enabled discussions with scientists regarding the use of technologies. “To sum up, we are proud to bring societal and technical worlds together,” Ajjabou enthuses. At the same time, Gloaguen concludes, “it is important for us to emphasise that we are not a lobbyist: we are not working for the mining industry nor NGOs. We hope to maintain a very neutral view on the sector and to provide a holistic view on mineral exploration.”
INFACT, mineral exploration, mining, stakeholder engagement, Exploration 4.0, geophysics, responsible exploration