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Sustainable innovative solutions for mineral exploration

Innovative exploration technologies developed by Horizon 2020 funded projects for finding metal ores and minerals are helping to transform Europe into a sustainable resource-efficient and competitive economy, while tackling environmental and climate- related challenges. This Results Pack highlights six cutting-edge EU projects that are helping to bring about this transition.

Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies
Food and Natural Resources
© inEthos Design

Access to resources is one of the most strategic security questions surrounding the delivery of the European Green Deal. The Green Deal aims to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050. Furthermore, by summer 2020 the Commission plans to raise the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50 % and towards 55 % of 1990 levels. The sustainable utilisation of raw materials, including metals and industrial minerals, and particularly Critical Raw Materials (CRM) such as rare earths, is one of the main prerequisites to making this switch happen. This is due to their vital role in industrial value chains, especially in the energy, mobility and defence sectors, and the production of renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, and mobile phones among others.

New approaches applied

As the demand for raw materials is growing, EU research and innovation funded under Horizon 2020 helps to improve access to metals and minerals, while optimising their consumption and improving extraction conditions across Europe. Mineral exploration is conducted to search for commercially viable concentrations of ores and minerals for mining purposes. A highly accurate estimation of the volume of the deposits is crucial due to the capital-intensive nature of the mining operation. Innovative and sustainable approaches to the discovery of metals and minerals include the autonomous exploration and mapping of flooded mines and seabed terrains for providing the high-resolution information needed for reliable identification of ore bodies. Another method is to improve the accuracy of geo-models and economic evaluation of ore reserves. In addition, reducing high exploration costs and enhancing the participation of civil society from the start of exploration will help raise awareness and trust among local communities and other stakeholders. Scaling up the most promising technologies and launching them on the market will strengthen the competitiveness of European industries in this sector.

Focus on EU research

In this CORDIS Results Pack we focus on the innovative results developed by Horizon 2020-funded projects working on exploration technologies for a sustainable supply of raw materials. The HiTech AlkCarb project brings together partners from across Europe and Africa to significantly improve geological models for the exploration of 'hi-tech' raw materials like the rare earth elements associated with alkaline rocks and carbonatites. ROBUST develops an autonomous robotic survey system for identifying and analysing polymetallic nodules at great depth in the ocean. Meanwhile, UNEXMIN creates a highly sophisticated robot to explore and map flooded mines, retrieve geological data and conduct analysis of water chemistry and mine wall properties. Then SOLSA, combines sonic drilling, analytical equipment and informatics to optimise mining operations performance. We have also INFACT that designs innovative, non-invasive and socially acceptable mineral exploration technologies to help unlock unrealised potential in new and established sites. Finally, Smart Exploration develops cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions for deep mineral exploration in brownfield (abandoned industrial property) and greenfield (area of land that has never been developed or built up) areas.