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Innovative solutions for sustainable raw materials extraction

Modern life and its accompanying devices like mobile phones, flat screen televisions, automobiles, solar panels, space guidance systems, jet engines and pacemakers depend on mineral resources. This Results Pack showcases six Horizon 2020 funded research and innovation projects offering concrete technological solutions for sustainable mineral extraction.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

Critical raw materials (CRMs) are important to Europe’s continued economic success, but they are vulnerable to supply chain disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years later. Furthermore, CRMs are in growing global demand due to their critical role in decarbonisation of the world’s economies. CRMs are defined as those materials that are economically and strategically important and have a substantial risk associated with their supply and are difficult to substitute due to their unique properties. The first list of 14 CRMs for the EU was published in 2011 and has been revised every three years since then. These materials, which include rare earths, play a vital role in industry. Hence, improving access to CRMs while optimising their consumption and improving extraction conditions across Europe plays a major role in delivering the European Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

Reducing negative impacts

The challenge confronting the extractive industry is to scale up promising innovative production technologies and to demonstrate that raw materials can be extracted sustainably at minimum environmental and social costs. Reducing high extraction costs while improving the participation of civil society from the beginning of the production process will help in raising awareness and trust among local communities and other stakeholders. Scaling up the most promising technologies and launching them onto the market will strengthen the competitiveness of European industries within the extractive sector.

Six sustainable solutions

The industry- and user-driven multidisciplinary projects presented here have developed solutions with good prospects for ending up on the market and reinforcing the competitiveness of the EU raw materials industry. In addition, each project contributes towards meeting the EU’s ambitious energy and climate targets, reducing negative environmental and health and safety impacts and risks, and gaining the trust of EU citizens in the raw materials sector. The ROBOMINERS project created a bio-inspired, modular and reconfigurable robot for mining small and difficult-to-access deposits. Goldeneye provides next-generation tools for mining safety, environmental monitoring and mineralogical mapping in real time. Dig_IT built a smart industrial Internet of things platform to improve the efficiency and sustainability of mining operations by connecting cyber and physical systems. NEXTGEN SIMS developed strategies for the safe introduction of autonomous carbon-neutral (battery-powered) mining machinery and the required infrastructure for a fully digitally connected mine, tested under real-life conditions. RE-SOURCING advanced the responsible sourcing of raw materials across global mineral value chains to support the green energy transition. SUMEX established a sustainability framework that provides guidance on how extractive industries can achieve sustainability goals while operating within the political framework established by the Green Deal.