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Innovative, Non-invasive and Fully Acceptable Exploration Technologies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INFACT (Innovative, Non-invasive and Fully Acceptable Exploration Technologies)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-01-31

Any device used in our society requires material extracted either from our surrounding natural environment or from re-use of material in existing objects . The flow of materials through society increases as human wealth and population increases. Even in a circular economy, primary complements secondary raw materials and constitutes a fundamental basis for our material well-being. Of course, the extraction of primary raw materials, the need for more effective recycling, and the management of waste material which cannot effectively be used or recycled confront our society with major and complex challenges.

On the other hand, the high demand for raw materials in our post-industrial societies contrasts the increasing difficulties to find new mineral deposits. In Europe, accessible and high-grade deposits are mostly exhausted or currently mined. Hence, future exploration must focus on the remaining, more remote locations or penetrate much deeper into the Earth’s crust. In the past, innovations that lead to a better understanding of the geological targets of exploration, technical developments that allowed to access new regions and depths, or the performance of the exploration techniques promoted periods of significant raw materials discovery. Therefore, based on past experience, sustaining innovating activities in Europe would theoretically allow the development of key technologies but also sustainable and ethical production of technological metals required for a successful industry 4.0 and an efficient use of renewable energy. Oddly, this not the case in Europe and three fundamental and seemingly contradictory considerations need to be taken into account.

Firstly, while the need to extract raw materials in Europe is ethically, strategically and economically pertinent, exploration activities are quasi-inexistent and largely limited to remote areas. Secondly, Europe is at the forefront of the technological and industrial developments in the exploration sector. Lastly, none of the major players in the mining sector have shown a strong interest in developing their activities in Europe. This paradoxical situation where the demand is high, the resource at disposal and the technology available is an European idiosyncrasy and originates mainly from societal and political reluctance. The motto here is “not in my garden”. Traditional exploration activities are regarded as destructive and unsustainable.

To unlock this unfavourable status quo the Innovative, Non-invasive and Fully ACcepted exploration Technologies "INFACT" project will interweave technical and social actions to reduce barriers to exploration and drive more effective, more sustainable and more acceptable exploration technologies and practices.

The specific objectives of this project are:

- demonstrate that innovative and non-invasive exploration technologies allow a sustainable and acceptable exploration and, at the same time increase its performance.Leading exploration companies steers the design of a suite of state-of-the-art surveys to be undertaken at each of the sites that will form highly credible reference benchmarks in terms of quality, cost-effectiveness and relevance.
- increase societal acceptance by integrating (1) procedures intended to increase the reliability, performance, acceptance and quality (“best practice”) in regions where exploration activities are frequent and extensive and (2) specific requirements of European local communities. Representatives of civil society, EU States, research, technology development, services and exploration & mining companies will be work together to improve the current public and industry perceptions of the exploration and mining industry, its practices and the operational conditions the industry experiences.
- establish long term facilities (in the south, centre and north of the EU) at sites that represent a range of “real-life” social, physical and technical challenges where the efficiency of non invasive and environmentally friendly technologies can be evaluated, benchmarked and certified. New innovative and socially acceptable technologies will be trialed at the sites and their performances in resolving the geology will be compared with the performances of the state-of-the art reference techniques.
INFACT already has reached several key milestones:

1. We demonstrated that innovative and non-invasive exploration technologies allow a sustainable and acceptable exploration and, at the same time, increase its performance.

2. We designed and conducted a suite of state-of-the-art surveys on the three reference sites that now represent highly credible reference benchmarks in terms of quality and relevance.

3. We increased societal acceptance by integrating an adequate narrative, the specific requirements of local communities and an early stakeholder engagement in the exploration activities.

4. We conducted relevant surveys with representatives of the civil society, political leaders, researchers, technology developers, service providers and exploration & mining companies to assess the current public and industry perceptions of the exploration sector and the required practices for an operational innovative exploration.

5. We assessed the relevance and the requirements to establish long term reference facilities at sites with representative social, geological, geographical and technical challenges where the efficiency of non invasive and environmentally friendly technologies can be evaluated, benchmarked and certified.

6. New innovative and socially acceptable technologies were trialed at the reference sites and their performances in resolving the geology is currently been compared with the performances of the state-of-the art reference techniques.

7. Moreover, we convinced key stakeholders of the benefits of INFACT, thus demonstrating the purpose of the project.
The key impacts of this project will be:
- Improve and develop exploration practices that are environmentally and socially more sustainable and acceptable.
- Install test sites for the benchmarking and the certification of non invasive innovative technologies and the analysis of public acceptance and awareness.
- Invigorate key players and investors by lowering the regulatory burden, and thus diminishing administrative and financial costs. This will boost exploration and increase the attractiveness of Europe for the mining sector.
- Increase the ethical exploration of raw materials worldwide by providing certified best practices. This could lead to a label.
- Increase the chances of raw materials discoveries by generating relevant and innovative exploration methods and know-how that enable access to areas that have remained under-explored due to technical, physical, social, legislative or cost restrictions.
- Develop and independent benchmarking and certification service that will increase transparency and competition in technology performance (of benefit to exploration companies), provide a mechanism for market recognition (of benefit to start-ups and SME technology developers) and drive innovation in terms of better exploration performance.
- Improve education and engagement of practitioners, policy-makers and wider society with respect to the raw materials cycle
Public event around Mineral Exploration - Geyer Germany - August 2018
Airborne Electro Magnetic Survey - Sakatti Finland - August 2018
Drone Magnetic Survey - Rio Tinto Spain - April 2019