The raw truth of Europe’s raw materials
As the world’s eyes were fixed on United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 in Egypt, a more low-key bureaucratic gathering was taking place in Brussels, working on growing the industrial supply chains needed to wean the Continent off the most carbon-intensive fuels for both environmental and national security reasons.
Indeed, European Raw Materials Week has now been imbued with an added sense of purpose and urgency, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and some European Union members’ subsequently unavoidable turn toward coal to get through the winter, has exposed Europe to the harsh realities of energy security.
Being dependent on unreliable and hostile actors elevates the strategic imperative of avoiding new dependencies for the critical materials needed to power the green transition with solar panels, advanced batteries and wind turbines — an opportunity and challenge that arguably constitutes a historic inflection point currently being shaped by several converging trends and events.
For one, due to recent landmark legislation across the Atlantic, the United States will now be devoting hundreds of billions of dollars to sustainable energy initiatives, technologies and supply chains. However, there’s understandable consternation that purchasing tax credits for electric vehicles (EVs) through the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will advantage countries that share a free trade agreement with the United States — excluding those in the EU.
This is unnecessarily restrictive, and the U.S. should include preference for EU and NATO members — however, it doesn’t mean Europeans shouldn’t play a significant role, and reap significant benefits, from partnering with North America to diversify its supply chains for raw materials.
The EU currently spends tens of billions of euros subsidizing the purchase of EVs, most of which are heavily reliant on sources for mining and processing that are dominated by China. Getting serious about “Made In Europe” means getting serious about these supply chains as well. Europe has significant mineral processing capacity, and this can be expanded to loosen China’s grip on — and possible weaponization of — this crucial phase of the EV battery supply chain.
For example, the EU already ranks second in global processing capacity for nickel, cobalt and manganese, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Meanwhile, with limited mining and processing available domestically, many U.S. automakers are now scrambling for alternate sources for such raw materials, so they can be eligible for the IRA’s tax credit. However, minerals extracted from IRA-compliant countries (North America or U.S. Free Trade Agreement partners) could be processed in ever-growing quantities in Europe, and the resulting EV batteries would still qualify for the tax credit within the U.S.
Additionally, information technology such as blockchain is becoming increasingly available, allowing governments, businesses and consumers to track where materials and components come from — as well as how they’re extracted and processed. Thus, democratic nations could agree to condition market access on shared human rights, labor and environmental requirements, in effect creating a “race to the top,” turning high standards into competitive advantage.
Collectively, the EU and North America make up close to 45 percent of global GDP, which provides enormous leverage. Other nations must either comply with these standards — thus, raising their costs and limiting their price advantages — or be excluded. Given today’s supply chain imbalances, the early stage of that transition won’t be easy. But if the world’s technologically advanced democracies have the will, and stick together through the preliminary turbulence, the means do exist.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted as much in her State of the Union address earlier this year, observing that with “like-minded partners,” Europe can ensure labor and environmental standards outside its borders as well. We have models of collaboration to build upon for this — such as the former Trilateral discussions (including the EU, U.S., Japan — and now Canada and Australia as well), which address what “responsible” mining and permitting really look like.
Finally, the fallout from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has also laid bare the risks of jettisoning incumbent sources of energy too early in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Even the most climate-friendly power generation systems will require tremendous amounts of energy — principally electricity. And in this capacity, the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Norway have vast natural resources to help end the EU’s dependence on Russia, even as we recognize this isn’t a sustainable solution.
These priorities are all consistent with recent European policy initiatives, from REPowerEU — a plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels — to the Critical Raw Materials Act. They require widening the aperture of our thinking and collaborating on a comprehensive approach to deliver on the EU’s Green Deal and strategic autonomy
President von der Leyen led her address by calling Russia’s aggression “a war on our energy,” as part of a broader assault on Europe’s economy, values and future. And getting our energy response right will require a shared transatlantic approach to critical raw materials, which addresses today’s requirements as part of — and not in conflict with — a prosperous, carbon-neutral future, Politico writes.
Lithium mining projects around Europe
Europe is looking to increase its domestic supply of lithium. Find out which companies are moving ahead with lithium-mining projects in the area.
Europe has set itself ambitious goals in order to become climate-neutral by 2050.
A big part of reaching that objective is the electrification of transportation, and recently proposed legislation sets targets to cut carbon emissions from cars by 55 percent and vans by 50 percent by 2030.
As battery metals investors know, the electric vehicle industry is a key demand driver for essential metals such as lithium — which the European Union included on its critical minerals list for the first time in 2020.
Furthermore, in recent years there has been a push to build out supply chains that are less dependent on Asia, particularly China, with the European Union working to release its Critical Raw Materials Act.
Europe is desperate to increase its domestic supply of lithium, though only a limited number of projects are capable of achieving production in the coming years, Jack Bedder of Project Blue told the Investing News Network.
For Bedder, Europe will have to innovate to significantly reduce its reliance on imported lithium feedstock. “Europe’s ability to ‘win’ the battle for lithium self-sufficiency remains hinged on technological breakthroughs, along with the creation of a supporting framework in which new mining and processing facilities can operate in a globally competitive industry”, he said.
Even though Europe’s lithium supply is quite limited, there are a few companies exploring and developing lithium projects in the region, with the aim of supplying the electric vehicle industry. Here’s a brief overview of some of them listed in alphabetical order.
European Lithium’s Wolfsberg hard-rock lithium deposit in Austria has a positive prefeasibility study. The company is currently working on a definitive feasibility study that is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2023.
The ASX-listed company, which is aiming to be the first and largest local supplier of lithium hydroxide in the region, holds a non-binding memorandum of understanding with BMW. If a deal is agreed upon, the German carmaker would make an upfront payment of US$15 million for the future supply of lithium hydroxide from Wolfsberg.
The company recently made news headlines when it said it would merge with Sizzle Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, to create a US-listed company called Critical Metals. European Lithium would be Critical Metals’ biggest shareholder.
European Metals’ Cinovec project is said to host the largest lithium resource in Europe. Cinovec, which is located in the Czech Republic, is a hard-rock lithium deposit that is 49 percent owned by European Metals and 51 percent owned by energy group CEZ.
According to a 2022 prefeasibility study, the Cinovec project will have a mine life of 25 years and annual production of 29,386 metric tons (MT) per year of battery grade lithium hydroxide.
Starting in 2028, minerals company Imerys is looking to produce 34,000 MT of lithium hydroxide per year for the next 25 years at an existing mine at Beauvoir in Central France. The company has also recently detected lithium in the British region of Cornwall; Imerys is currently exploring the viability of lithium mining in the region.
The San Jose deposit in Spain is 75 percent owned by Australia’s Infinity Lithium. The company, which published an underground mine scoping study in 2022, will mine the hard-rock mica resource and develop processing facilities. Infinity Lithium also kicked off the mining license and environmental impact assessment process this year.
Keliber holds several advanced lithium deposits in Finland’s Central Ostrobothnian area.
The privately held company’s lithium project is comprised of five mines, the spodumene concentrator area at Päiväneva, the lithium chemical plant at the Kokkola Industrial Park and auxiliary facilities at all sites. The company is aiming to reach production capacity of 15,000 MT of lithium hydroxide per year starting in 2025.
Keliber is majority owned by Sibanye-Stillwater, which upped its stake in the company earlier this year to 84.96 percent. State-owned company Finnish Minerals Group, alongside other minority shareholders, holds the remainder.
Seasoned lithium investors will have heard of the Jadar lithium-borate deposit in Serbia, a massive deposit where lithium is hosted by the previously unknown borosilicate mineral jadarite. Major miner Rio Tinto has invested and committed more than US$450 million to the project to date, but has faced massive environmental protests, leading the Serbian government to block the project.
Savannah Resources is working on the Mina do Barroso hard-rock lithium project in Northern Portugal. The asset, which is considered one of Europe’s biggest lithium projects, was awarded a 30 year mining lease in 2006, and has a three block mining lease application.
The company has faced opposition from environmental and community groups. Savannah Resources has been required to resubmit its environmental impact assessment, which is expected to happen in the first quarter of 2023.
Vulcan Energy Resources
Vulcan Energy Resources says its combined geothermal energy and lithium resource is the largest in Europe, with license areas in the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany and Italy. It is developing its zero-carbon project with the aim of decarbonizing lithium production.
Vulcan has signed deals with Stellantis, Renault, Umicore and South Korea’s LG Chem.
After acquiring Deutsche Lithium in 2021, Zinnwald Lithium is now the sole owner of the Zinnwald deposit in Zinnwald-Georgenfeld, located on the eastern side of Germany near the border with Czechia.
The Zinnwald deposit is a late-stage development project with an approved 30 year mining license. The company is currently working to update its environmental impact assessment, Investing News writes.
Europe is looking to enter the race for lithium
Lithium is the essential resource for developing a sustainable electric vehicle industry in Europe. Until now, this resource has mainly been produced in Australia, Chile, and China. Europe is looking to enter the race for this white gold and is betting on several deposits in its soil. We’ve put together a list below of the 6 main European mines that will be exploited in the coming years.
Lithium is a white powder that is essential for the manufacture of electric car batteries. In 2021, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), global production is close to 100,000 metric tons, a figure 20% higher than in 2020. Global consumption in 2021 is estimated to be 93,000 metric tons. This is due to strong growth in global demand, particularly because of the accelerated production of EV batteries required for the energy transition.
This alkaline metal allows electrons to flow between a positive and a negative electrode, both of which are immersed in an ionic conducting liquid (the electrolyte).
When a lithium-ion battery is used, for example to power an electric car, the electrons accumulated in the negative electrode are released and reach the positive electrode. The opposite happens when the battery is being charged. Without lithium, batteries could not power a device and then recharge.
There are two types of lithium that can be used in batteries: lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Currently, the demand for lithium hydroxide for batteries is increasing and could exceed the demand for lithium carbonate by 2030. Lithium hydroxide is currently priced at around US$35,000 a metric ton. Lithium carbonate is around US$ 59,900 a metric ton.
The problem with this precious metal is that it is found in a few places on earth. The main producers are Australia (55%), Chile (26%), China (14%), and Argentina (6%). China is the leading lithium refiner.
Reducing Europe’s Dependence
This means that Europe has no choice today but to import almost all the lithium it consumes. According to forecasts, at least 30 million zero-emission electric vehicles will be on the roads of the EU by 2030. Thermal vehicles will be banned in Europe in 2035. By 2030, Europe aims to produce 25% of the world’s batteries (compared to 3% in 2020) in its numerous production plants currently under construction.
The EU should therefore see its lithium consumption explode in the coming years. Some estimates predict a 20-fold increase between 2020 and 2030.
In a tweet, Ursula von der Leyen warned that Europe must get rid of its dependence on the outside world, especially China. She believes the continent must put in place an industrial strategy not only for lithium but for all the other rare earth elements found in batteries such as nickel, cobalt, or graphite.
Europe has already entered the race for the new white gold and is seeking to develop its own lithium mining industry. The USGS estimates probable European resources at 7% of the world total. The number of mining projects has increased in recent years in several European countries.
Here is a tour of Europe’s main projects and the companies behind them. These projects could eventually cover 80% of European battery needs.
The Barroso Project, Savannah Resources
Portugal has the largest reserve of lithium in Europe with around 60,000 metric tons of known reserves, according to the USGS. But until now, Portuguese lithium has mainly been used in the ceramics industry to make glassware. The country is just now entering the race for the new white gold.
British company Savannah Resources has ambitions to exploit the Barroso mine in the north of the country, which is rich in spodumene, a form of hard rock lithium.
According to Savannah Resources, the mine could contain 27 million metric tons of lithium, including over 285,900 metric tons of lithium oxide. According to the company, this is enough to meet the demand in Europe over the next few decades.
The group is waiting for the green light from the Portuguese authorities to start production as the project is facing strong local opposition. If opened in 2023, the Mina do Barroso open-pit mine will become the first major producer of lithium in Europe.
The Vulcan Project, Vulcan Energy
Australian company Vulcan Energy is currently working on a pilot project in the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany. The idea is to produce “zero-carbon” green lithium by using geothermal energy to extract lithium-rich brine from the Upper Rhine. The final lithium hydroxide will then be created by electrolysis.
The company says they were able to produce 57.1% lithium hydroxide, surpassing the 56.5% battery grade specifications usually required.
The Vulcan pilot plant in Germany has been operating since April 2021 and is expected to launch commercial production in 2025.
The EMILI Project, Imerys
French company Imerys recently announced that it will start mining a lithium deposit in the Massif Central (in the Allier department) in 2028.
Since the second half of the 19th century, the site has been home to a quarry producing 30,000 metric tons of kaolin per year for tile production.
According to Alessandro Dazza, CEO of Imerys, the deposit contains one million metric tons of lithium oxide. This would be enough to produce, according to the company, “34,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year from 2028 over 25 years.” This would enable approximately 700,000 electric vehicles to be equipped with lithium-ion batteries.
4/ Czech Republic
The Cinovec Project, European Metals Holding
The Cinovec project, located 100 km from Prague in the Czech Republic, is being carried out by European Metals Holding. It aims to produce nearly 30,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium per year over a period of 25 years.
According to European Metals’ 2022 pre-feasibility study, Cinovec has the potential to become the producer of the lowest-cost hard rock lithium in the world. The mine could produce at a cost of US$5,000 to US$6,000 per metric ton.
The Wolfsberg Project, European Lithium
European Lithium is developing the Wolfsberg Project in Carinthia, 270 km south of Vienna, in Austria. Located in the heart of Europe, this mine project plans to extract 10,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year.
According to the company, this will equip the batteries of approximately 200,000 electric vehicles. They hope to achieve an operating rate of 800,000 metric tons per year with a mine life of over ten years.
The company expects to begin production in 2025.
The Keliber Project, Keliber Oy
Finnish company Keliber Oy, specializing in mining and battery chemicals, is currently running a project in western Finland with the objective of reaching the production of 15,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year beginning in 2025.
The company is also aiming for sustainable production. The lithium they plan to extract will, they say, have a smaller carbon footprint than the competition. This is because the refinery plant is located 70 km from the mine. In addition to this, more than half of the electricity in the Finnish national grid is generated from renewable energy sources. As a result, the refining process will be more environmentally friendly.
The Finnish potential has attracted the attention of investors. South African mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater intends to acquire a majority stake in Keliber Oy.
The enthusiasm for lithium mining in Europe is not unanimous, however. In Serbia, the Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto stopped its project in the southwest of the country due to local opposition.
In the future, the most important challenge for Europe will be to find ways to accommodate mining projects and environmental and social standards. As can be seen, the European lithium extraction projects that are listed above will not be operational until 2025. But the demand for gigafactories is already here. Swedish company Northvolt has already opened Europe’s first battery gigafactory, Direct Industry writes.
Newmont is expanding its business to Europe
American miner Newmont, the world’s number one by production, has formed an exploration alliance with Britain’s Ariana Resources, which owns several gold mining concessions in Europe. The goal is to discover new gold and copper exploitations in one of the least explored regions in the world.
American miner Newmont formed Exploration Alliance with the British company Ariana Resources different owner Mining interests in European countries.
The aim of this alliance is to focus on exploring new copper and gold deposits in countries such as Bosnia and HerzegovinaAnd the Bulgaria And the GreeceAnd the Kosovo And the North Macedonia s Serbian Using the company’s specialized equipment Western Tithian Resources Properties 75% From Ariana Resources.
Representatives of this company have indicated that Southeast Europe is one of the least explored and promising mining regions in the world. your spokesperson, Mentor Demi sign to “With our extensive experience in the area and Newmont’s large exploration capacity, database and technology, we are confident that we will be successful in discovering new deposits of copper and gold.”
As per the information provided by the company, Newmont invests $2.5 million in Ariana To finance exploration activity, as well as facilitate access to the mining company’s regional database.
alliance between Newmont, Ariana and Western Tethian Resources Has the expected initial duration of Five years, which can be extended at the request of both partiesat the expense of new investments by Newmont, which also retains the option to enter Ariana Resources’ equity capital.
Vitality arrived Kareem Sener, Ariana’s managerAnd the “We are pleased to partner with Newmont, via Western Tethyan Resources, for Exploration of new large-scale gold and copper deposits in the southeastern region of Europe. This was the area It was explored during the 80’s and 90’s By companies that were later absorbed by the Newmont Group, such as Normandy Mining. Therefore, the alliance will benefit from Important historical data collected by Newmont. Thanks to this, we can develop a complete exploration of the area. Newmont will also contribute its expertise and knowledge to exploration activity, including the potential deployment of various proprietary technologies”, Sunday Vision writes.
Lithium could help end the EU’s oil addiction
Europe’s desire to wean itself off fossil fuels and end its reliance on Russian energy is not only going to involve a sea change in consumer habits, but it is also going to require a lot of lithium.
Given that the Old Continent barely produces any of the metal: is it just swapping one dependency for another?
European leaders have extolled the virtues of the New Green Deal which plans for the 27-country bloc to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. To achieve this, the EU aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to the 1990s level, bring emissions from new cars by 2035 down to zero and boost its share of renewables in the bloc’s energy mix to 40%.
Lithium is increasingly used for batteries in electronics from smartphones to television as well as to store energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines and in electric cars.
According to the World Bank, the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, would need to increase by nearly 500% by 2050 in order to meet climate goals while EU officials estimate that to achieve climate neutrality by mid-century, the bloc will require 18 times more lithium than it currently uses by 2030 and almost 60 times more by 2050.
Yet, Europe only has one lithium mine, in Portugal, and the very vast majority of its needs is currently met by imports.
About 87% of unrefined lithium the EU sources comes from Australia — the rest from Portugal — while Chile, the US and Russia provide 78%, 8% and 4% respectively.
China is also a particularly big player. Although it has about an estimated 7% of the world’s reserves in lithium, 13% of the lithium extracted in 2019 was in China while over half of the lithium extracted that year was processed in the country.
More than 70% of the lithium-ion batteries that entered the market last year were produced in China.
Brussels is aware of this dependency and added lithium to its list of critical raw materials list in 2020.
A Commission spokesperson acknowledged to Euronews that “the production and refining of lithium are heavily concentrated in a handful of foreign countries, which raises our vulnerability to various supply risks.”
They added that “given the economic and technological relevance of this resource, as well as the external dependencies it generates, it is our responsibility to ensure that the European economy can benefit from a sustainable and resilient supply of lithium.”
“Although the EU will continue to cultivate its international partnerships, significant lithium extraction potential exists within our borders and its exploitation could create thousands of jobs. Developing local lithium mining and processing operations will not only enhance our strategic autonomy and reinforce our economy, but will also allow us to better monitor and contain the environmental impacts of mining industries, which are far more difficult to control beyond the EU’s borders,” they said.
Opposition to mines
There are currently 10 potentially viable lithium projects in the EU: three in Portugal, two in Spain and Germany each, with the remaining three in the Czech Republic, Finland and Austria respectively.
For Rene Kleijn, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University, “if all these plants become operational, it would probably be enough for our own supply.”
Problem solved, then? Well, not quite.
Getting all these projects off the ground will not necessarily be easy. A €2.2 billion lithium mine project in Serbia was shelved earlier this year after strong local opposition over environmental concerns. There is also fierce opposition to lithium mining in Portugal.
The mining process for lithium is primarily done in two ways. There is the traditional open-pit approach with the metal extracted from hard rock and the second one involves pumping huge amounts of underground water to the surface to remove lithium from the briny liquid that comes up as the water evaporates.
Both are seen as disruptive to the landscape and local population with a potential risk of air and water pollution. Using water to extract lithium is also controversial as water becomes more scarce in some areas due to climate change. Large parts of Portugal and Spain, for instance, have been suffering through a winter drought resulting in near-depleted reservoirs.
But there is a third, greener, way of mining lithium, called Direct Lithium Extraction and that is being implemented for the potential project in Germany. It relies on geothermal energy to pump the brine to the surface to allow for the extraction of lithium before being pumped back into the underground geothermal reservoir.
From extraction to production
Mining however is just the tip of the iceberg. Once extracted, lithium needs to be refined, batteries made and eventually recycled.
In fact, the latter is really where lithium shines.
“One of the largest sources of pollution in Europe and CO2 emissions is road transport,” Julia Poliscanova, Vehicles & e-mobility lead at Transport & Environment, a clean transport campaign group, told Euronews,
Transport generates about a quarter of the EU’s total emissions with road transport accounting for about 70% of them.
“The best way to decarbonise one of the largest climate problems is electrification, and for that, we need batteries. And for that, we need lithium.
“However, it is indeed important to stress that any mining, any raw material extraction, oil, nickel, lithium, gas comes with an impact. When it comes to lithium, the impact per car is significantly less so. When you have a car, you would burn 17,000 litres of oil over the use of that car,” she said.
“For a battery, an electric vehicle, you need about five or six kilogrammes of lithium that you can then recycle and reuse again and again. You just need to get it into your first batteries and then after some time, it can become a circular loop. So the impact of lithium is significantly less than the impact of oil.”
US and China move faster
But again Europe is running behind on the entire supply chain infrastructure.
The European Battery Directive of 2006 was written before lithium-ion batteries became increasingly prominent due to a more lukewarm approach towards fighting climate change then and thus did not set any targets for the recycling of lithium. Nowadays, almost no lithium is recovered in the EU, whereas recycling efficiencies are estimated at about 95 % for cobalt and nickel, and 80 % for copper.
“We could have anticipated this much earlier. For example, in the US we now have policies that basically come from Cold War times that are now being implemented by President Biden in order to secure supply chains for batteries, and electric vehicles,” Kleijn said.
Washington’s Defence Production Act allows the White House to exert control over domestic industries in times of crisis. It was used by President Trump to limit exports of medical goods at the start of the pandemic and by Biden to accelerate vaccination.
It has now once more been invoked by Biden “to secure American production of critical materials to bolster our clean energy economy by reducing our reliance on China and other countries for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future” including lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese.
“This is really like hard core state interference in the markets to make sure that your industries are able to survive and also are not dependent on autocratic states or other states that you might not want to be dependent upon. And this is not the kind of policies that Europe is famous for,” Kleijn argued.
“And I’m not even talking about China. I mean, in China, it’s completely state-operated. Large Chinese state-owned mining companies are involved in mining all of these materials all over the world, whether it’s cobalt in Africa or lithium in Australia. The biggest miner for the biggest Australian mining of lithium, for example, is one-quarter owned by a Chinese state-owned company. So you can see how the Chinese government is also heavily involved in securing the supply chains also overseas,” he added.
2030 and beyond
Investments are being made across Europe in battery production to curb reliance from abroad.
About 24 lithium-ion battery cells giga-factories were expected to open across the EU between 2021 and 2030. Tesla, for instance, opened its gigafactory in Germany last month.
The association of European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers now forecasts that the EU battery market value will grow from €15 billion in 2019 to an estimated €35 billion in 2030 — with lithium-ion accounting for about half — while the global market value will grow from €90 billion to 150 billion.
Still, even in the best-case scenario, with all potential mines opening by 2025, “I don’t see how Europe will achieve sufficiency in this decade,” Poliscanova flagged.
“But moving after 2030, depending on how smart our policy on recycling is, Europe can become self-sufficient,” she concluded, Euronews reports.
The miner focused its exploration and development efforts in the European country
Canada’s Eldorado Gold (TSX:ELD)(NYSE:EGO) said on Tuesday it had completed key growth projects at two of its assets — the Lamaque mine in Val d’Or, Quebec, and Kışladağ gold mine in Turkey, which will allow it to further expand production outside Greece.
For years, the miner focused its exploration and development efforts in the European country. Long dragged differences between Eldorado and the Greek government, mainly over environmental regulations, pushed the company to look elsewhere, including home.
At Lamaque, its first gold mine in Canada, the Vancouver-based company has finished the Triangle-Sigma decline, which provides underground access for lower-cost exploration in the prospective area between the Triangle mine and the historic Sigma and Lamaque operations.
The project also reduces surface ore rehandling and haulage by about 26 kms, or 50-minutes round trip from the Triangle mine to the Sigma mill, reducing costs and carbon emissions, and removing haulage traffic from public roads.
At its Kışladağ gold mine in Turkey, the company has concluded construction and wet commissioning of a high-pressure grinding rolls (HPGR) circuit expected to increase heap leach life of mine recovery by between 4% and 5%.
Eldorado believes there is potential to further increase recovery at Kışladağ with additional optimization of the HPGR circuit, which could lead to higher gold production. The project was completed within the $35 million cost estimate over a two-year period, the company said.
Eldorado, which also has operations in Romania and Brazil, has increased focus on the domestic market in recent years. It bought Quebec explorer QMX Gold in January and acquired a 11.5% stake in Probe Metals, another local explorer, in July.
The main bone of contention between Eldorado and Greece has been the company’s projects in the country’s north, particularly Skouries. Progress at the gold-copper project has in the past been hindered by both government delays in issuing permits and community opposition over the possible environmental impacts of gold mining in a densely forested area.
The company has been able to move forward with Olympias, one of its two key mines in the country.
Construction at Skouries, which has reserves of 3.7 million ounces of gold and 1.7 billion pounds of copper, has remained halted since 2017.
In April, Eldorado received a long-awaited permit for the use of dry stack tailings disposal.
The company said on Tuesday it completed a feasibility study for Skouries since, which results it will announce on Wednesday, December 15, after market close.
Greece and Eldorado, the country’s biggest foreign investor, negotiated a new investment contract this year that was signed and ratified by Greek Parliament. The agreement provides enhanced fiscal revenues, environmental benefits, and support for local communities in the form of job creation and local projects.
The nation’s conservative government has vowed to attract foreign investment to boost an economy that shrank by a quarter during a decade-long financial crisis.
Europe must start mining again
A ramp up of the supply of critical raw materials (CRMs) is essential for the world’s energy transition. Wind and solar, batteries, digitalisation, transport and hydrogen cannot meet their targets without it. The EU defines 30 minerals as critical. To give one example, the global deficits in lithium supplies could surge more than 60-fold to 950,000 tons by 2030. Frank Umbach at EUCERS takes a thorough look at the issue. Europe represented just 5% of global mining in 2020 and is the only region in the world with a declining mining industry. Europe’s dependence on imports makes it vulnerable to economic and geopolitical shocks and rivalries. At present, China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of rare earth elements (REEs) and around 62% for all its defined 30 CRMs. Recycling and import diversification is needed but can only have a limited effect. Umbach says that’s why the EU needs to support domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities as part of its “Open Strategic Autonomy” plan, aimed at addressing these issues. Umbach points at the Norwegian “Bjerkreim Exploration Project” which sits on more than 70bn tons of mineralised rock and might turn out to be one of the world’s most significant deposits of vanadium, titanium, and phosphate. Though some NGOs and Green parties oppose mining, European operations will have much lower eco-footprints that exporting countries with weak regulations. If CRMs are to become the “new oil”, Europe must be ready for that.
During the last months, local and regional protests against the permitting of foreign mineral exploitation have widened in Serbia and Spain. In Serbia, the protests of environmental NGOs and other population groups are directed against Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium project and Zijin Mining’s recently opened Cukara Pekki copper and gold mine. The protesters fear a pollution of land and water, though their protests are also fuelled against a populist rule of an increasingly autocratic government in Serbia.
In Spain, in the vicinity of the medieval town of Caceres and in the Canaveral district, foreign investors have also to cope with protests and environmental concerns against the opening of two of Europe’s largest future lithium mines alongside of a new industrial infrastructure across the region of Extremadura, which also includes battery cell and cathode factories.
Clashing with environmentalism
These new European projects benefit from unprecedented EU funding to develop new raw material mines and supply chains in order to reduce the EU’s rapidly rising dependence on critical raw materials (CRMs) and battery supply chains from China and Asia.
The protests highlight a growing dilemma for the EU as well as for many environmental groups and NGOs: a growing conflict of competing objectives between local and regional environmental interests on one side and the need for global climate change mitigation and decarbonivation efforts on the other side.
A faster decarbonisation in Europe and the world demands a rapidly increasing mining of CRMs for renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power) and many digitalisation technologies to enhance energy conservation and efficiency of the future electricity demand in all industries and high-tech sectors (including the European defence, air, and space industries). With the electrification of the European transport sector and energy intensive industries using green hydrogen (based on electrolysis), the future EU electricity demand might even double by 2050 according to new analyses of the European Commission.
In this light and given the rising geo-economic and geopolitical competition with China and the EU’s dependence on ever growing imports of CRMs and refined products (such as magnets for windmills) from China, the EU has enhanced its raw material policies to a core issue in its industrial as well as energy and climate policies due to the European Green Deals’ targets for emissions, the expansion of renewables and electromobility.
Recycling, diversification of import sources, European mining
The EU also wants to reduce its CRMs demand growth by introducing a circular economy with much more recycling and re-use of CRMs, diversify its imports and expand its domestic mining in Europe.
Many environmental groups are not only against fossil fuels, but also against raw material mines and believe that future recycling and re-use of CRMs alone can balance off the CRMs mining and supply demand growth. However, that appears completely unrealistic at least in the next decade as recycling and re-use as well as other alternative options to reduce the demand and imports of CRMs all face numerous challenges and constraints.
Furthermore, larger amounts of replaced batteries, solar cells and wind turbines will become available only after 2030. While the introduction of a circular economy is of the utmost important for both climate and industrial as well as supply security reasons, it won’t be a ‘silver bullet’-solution for the rapidly growing European demand of CRMs and its related supply security risks during the next decade.
In this context, the protests of environmental NGOs and others also overlook the geo-economic and geopolitical developments and the inherent risks for Europe’s industries and future key economic growth sectors. In combination, the political blockade of European mining projects of CRMs even threatens the EU’s own energy and climate targets of the European Green Deal (EGD) as a pre-condition of the global climate policies and its 1.5°C target and will only lead to higher global emissions.
Chinas dominates the world’s supply of CRMs
Since the spring of 2021, Beijing has considered new export controls of its rare earths elements (REEs) and semi-finalised products such as magnets, which are particularly important for the defence and renewable industries. China had already increased its production quota for these CRMs by almost 30 percent up to 140,000 tons (from 100,000 tons) under its five-year plan through 2020. Beijing seeks to adopt defensive measures against new US trade sanctions but also to cope with its rapidly rising demand of high-tech products (such as electric vehicles and renewables) which all need rare earths and other CRMs. By 2030, the rare earths production needs to increase from its present 167,000 tons up to 280,000 tons.
China already threatened the US with export restrictions on rare earths in May 2019 due to the escalating trade conflict with the Trump-administration. In 2010, China had stopped its REEs exports to Japan amidst a diplomatic conflict with Tokyo over maritime territories with oil and gas resources in the East China Sea. At that time, China enjoyed a worldwide production and refining monopoly on REEs for 95%.
Rare earths are just one example how Chinas dominates the world’s supply of CRMs. At present, Chinese companies control up to almost 80% of the worldwide REEs production, more than 90% of its refining processes, around 80% of global refined cobalt production, and more than 60% of the worldwide lithium-ion manufacturing capacity. China is the only superpower which has positioned itself strongly throughout the entire clean tech supply chains based on CRMs. In 2018, the European Commission’s Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in 2018 already warned that CRMs may become the “new oil”. It highlighted the future geo-economic and geopolitical challenges of the EU’s raw material supply.
In contrast to Western government policies and their defined short-term priorities in economic decision-making, China’s political and economic policies are guided by long-term thinking and strategic concepts such as the strategic control of the most important supply chains for disruptive technologies and related CRMs. China’s leader and reformer Deng Xiaoping already stated in 1992: “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.” From the mid-1980s to early 2000, China artificially deflated the cost of REE exploration and production so that Western companies and mines had to close. Since then, they have dominated global REEs production also due to its tolerance towards highly polluting, low-cost mining of REEs.
When Beijing had widened is export restrictions to the US and the EU in 2010, the question of supply security of REEs and other CRMs was addressed on the highest political agenda of the US and EU. But after 2012 when the prices of CRMs were falling again, Western concerns on a stable supply of CRMs disappeared again from the governments’ strategic agendas.
In 2015, China’s industrial strategy ‘Made in China 2025’ called to Chinese companies to ensure 70% of the components and materials being used should be sourced domestically by 2025. In April 2020, President Xi Jinping called for the need to enhance the dependence of the Western countries’ global supply chains on China and, simultaneously, “develop powerful retaliation and deterrence capabilities against supply cut-offs by foreign parties”. In December 2021, Xi Jinping demanded to ensure China’s self-sufficiency in key commodities, including energy and minerals to prepare for the changing international relations as part of the country’s long-term agenda and its ”comprehensive conservation strategy” .
China’s global mining strategy
Since 2021, amid the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and worsening global shortages as well as surging raw material prices, China has intensified its acquisitions of new CRM mines around the world for ensuring and controlling access of new lithium and other CRM deposits.
Due to the global demand growth for electromobility and batteries for vehicles and other energy storage needs, the global deficits in lithium supplies could surge more than 60-fold to 950,000 tons in 2030. It could threaten the acceleration of the worldwide energy transition and decarbonisation.
China is also willing and has partly been forced to pursue ventures and less profitable FDI-projects for enhancing its geo-economic autarky and self-sufficiency, which Western companies and governments perceive as politically and financially too risky. Thus, Chinese companies are also interested at Afghanistan’s untapped mineral abundance, including its estimated vast reserves of copper and lithium. The Taliban – being blocked by Western countries to use its foreign currency reserves in international banks – have presently hardly any other choice than to deepen and expand its political-economic ties with China. New value estimates of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth run high up to US$3 trillion and may rising further with the global demand growth and skyrocketing prices. Afghanistan has even been called the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’ because its estimated lithium reserves could be worth solely US$1 trillion and be as large as Bolivia’s, home of the world’s largest reserves.
China’s interest at Afghanistan’s risky mineral resources have been highlighted by a recent warning of the Chinese embassy in Kabul towards Chinese mining companies in December against “blindly” organising inspection trips to Afghan mining sites, thereby ignoring regulations and the need for permits for examining its mineral resources. For China, it offers the perspective to expand its global dominance of the world’s most important CRM supply chains and reduce its dependence on more vulnerable maritime supply routes for its CRM imports from Africa, Latin America, and Australia. Having already invested in Afghanistan’s mining sector during the last decade, a Chinese control of Afghanistan’s CRMs could make the EU even more dependent on China in its struggling efforts for securing its future raw material supply.
The EU’s “Open Strategic Autonomy” plan
The worldwide energy transition and decarbonisation have fuelled a global race for the most advanced technologies, and a stable supply of CRMs for them. The worldwide decarbonisation of the global energy sector and economy with a shift to cleaner energy may create a multi-decade commodity (super)cycle and increase the global geo-economic competition and geo-political rivalries. The EU’s strategic objectives of its EGD and the further expansion of renewables can only be realised with a rising use and a reliable supply of CRMs. But the EU competes with a rising global demand alongside the worldwide expansion of renewables, digital technologies, and artificial intelligence as well as other high-tech industries.
Only 9% of the EU’s overall raw material demand can be supplied by the EU-27 itself. Europe represents just 5% of global mining in 2020 and is the only region in the world with a declining mining industry. At present, China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of REEs, and around 62% for all its defined 30 CRMs as of 2020.
Its demand for lithium will grow 18 times and cobalt 5 times by 2030 and respectively 60 times and 15 times by 2050. Demand for rare earths could increase 10-fold by 2050 and cobalt a demand growth by 500% by 2030 and 15 times by 2050. Despite creating a circular economy with expanded recycling capacities and European production as well as refinement capacities, they won’t be sufficient to guarantee a sufficient stable supply for the EU industries.
Covid pandemic: a wake-up call
The EU’s dependence on critical supply chains have been highlighted after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic when the global just-in-time supply chains had not been able, flexible, and fast enough to provide sufficient medical equipment, basic medicines, and CRMs in time due to sudden global demand, nationalist export restrictions and broken value chains.
Since that time, detailed analyses of major supply chains and the EU’s dependencies on critical supplies have been conducted with the conclusions of a greater “open strategic autonomy” and relocating some critical supply chains (including mining as well as refining capacities) to Europe for diversifying supplies and technologies as well as for strengthening Europe’s resiliency of supply chain security. In the EU’s understanding, “strategic autonomy” does not mean complete self-sufficiency or economic protectionism by isolating itself from the world. It rather means having alternatives, competition, and avoiding “unwanted dependencies both economically and geopolitically” as outlined in the EU’s new “action plan” for CRM supply security of September 2020.
The EU’s rising geo-economic concerns have also been reflected in its list of CRMs, which is being updated every 3 years. The number of CRMs has constantly risen from 14 CRMs in 2011 to 20 in 2014, 27 in 2017 and 30 in 2020.
Creating and supporting domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities
By developing and expanding European mining of CRMs whilst diversifying its imports, the Commission hopes to become 80% self-sufficient on lithium by 2025 and have its own rare earths mining as well as refining capacity ready by 2030. While the EU and Europe have lithium, borate, and even REEs, hardly any of the newly identified and potential mining projects is likely to enter production in the next three years for various reasons. And even then, for at least some of its CRMs, the EU will still lack its own abundant mineral deposits. But the commerciality of domestic mining projects in Europe can change as it depends on its policies, regulatory frameworks, financial support and global price developments.
Compared with the lack of public acceptance in Serbia and Spain, a more positive example can be seen in the Norwegian “Bjerkreim Exploration Project” of the UK based exploration company Norge Mining plc. and its spectacular find. It contains more than 70bn tons of mineralised rock and might be one of the world’s most significant deposits of the CRMs vanadium, titanium, and phosphate. The find also highlights the global significance of Norway’s untapped mineral resources can play a future key role in the supply of the EU’s CRM supplies, depending on the political and public support by the Norwegian and EU governments.
Recognising and addressing new conflicts of interests and strategic objectives
The EU’s new raw material strategy has also emphasised the need to enhance sustainability in the light of the EGD with a greater attention of the ecological footprint of mining, refinement (“sustainable mining”) and end products.
In principle, domestic mining of raw materials – in compliance with of adequate environmental regulations and ‘life cycle analyses’ – would significantly emit less greenhouse gas emissions than mining projects outside Europe, which are mostly less environmentally regulated (resulting in much higher emissions). Additionally, they must be imported via longer distances of transport, which produces higher emissions in combination with their extraction. According to a study of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, 1 ton of additional emissions in Europe resulting from increasingly intermediate European products leads to average global savings of 1.24 tons of CO2 equivalent in all material sectors. Other research analyses suggest that each ton of metal Europe produces emits up to 8 times less carbon than its equivalent from China.
In this regard, a new conflict of interests and strategic objectives is mounting in the EU member states. It might be particularly challenging for NGOs and Green parties as they need to decide what is more important for them: local nature and environmental protection or effective and sustainable global climate mitigation efforts. The decarbonisation of the world’s energy system as a pre-condition of mitigating global climate change won’t be realised without a decrease of imports and increasing domestic mining, refining and processing of CRMs. Neither the creation of a circular economy nor any other single measure alone will offer a ‘silver bullet’-solution to the rising demand of CRMs and achieving the EGD emissions’ target.
The present worldwide magnesium shortage due to production curbs in China (having a near monopoly on the global magnesium market) has just highlighted Europe’s and the world’s overdependence on just one supplier and the Western neglect of diversification efforts. It is an essential raw material for aluminium alloys being used for almost everything.
As the EU’s demand for certain CRMs might grow by a factor of 20 by 2030, the need for developing resilient value chains (including for renewables, batteries, and other disruptive technologies), resource efficiency, recycling, re-use, repair, substitution, and the use of secondary sources (as part of its future ‘circular economy’) will play an ever more important role in the future. However, the options of recycling, re-use and substitution also have their own constraints because some CRMs cannot be recycled technically or are presently not commercially profitable.
In addition, the supply and value chains of CRMs are not fully and homogeneously covered by European industry. Moreover, opening new mines and refining capabilities around the world require lead times of at least 7 years internationally, in Western countries even 10-20 years. Facing mounting public acceptance challenges in many OECD countries, it has become ever more challenging to find private investors for those long-term mining projects in Europe.
While a complete ’strategic autonomy’ is neither realistic nor desirable, a diversification of supplies and imports of CRMs is needed particularly in the mid- and longer-term perspective. It includes the expansion of domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities in Europe for reducing its imports and unwanted geopolitical dependencies as well as for lowering global climate emissions.
For implementing and realising these strategic objectives, political leadership, guidance, and adequate political support as well as public communication strategies for European mining projects of CRMs, including in Norway, will become ever more important in the forthcoming years as otherwise the EU won’t realise its agreed emission target of -55 percent and decarbonisation pathway by 2030.
Relying solely on raw materials sourced within Europe could incentivise the use of cheaper, non-recyclable batteries
Relying solely on raw materials sourced within Europe could incentivise the use of cheaper, non-recyclable batteries, increasing the need to mine virgin materials to power electric vehicles, industry has said.
Rare earth metals, cobalt and nickel, are key components in lithium-ion batteries and are well-suited for reuse, which has given rise to hopes that much of Europe’s demand for these raw materials can be met through recycling rather than mining.
However, until enough end-of-life batteries enter the system to facilitate widescale reuse, it is necessary to continue mining large quantities of virgin materials to meet projected demand.
Under the proposed EU battery regulation, the use of minimum levels of recycled content for cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel in battery manufacturing will not become mandatory until 2030.
Nickel is primarily sourced from Latin America at present, while around two-thirds of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But concerns over poor working conditions there and potential supply disruptions have led the European Union to look for raw materials inside Europe in search of greater “strategic autonomy”.
“More than 90% of rare earth magnets are produced in China today,” reads an extract from a recent report by the EU-backed European Raw Materials Alliance.
“This high production concentration in combination with rising global political tensions and a growing Chinese domestic market demand – particularly driven by a growth in electric mobility – results in a high supply risk for these materials from a European perspective,” the alliance warned.
In addition to opening mines within EU countries, EU leaders have sought to strike deals with neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Western Balkan nations for raw materials sourcing.
Some lawmakers have gone further and called for European automakers to favour battery chemistries that exclusively require raw materials that can be sourced from Europe.
While shifting exclusively to technology that does not require imports may seem like a solution on paper, doing so would harm efforts to create a more circular economy and may require more virgin material extraction, explained Adam McCarthy, President of the Cobalt Institute.
“The thing that makes [cobalt-free cells] attractive to purchasers is the fact that they’re much cheaper. But that also means that it’s not economical for recycling companies to recycle it, because the value of the metals is lower,” he told EURACTIV.
“So, you have this set of trade-offs where it might be helpful [at meeting a certain policy objective] in some ways, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be better from a new sourcing perspective.”
The Nickel Institute said that while there are world-class nickel producers in Europe, nickel sourced from outside of the EU is currently necessary to meet demand.
“Nickel mined within the EU and from sources outside of the EU complement each other. The growing demand within the EU can only be satisfied by ensuring that mine production from the EU and elsewhere go hand in hand,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV.
Green campaigners, for their part, say the status quo is much worse.
“Europe is essentially 95% supply dependent on imports of crude oil,” said Alex Keynes, a clean vehicles expert with green NGO Transport & Environment. “It’s not like the status quo is a better situation [compared to virgin materials for batteries] and for the climate our dependence on oil is obviously a disaster,” he told EURACTIV.
“The key here is for Europe to move away from oil,” he added.
Mark Mistry, senior manager with the Nickel Institute, said the industry welcomes the due diligence requirements, seeing it as “an opportunity for companies to demonstrate that they fulfil the expectations from regulators, their customers, and civil society”.
However, he warned that the deadlines to implement the responsible sourcing requirements contained in the draft law are overly short given the complexity involved.
“We acknowledge concerns that for the EU battery regulation to be a success, it is important that responsible sourcing be implemented shortly after it enters into force. However, the timeframe needs to remain realistic to develop and implement solid, rigorous responsible sourcing frameworks before auditing takes place,” he wrote in a recent op-ed article.
In response, T&E’s Alex Keynes encouraged lawmakers to stick with the current deadlines, arguing that the due diligence requirement only requires proof that a company has started the process.
“You don’t have to show proof of result, you have to show proof of process and effort,” he said.
“European companies are at the forefront of higher social and environmental sustainability practices. A lot of companies are already implementing social supply chain due diligence policies. Many of these companies are already essentially doing a lot of this stuff,” he added.
New mining projects are being re-branded clean, green and vital to climate action across Europe
There has been a surge in the number of mining projects and a massive expansion of areas under mining concession in the island of Ireland, Fennoscandia and across Europe in recent years.
As much as 27 percent of the Republic of Ireland and 25 percent of Northern Ireland is under mining concession, with a single company, Dalradian Resources, holding concessions for 10 percent of the latter’s land area.
European nations keen to secure their own supplies – who have been backed by the EU – are creating incentives to increase domestic mining, whilst running comprehensive PR campaigns that paint mining as green and re-frame the industry as a leader in addressing climate change.
Svein Lund, a co-author of the Fennoscandian report, says Norway was an early adopter of this framing.
“In 2013 the Norwegian government made a mineral strategy saying that mineral extraction should be increased and that it was acceptable to dump tailings into the sea,” they add.
“The motivation for extraction was income for the state and municipalities and working places. There was no talk of any ‘green shift’. That came three years later… Suddenly all mining companies and their allies became ‘green’.
“This was an immense PR trick for them. Later, when northern Norwegian counties made their own mineral strategy, they presented the whole and sole motivation for mining as the ‘green shift’.”
These trends point to a critical conflict in the governance of mining across Europe. Governments have a duty to protect the environment and their people, for example by regulating industry on their behalf.
But after many decades of neoliberal capitalism, governments have also taken on a role as facilitators of harmful industries like mining, deregulating on their behalf in the hope of reaping foreign investment, meagre royalties and taxes.
Mining companies operating in Nordic countries and on the island of Ireland are doing everything possible to exploit this conflict of interest in a time of climate crisis, presenting themselves as green and, where possible, connecting their projects with soaring demand for transition metals.
In Northern Ireland, for example, mining company Dalradian Resources has changed tack to publicly present its Curragihault project not as a gold mine, as it was first advertised, but as a gold-copper-silver mine. Copper and silver are considered more integral to the renewable energy transition than gold.
In Norway, mining company Nussir ASA’s planned mine in Riehppovuotna/Repparfjorden claims to be the world’s first ‘net-zero’ emissions copper mine.
But despite its claims to be sustainable, the company plans to dispose of the mine waste generated by its operations directly into a neighbouring salmon fjord, and would cause massive impacts on reindeer herding.
The company has also failed to secure the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of potentially affected Indigenous Sámi communities in contravention of International Labour Organisation Convention 169, to which Norway is a signatory.
The re-framing of the mining industry in climate-friendly terms, and promises of its expansion, have been accompanied by reassurances that, in Europe, the industry will be regulated to the highest standards.
These reassurances from both governments and corporations are intended to justify the ‘green mining’ moniker and allay the concerns of European citizens who view mining to be a harmful, fundamentally unsustainable industry.
However, YLNM’s research reveals that there is a vast gap between government and corporate rhetoric and the realities at Europe’s new extractive frontiers. It casts major doubt on EU and member states’ claims that European mining represents a gold standard that justifies new sacrifice zones.
Professor Tero Mustonen, a lead author of the latest IPCC report, and co-author of YLNM’s Fennoscandian research, says Finland, where the term ‘green mining’ was first popularised, is far from a ‘responsible’ mining utopia.
“Finland and the Nordics should lead in global conservation and rights issues and that is why it is so sad that behind the international facade we find blatant power politics, greed and full dismissal of precautionary principles when it comes to mining on our lands, some of which are the last remaining intact wilderness in Europe.”
Mustonen’s analysis is backed up by multiple case studies of mining disasters and mismanagement in the European North, which reveal an industry that is far from sustainable and clean.
A prime example is the Talvivaara/Terrafame nickel-zinc-cobalt (uranium) mine in eastern Finland, which employed new bioheap leaching technology to extract these minerals from a low-grade deposit.
Since opening, the mine has caused a series of major toxic waste leaks into surrounding waterways. Damage from these leaks is ongoing. Despite these impacts, the mine – nationalised after the bankruptcy caused by the environmental disaster in 2012/3 – is now being touted as a prime example of ‘clean’ extraction for Finland’s nascent battery supply chain.
In both Fennoscandia and the island of Ireland, the authors of YLNM’s new research reveals how the mining industry continues – despite so-called world class regulation – to disrupt vital ecosystems, mistreat and sideline communities and violate indigenous rights.
Arne Müller, a journalist and a report co-author, says that the green transition is also being used to justify all new mining in Sweden, regardless of whether it is related to the production of renewable energy.
“The whole mining industry in Sweden tries to present itself as part of the transition to a fossil free society.
“It is true that a number of metals are necessary for the production of renewable energy and electrical vehicles, but among the new mining projects you also find for example a number of gold mines, which have nothing to do with the ‘green’ transition.”
The continuation of ‘business-as-usual’ can also be seen in the EU’s unwillingness to address the ongoing supply of raw materials from non-EU countries, particularly in the Global South.
The European Commission has made numerous attempts to frame domestic mining in Europe as a tonic to relying on poorly-regulated mining in the South.
Yet the same institution refuses to address its unfair and exploitative trade relations with so-called ‘third countries’ or to embrace calls to tackle Europe’s massive overconsumption of materials and energy and reduce extractive pressures globally.
There is growing evidence that the ecological toll of massive, market-driven global mining expansion will have a serious negative effect on our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change – as well as undermining the human rights of communities worldwide.
Communities at the extractive frontiers in both Ireland and Fennoscandia know this and are seeing through the greenwash being liberally applied to sell mining at a time of ecological crisis.
Opposition to mining in Europe is intensifying, as are calls for states to recognise that we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis.
Properly regulating the mining industry would be a start. Addressing historical and continued exploitation of the Global South is essential.
But communities are also advocating the need to pursue transformational pathways towards climate justice.
Lynda Sullivan, author of the island of Ireland dispatch, says: “Calls for the Republic if Ireland and Northern Ireland’s governments to recognise that we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis are growing, as are community-led examples of alternative pathways out of the climate crisis and towards justice and lasting peace among people and with the land.
“The message from communities at the frontlines of the Island’s new extractive zones is clear- respect our existence, or expect resistance.”
The most pressing question isn’t where new mining should happen, as European states and the European Union suggest.
It is how we can immediately and dramatically reduce the need for new mines by tackling the ultimate drivers of this industry – overconsumption, inequity and the pursuit of endless economic growth.
Hannibal Rhoades is Northern European contact person for the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network. He lead The Gaia Foundation’s Beyond Extractivism Programme.
Lynda Sullivan is a writer, activist and researcher based in Northern Ireland. She works with Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland.
mirko nikolic is an artist, activist and academic based in Sweden. He co-coordinates the Yes to Life, No to Mining Lithium Working Group.
Europe needs to shift the focus away from mining certain metals
While certain metals, like lithium and cobalt, are essential for decarbonisation, Europe needs to shift the focus away from mining these materials towards reducing the amount needed and recycling what is used, writes Ann Dom.
Ann Dom is the deputy director of Seas At Risk, the European association of NGOs working to protect Europe’s seas.
The EU’s circular economy and raw materials policies fail to consider the need to leave metals in the ground and in the seabed. If we dig further and deeper into the Earth’s pristine areas – or indeed eventually mine the moon or asteroids –to satisfy Europe’s insatiable appetite for primary metals, then that much-hyped ‘circularity’ will only ever be illusory.
Our world is finally (and very belatedly) considering leaving fossil fuels in the ground. We should do the same for metals.
‘Security of supply’ of raw materials, particularly of certain metals seen as ‘critical’, is an increasing component of EU policy.
From the 2019 European Green Deal to the Raw Materials Action Plan and new Batteries Regulation, ‘access to resources’ and ‘strategic autonomy’ essentially call on the mining industry to find new reserves of primary metals. This includes the deep-sea – trials have taken place in recent months – and protected areas on land, including Natura 2000 sites.
Mining is one of the world’s most polluting industries and a main contributor to climate change.
The production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, manganese) is responsible for 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a major cause of biodiversity loss, human rights violations, political instability and forced displacement in the Global South.
At a time when the IPCC has issued a stark warning of how perilously close we now are to the 1.5°C danger limit agreed in the Paris Climate Deal, sacrificing entire ecosystems to fuel a new mining boom is at best careless, at worst criminal, and is entirely incongruous with the Green Deal’s ‘do no harm’ and ‘zero pollution’ mottos.
Europe carries a substantial share of responsibility for the growing demand for metals, using up to 20% of global mineral production for less than 10% of the world’s population. European policymakers have come to accept the growing demand for metals and the resulting mining boom as a necessary evil to bring about decarbonisation.
The much-needed transition to a carbon-neutral economy focuses primarily on technology and innovation fixes, such as the large-scale deployment of renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles and digitalisation, all of which are metal-intensive.
The Commission’s 2018 Strategic Action Plan on Batteries called for ‘embracing raw materials extraction’. The EU’s enormous appetite for resources’ is also acknowledged in the new EU Raw Materials Action Plan, which recognises how ‘the underlying problem … needs to be addressed by reducing and reusing materials before recycling them’.
There is, however, no sign of any serious binding targets to reduce Europe’s use of raw materials. Rather, as well as tapping into other continents’ resources, hundreds of new mines are being planned across Europe.
Equally damning is the fact that Europe is a major player in the race to the deep-sea bottom: several European countries hold deep-sea mining exploration licenses in international waters, with commercial mining expected from 2023. Others are considering mining on their continental shelf.
Circularity demands a strong political will to cut resource extraction. The status quo – relatively cheap metals flooding the market at huge environmental and human cost – provides no incentive to stop overconsumption and waste of metals in the Global North. Scarcity must be seen as the key to innovation and creativity.
Environmental destruction and the human impacts of mining can be relegated to the past. The social and technological solutions to make it a reality already exist: an end to technological, psychological and planned obsolescence, reparability, long-life product cycles, and built-in circular design for easy and economical disassembly of components for reuse and recycling.
Europe can significantly reduce its resource consumption by adopting binding EU and national material-footprint reduction targets and mainstream those into mobility, energy, digitalisation, industry, urban and housing policies.
The EU should also devise a much more ambitious Green Deal that aims for “growth without economic growth”, as the European Environmental Agency (EEA) recommends.
This requires deep changes in consumption and production systems and lifestyles to counter overconsumption (e.g. sharing economy, eradicating ads for cars and fast fashion).
For example, car-sharing – combined with much better provisions for walking, cycling and public transport – can minimise Europe’s car fleet, substantially reducing the demand for metals to turn the car fleet electric.
This is the sort of enormous potential for reducing resource demand that the EU should target, rather than continuing to embrace the old paradigm of raw materials extraction.
Most importantly, it means letting go of the ‘eternal economic growth’ paradigm and creating societies and economies that focus on well-being and care for the planet and people.