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.
European lithium independence – blessing or a curse?
In an extensive article mainly about the struggle of local authorities and residents of Cáceres in southwestern Spain against the opening of lithium mines near their city, the economic-political paper Handelsblatt writes that this is no exception and that in other parts of Europe where lithium has been discovered the curses and blessings ”of that revelation.
“For example in Portugal, Great Britain and Serbia. The fact is: This light metal plays an important role in the fight against climate change, because it is one of the most important raw materials for the production of batteries, not only for smartphones, laptops, but above all for electric cars”, the diary writes.
“Handelsblat”, however, points out that “European reserves on a global scale are relatively modest, and the population’s concern for the environment is great, which could endanger exploitation”, the Euractive Serbia portal reported.
As an example, the daily cites Rio Tinto’s plans for a high-quality lithium deposit in the Jadar River Valley, but also claims by NGOs that it could cause “irreparable damage to water, land, air and people”. The paper writes that the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts also asked the Government of Serbia to consider the irreparable consequences.
Also, the daily states that civic initiatives accuse the Government of Serbia of selling lithium in the future, since Rio Tinto will earn four billion euros in the first ten years of exploitation, and the state of Serbia only 300 million.
“They believe that it would be better for Serbia, like Bolivia, to exploit the ore through a state-owned company and thus finance the highest environmental standards and at the same time earn more”, the daily writes.
According to the research of the American Geological Institute USGS, Bolivia has more than 26.5 percent in Bolivia, which is the largest part of the total world lithium reserve, estimated at 79.4 million tons.
Argentina has about 24.3 percent and Chile 12.1 percent. According to those data, Serbia has about 1.2 million tons of that light metal at its disposal with 1.5 percent of the total world reserves. 3.4% of the world’s reserves are in Germany, and 1.6% in the Czech Republic, Handelsblatt writes.
The paper states that Europe wants to become more independent from the import of raw materials in important areas, and reminds that lithium has so far been mainly imported from China, since it has the largest refinery capacities for extracting lithium from ore mainly mined in South America.
“And the needs are huge. According to the European Commission, Europe will need 60 times more lithium for batteries and electric cars in 2050 than today. Demand has already raised prices. A ton of lithium carbonate, which is good enough to produce batteries, now costs in “Europe $ 12,500 – 30 percent more than at the beginning of the year”, the paper said.
“Countries where there is lithium hope that they will not only exploit it, but that they will also attract the production of battery cells, car batteries, and as a final step the production of electric cars”, the paper writes, citing Prime Minister Ana Brnabic’s words that Serbia will not allow the export of raw lithium, but only semi-finished products or batteries.
According to the diary, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, “dreams of a factory of batteries and electric cars in Serbia” and hopes that he will even attract German car manufacturers to the country. The diary reports Vučić’s words that it would be “a shame not to make anything out of that lithium”.
“However, many parts of Europe hope that due to the lithium deposits, they can become places for the production of batteries, and that is a strategic area of European policy”, the article reads.
“We have already made the decision to exploit lithium only if we can bring the next phase in the chain of creating new value”, Handelsblatt and Portuguese Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira told Handelsblatt. This includes refining lithium and producing battery cells, or whole batteries in Portugal.
A similar “renaissance” of the lithium deposits discovered in 2017 is expected by the English traditional mining region of Cornwall”. And the British government hopes to bring the whole chain of creating new value in the field of electric cars into the country”, Handelsblatt writes.
However, in the Spanish city of Cáceres, the lithium exploitation project was “put on ice” due to the opposition of the local authorities and the population.
“A lithium mine will never be built here”, said Caceres Mayor Luis Salaja. The 100,000-strong city is located in the Estramadura region of southwestern Spain. It is one of the poorest parts of the country. Youth unemployment is 56 percent. delight that the Australian mining company Infiniti Lithium, after test drilling, believes that it is one of the largest deposits in Europe – despite all the promises”, Handelsblatt writes.
Truth about EU’s “green mining”
As part of its Raw Materials Action Plan, the European Commission is striving to create the conditions for more mining in Europe by convincing the public that mining can be “green.” “Green mining” is an oxymoron that is gaining traction in the EU and pushes a risky narrative about an environmentally destructive sector. In northern Portugal, this battle of narratives takes centre stage.
Mining dominates, exploits and pollutes, suppressing other ways of living with the land. In low-income countries, it can be deadly. Activists, civil society and grassroots movements have been loud and clear about the dangers posed by the mining sector, yet few politicians seem to listen. In the European Union, the European Commission and mining operators are clearly aware of the issues. But unless your community has been targeted as the next mining project to supposedly meet the EU’s climate goals, you are probably not aware of how destructive mining can be.
Last month, the Portuguese presidency of the EU organised a European conference on so-called green mining in Lisbon. Only one civil society organisation, the EEB, was invited to what had all the appearances of an industry convention rather than a green policy forum.
However, outside the venue, over a hundred activists from grassroots movements and citizens organisations protested the conference and the government-backed lithium mining projects in northern Portugal- despite COVID restrictions.
To gain the social license to operate, politicians and industry are challenging previous civil society backlashes against mining projects by equating mining with renewable technologies. Even raising concerns over the toxic fallout of continuous extractivism is deemed foolish. When communities fight for their right to decide their futures, they are labelled as suffering from a case of nimbyism. Portuguese Secretary of State for Energy, João Galamba even went so far as mentioning that “those who are against mines are against life.” This scramble to mine is about lucrative business and actually undermines the energy transition. New low-carbon infrastructure needs to be built to enable the move away from fossil fuels, which means money.
Lithium, for example, is one of the most sought-after metals for low-carbon technologies and Europe is almost 100 percent dependent on battery-grade lithium from third countries, especially Chile. An often-cited figure is that, by 2030, under ‘business as usual’, Europe will need around 18 times more lithium and up to 60 times more by 2050. Therefore, to make the switch to renewable technologies and be competitive, Europe wants to scale up supply to avoid bottlenecks, right in its own backyard. But this strategy comes with serious concerns. The mountainous Barroso region, for example, sits on Western Europe’s largest lithium deposits but is also located 400 metres from the Covas do Barroso community, in the municipality of Boticas. Even the Boticas mayor, Fernando Queiroga has spoken openly against the project over pollution, water and environmental worries. He also fears the negative impact it would have on the region’s agricultural, gastronomy and rural tourism sectors. According to Savannah Resources, the mining operator behind the Minas Do Barroso, the mine would generate €1.3 billion of revenue over its 15-to-20-year lifetime.
In terms of helping the EU meet its demand, the project would only provide 5 to 6 percent of Europe’s projected lithium requirement in 2030. A study conducted by the University of Minho for Savannah Resources found that the lithium output of this mine would be “insufficient to meet the demand for lithium derivatives for the production of batteries in Europe”. This region is one of only seven in Europe to make the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s list of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. Communities here use “very few surpluses where]the level of consumption of the population is relatively low compared to other regions in the country” as the FAO’s website indicates. In the age of overconsumption driving the ecological crisis, it is ironic that low-impact communities are targeted for green growth pursuits. If the Mina do Barroso project is allowed to proceed, the region’s proud agricultural heritage would be undermined and would surely lose its international recognition.
With 30 million additional electric vehicles planned to hit Europe’s roads by 2030, it should come as no surprise that communities on the ground do not want their land to become the next sacrifice zone to feed the EV frenzy. In Europe, there are three other proposed mining projects where environmental concerns have also been raised, including in Caceres, Spain. The Iberian Peninsula is a major target for mining companies. In Spain, there are around 2,000 potential licenses for new mining projects. In the case of Portugal, 10 percent of the country’s territory is already under mining concessions. In the northern Portuguese regions, the situation is troubling amid concerns that open-pit mines may even be allowed near protected areas, as in the case of Serra d’Arga. The Mina do Barroso project is now undergoing public consultation for the environmental impact assessment. Despite government and industry rhetoric that public participation will be respected, and the needs of local communities will be met, local organisations and activists are not convinced. In January 2021, an NGO submitted an environmental information request to the Portuguese environment ministry, but no access was granted.
The same request was sent in March to Savannah Resources, but the company also refused. Although the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA) issued a report stating that the environmental information that had been requested should be made immediately available, the Portuguese authorities decided to ignore the request. Only some documents were made available during the public consultations and nearly three weeks after the consultations started. The lack of access to information kept civil society and local communities in the dark and they lost around 3 precious months. For the past month, they have had to scrutinise more than 6,000 documents. A formal complaint was submitted in the context of the Aarhus Convention, which protects the right of access to environmental information, over claims of deliberate denial of access to information.
The case is already before the Portuguese courts and the public prosecutor. The end of the public consultation period for the EIA was to end on June 2nd, the same day of the launch of the Yes to Life, No to Mining joint position statement to the European Commission, but public pressure over irregularities forced the Portuguese authorities to extend the consultation period to July 16th. Green mining relates to the belief that we can decouple economic growth from environmental impacts, however, this mindset ignores a larger issue and will ultimately have irreversible consequences on the environment. Perhaps instead of putting such emphasis on the supply of lithium or other raw materials, we can take a look at the demand. For example, by prioritising circularity over primary resource extraction, we can greatly reduce our need to mine more resources. Political action to limit global warming is necessary and urgent. This means that we need to find the quickest paths to decarbonisation. But we must do it in less materially intensive ways. We can build cities that are less car-dependent, increase public transport, promote walking or enhance micro e-mobility. Cycling, for example, is ten times more important than electric cars for reaching net-zero cities. Other solutions include urban mining initiatives that move us toward more circular societies. In an inspiring example from Antwerp, 70 creative makers gather the waste from the city and turn them into a wide variety of products: lamps from old boilers and chairs from paper and sawdust for a whole jazz club.
The solutions exist, we just need the political will.
By making the most of the resources we have, European cities can greatly reduce the impact that they create for European rural communities and in low-income countries where most of the mining projects are slated to take place.
However, broader policy measures are also needed. For starters, the EU should agree on creating a headline target to cut its material footprint and continue to promote measures on targeting energy efficiency, recycling, material substitution, use of innovative materials, and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles.
Another way to do this is to look at the energy transition through an environmental justice lens. Granting communities, the right to say no to mining projects by taking inspiration from already enshrined protocols in international law as in the case of Free, Prior and Informed Consent for Indigenous Peoples, the brunt of the energy transition will not have to be put on low-impact communities around the world. This can address the current imbalance of power between mining companies, governments and communities and the future EU horizontal due diligence law can offer such opportunity. Banning mining projects from taking place within or near protected areas is a necessary step forward.
So can mining ever be green? Maybe that is not the right question. We should instead ask, how do we change the way our societies operate? How can we create well-being economies? Or perhaps more ambitiously, how do we move away from the need to grow the economy? Only then can we figure out how much we need to mine. After all, decent living does not have to, and must not, cost us the earth.
A series of lithium mines could open across Europe in the next few years
In the next few years several mining companies are on course to open lithium mines across Europe. These firms claim their operations, which in some cases have raised concerns among local residents, will have lower environmental footprints than those of producers outside the region.
The mining firm Keliber has firmed up plans to start producing 15,000 metric tons per year of battery-grade lithium hydroxide from 625,000 t of lithium-rich spodumene rock that it will mine in western Finland by the end of 2024. Keliber recently increased its estimate of the size of its lithium deposit, in Rapasaari, Finland, by 31% to 8.1 million t.
Meanwhile, Savannah Resources has provided authorities an environmental impact assessment of its plan to mine 175,000 t of spodumene in northern Portugal. Savannah raised $14.5 million from investors in April to fund its operations.
In Germany’s Upper Rhine Valley, Vulcan Energy Resources says it has successfully tested the recovery of lithium and geothermal energy by injecting brine deep underground, in what it claims is a carbon-neutral extraction process. Cornish Lithium and Geothermal Engineering earlier this year won exploration rights for a similar process to be carried out in the sea near Cornwall, in southwest England.
Feasibility studies for lithium mining projects are also underway at Rio Tinto in Serbia and European Lithium in Austria. Manufacturers of materials for lithium-ion batteries, including BASF, have been actively seeking supply deals with firms mining in Europe. The region now imports all of the lithium needed for its rapidly growing battery industry.