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MEMO/12/144

Brussels, 29 February 2012

Innovation partnership to overcome Europe's raw materials shortages

The supply of raw materials, the lifeblood of today's high-tech industry, is increasingly under pressure. With a view to increasing Europe's own production, the European Commission has proposed today to set up a European Innovation Partnership on raw materials. Pulling together capital and human resources, Member States, companies and researchers will join innovation efforts to support exploration, extraction and processing of raw materials. For example, it has been estimated that the value of unexploited European mineral resources at a depth of 500-1,000 metres is about € 100 billion. New technologies will help to extract deeper, in more remote areas and under harsh conditions. Action is also needed to develop substitutes for critical raw materials and to improve recycling of the 17 kg electric and electronic equipment waste that each EU citizen produces annually today.

Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, highlighted the need for improved access to minerals to enhance the development of low carbon products, such as thin photovoltaic layers, energy-efficient lighting, and electric cars. Also other growth sectors would profit, such as advanced passenger jets, infra-red optics and fiber glass.

He added: "We need to join forces to tap Europe's enormous own potential of raw materials. Intensified action is required to make Europe the world leader in the capabilities related to exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020. It will be the key to Europe’s ability to develop today the technologies of tomorrow. Such innovation is decisive for Europe's competitiveness, sustainable growth and new jobs."

Innovation to improve access to raw materials

Innovation can be a powerful vehicle in meeting Europe's challenges in the field of raw materials. For example, advanced remote controlled operations and automation in underground mines and the innovative use of bioleaching can make mining in the EU more competitive and sustainable. New recycling techniques or waste collection and treatment best practices have a great potential to improve the efficiency and quality of the recycling of key raw materials.

This situation calls for targeted innovation and research efforts, breakthrough technologies and multidisciplinary approaches to bridge the gaps in our knowledge.

To speed this process up, the Commission proposes concrete targets to be achieved by 2020 at the latest:

  • Up to ten innovative pilot actions (e.g. demonstration plants) for exploration, extraction and processing, collection and recycling;

  • substitutes for at least three key applications of critical and scarce raw materials;

  • enhanced efficiency in material use and in prevention, re-use and recycling of valuable raw materials from waste streams, with a specific focus on materials having a potentially negative impact on the environment;

  • a Network of Research, Education and Training Centres on Sustainable Mining and Materials Management (M³);

  • European standardised statistical instruments for the survey of resources and reserves and a 3-D geological map;

  • a dynamic modelling system linking trends in supply and demand and a full lifecycle analysis;

  • a pro-active strategy of the EU in multi-lateral organisations and in bilateral relations, such as the US, Japan, Australia in the different areas covered by the Partnership.

Stakeholders will be invited to express their interest in being part of the Partnership in the coming weeks.

The European Innovation Partnership is not a funding instrument. Likewise, it will not replace the conventional decision-making process. Nonetheless, by defining common objectives in the fields relevant to raw materials, this Partnership will promote coherence between the different funding opportunities available.

Tapping Europe's raw materials potential

Innovation can help increase the supply of raw materials in a number of ways – from new mining methods, through improved product design for recycling to ways in which rare metals can be retrieved from waste. Substitution of materials, as well as finding new ways to make better use of what we already have, also plays an important role here.

The following examples illustrate Europe's potential:

  • It has been estimated that the in situ value of unexploited minerals at a depth of 500-1,000 metres is about € 100 billion1. New innovative technologies will help to extract deeper, in more remote areas and under harsh conditions.

  • Nowadays, each citizen in the EU generates around 17 kg of electrical and electronic equipment waste (WEEE) annually, a figure that is predicted to rise to 24 kg by 20202. New cost-effective and environmentally-sound recycling techniques and best practices on waste collection and treatment offer a possibility to improve the recycling of key raw materials, such as copper, silver, gold, palladium or cobalt.

Innovation in these fields is necessary for Europe to regain a role and presence in the sustainable supply of raw materials and to maintain and improve its competiveness on the global stage.

What does the Partnership aim to achieve?

The European Innovation Partnership will bring together Member States and other stakeholders (companies, NGOs, researchers etc) to develop joint strategies, pull together capital and human resources and ensure the implementation and dissemination of innovative solutions within Europe.

By doing so, the Partnership aims to provide Europe with enough flexibility and alternatives in the supply of important raw materials, whilst taking into account the importance of mitigating the negative environmental impacts of some materials during their life cycle.

Its objective will be to make Europe the world leader in the capabilities related to exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020.

The main areas covered by the Raw Materials European Innovation Partnership

The EIP on raw materials will tackle the entire value chain of raw materials regardless of whether they are of primary (virgin materials) or secondary (recycled materials) origin and of whether they are hosted on land or on the seabed.

As such the EIP addresses all aspects including exploration, extraction, refining and processing, sorting, collecting and recycling, as well as substitution.

The Partnership will help develop technologically driven solutions as well as non-technological options including the use of demand-side instruments (e.g. public procurement, standards).

How will the EIP define its priorities?

In preparing the proposal to launch this Partnership, the Commission has organised several workshops and a public consultation. This provided valuable input to the drafting process.

Once the Partnership becomes operational, a Strategic Implementation Plan will be developed. This plan is foreseen to be adopted by early 2013.

The Commission will continue to reach out to a wide audience on the activities of the Partnership through the organisation of public events and by setting up a dedicated website.

Will the European Innovation Partnership fund any action?

The European Innovation Partnership is not a funding instrument. Likewise, it will not replace the conventional decision-making process. Nonetheless, by defining common objectives in the fields relevant to raw materials, this Partnership will promote coherence between the different funding opportunities available.

In particular, the priorities defined by the Partnership in its Strategic Implementation Plan should contribute to defining how the various EU research, innovation and deployment funds can be allocated (e.g. Horizon 2020, including the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), Cohesion Policy).

Who will benefit and how?

The European Innovation Partnership on raw materials will ensure the implementation and dissemination of innovative solutions within Europe offering the following advantages for:

  • Companies, in particular SMEs, operating to high environmental and social standards will benefit from faster dissemination of innovations and more favourable investment conditions. Concretely, standardisation in this field will be speeded up and tailored to the development of new technologies. Regulation could be adapted so that it will support the uptake of innovation, rather than lock it in.

  • European consumers will benefit indirectly though lower manufacturing costs as for example expensive, difficult to obtain raw materials are being replaced by alternative materials.

  • The environment will benefit from reduced waste streams and people making better use of recycled products.

  • Researchers and organisations will be able to pull together their knowledge and benefit from the new network.

  • Cooperation between enterprises, universities and public authorities should increase.

  • Local, regional and national government organisations will be involved very early in the research and development process, so that new recycling and mining technologies are developed that match their citizens' needs, mostly in recycling and in dealing with urban waste.

  • Geopolitical role of the EU will be strengthened, as it increases its independence on imports of raw materials, while being able to export new technologies quicker.

For more information:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/raw-materials/index_en.htm

Contributions to the public consultation on the possible innovation partnership on raw materials:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/raw-materials/public-consultation-ip/contributions/index_en.htm

1 :

EU F7 co-funded Promine project: http://promine.gtk.fi/index.html .

2 :

Source IPA (International Platinum Group Metals Association): www.ipa-news.com


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