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Priority actions to reduce the EU's dependency on raw materials

Commission Européenne - MEMO/13/819   26/09/2013

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 26 September 2013

Priority actions to reduce the EU's dependency on raw materials

Yesterday the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials released a Strategic Implementation Plan, proposing how its stakeholders - the Commission, EU countries, industry, research groups and NGOs - can act to ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials to the European economy and make Europe a world leader in raw materials exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020. A selection of priority actions proposed are detailed in this memo. For the full overview, see the working document published yesterday.

European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on raw materials covers non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials - metals and minerals, as well as other industrial raw materials such as natural rubber, paper and wood. Its key objectives are:

  • Reduction of import dependency by improving supply conditions from EU sources, providing resource efficiency and alternatives in supply.

  • Bringing Europe to the forefront in raw materials sectors and mitigating their negative environmental and social impacts.

The Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) details actions necessary to achieve the EIP's objectives: research, raw materials knowledge, exchange of best practices, revision of selected legislations, licensing steps, standardisation, and policy dialogues. It targets innovation in both technology-focused and non-technology policy areas, as well as international cooperation.

Raw materials research and innovation coordination

The objective is to strengthen coordination of the research initiatives (such as Horizon 2020 and research infrastructures in order to maximise impacts of the research actions carried out by the EU, Member States, industry and research communities.

The EU, Member States, industry and research community are invited to improve coordination of related industrial initiatives, collaboration between raw materials community and society and establishing EU-wide research and innovation platforms.

More effective exploration

The objective is to develop new cost-effective exploration technologies providing high quality data including high resolution 3D geo-data down to 150-4000 meters depth, and their interpretation through geo-models in order to facilitate both finding new mineral deposits on the continent and in the sea-bed, as well as fostering industry investment to mining through actions, such as developing:

  • new highly efficient and cost-effective exploration technologies, such as drilling techniques, integrated drilling and analytical technologies, down-hole and cross-hole sensing, 3D geophysical.

  • new geo-models of mineral deposits interpreting in a useful form the data obtained from integrated geological, geophysical, geochemical and other methods.

Innovative extraction of raw materials

The objective is to enable extraction of minerals and extraction of wood in a socially acceptable, environmentally responsible and economically viable way by developing new technological solutions leading to social acceptance of extraction, which would push Europe to the forefront in extraction technologies, such as:

  • Developing highly automated mining operations to reach deeper seated deposits and to avoid exposure of workers underground.

  • Developing alternative techniques to extract the ores, such as “in-situ” leaching, solution mining or applying biotechnologies substantially reducing generation of mining waste and large tailings.

Processing and refining of raw materials

The objective is to develop new holistic processing concepts with higher technical, economic, energy and environmental performance and flexibility, versatility and modularity for processing of different raw materials from low grade and/or complex feeds, such as developing:

  • New flexible processing solutions, to provide better separation and higher recovery rates.

  • A holistic design of an integrated metallurgical system for metals processing.

  • Solutions with a full recovery of the material from the feed in a paper mill.

  • Solutions for recovery of technology metals from complex end-of-life products and of multi-material packaging to increase the recycling rate.

Substitution of raw materials

Actions include the substitution of heavy rare earth elements (REE) in magnets; and the substitution of Critical raw materials (CRM) in rechargeable batteries, in catalysts, and in photovoltaic materials such as solar cells, which will improve the competitiveness of European industry (notably in energy, chemical and automotive industries).

Electronic devices: Actions include the substitution of indium in transparent conductive layers: touch screens, flexible electronics, solar energy and OLED lighting (organic light-emitting diode used to create digital displays in TV screens, PC monitors, portable systems such as mobile phones, handheld games consoles and PDAs.

Materials under extreme conditions: Substitution of refractive metals, an issue which has been proven very difficult without loss of performance. Actions include the substitution of CRM in heat resistant super alloys and in hard materials.

Materials in large quantities: substitution of natural rubber in tyres and of CRM in super alloys and steels alloyed with scarce elements.

Improving the EU's raw materials framework: facilitating raw materials supply to the EU

The Non-technology section's objective is to facilitate raw materials supply to the EU economy and society, reducing import dependency and pushing Europe to the forefront in the raw materials sectors, while in parallel increasing resource efficiency and reducing negative environmental impacts. This will be achieved by: improving framework conditions for primary and secondary raw materials, as well as increasing the knowledge and information infrastructure base, improving education and skills, and enhanced cooperation along value chains for optimised raw materials flows.

Minerals Policy Framework and access to mineral potential

Objective is to foster access to known and still undiscovered mineral deposits, improve the condition for sustainable access. Actions could include:

  • Benchmarking national minerals policies, a fitness check to assess the cumulative effect of EU legislation on the non-energy extractive industries, developing a "permitting toolbox" as an outcome of best practice exercise covering all types of permitting authorities.

  • Guidance for time limits in permitting procedures and ensuring better communication of the Commission’s guidance on Natura 2000 and non-energy extractive industries, developing guidelines with EU reporting standards and schemes based on internationally accepted conventions.

  • Introducing and applying the concept of mineral deposit of public importance, which, once defined, will be safeguarded with various levels of protection for potential future extraction.

Improving the EU's waste management framework

The objective is to minimise critical raw materials needed in products, support product life extension and maximise the amount of materials recycled through new design strategies. It will help define a coherent resource-efficient product policy framework, thereby contributing to a sustainable supply of raw materials through resource efficiency and recycling.

The idea is to address product design and its impact on the use of raw materials and their recovery, through a range of regulatory and non-regulatory/voluntary measures. Actions include those involving:

  • Eco-design Directive: increasing the emphasis on raw materials and material efficiency, without loss of functionality, in the directive's implementation.

  • EU-wide research on product life extension strategies and development of sustainable circular business models. For instance, this will require designers to obtain in depth knowledge of how the product and its parts wear and tear, and of how to decide which parts should last, and which should be replaced.

  • Increase knowledge of the presence of CRM in complex products' waste flows, so as to improve recycling rates.

Optimised waste flows to increase recycling and recovery

The objective is to boost the quality and quantity of collected waste/end-of-life products and to improve the life-cycle management of products ensuring their high quality treatment and recycling. This would in turn help further develop recycling activities, promote increased access to secondary raw materials and reduce the EU dependency on imports of many of these metals, including critical metals, in the EU, thereby contributing to increasing the share of industry in Europe’s GDP. Actions include:

  • Qualitative targets in EU legislation that are pragmatic would trigger the development of technology in the field of collection, pre-treatment and recycling to cope with more complex products. This action could involve developing more relevant and category-specific targets and/or setting criteria for such targets for certain waste streams (such as batteries, WEEE, end-of-life vehicles, wood) and prioritizing certain materials including materials which may have high environmental impacts (such as aluminium), and introducing the notion of life-cycle environmental impacts (rather than focusing on total weight). To this end, the European standardisation process could be further used.

  • Landfill ban for recyclable waste and incineration ban for certain waste: Paper and wood as well as other recyclable materials such as glass, metals, etc. should be considered for an EU list of waste banned from landfill.

  • Optimised material recovery: Improving the quality of recycled material by developing standards for e-waste recycling and encouraging the transition from waste to secondary raw materialsby developing a set of normative requirements with respect to the recovery of precious metals.

  • Actions should include the creation of European standards for treatment of electric and electronic equipment (WEEE), the monitoring of the impact of existing end-of-waste criteria on EU recycling markets 8for iron and steel scrap) and the adoption of additional end-of-waste criteria (tyres) where appropriate.

Raw materials knowledge base

The EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base (EURMKB) will provide EU level data and information on raw materials from different sources in a harmonized and standardized way. This will encourage activities in the raw materials sector, not only regarding exploration, extraction, processing/refining and recycling, but also trade, development, skills and education - consequently increasing supply as well as strengthening Europe’s position in this sector. The action on knowledge base is the foundation for the technology and non-technology priority areas as well as a base for the international cooperation pillar.

International cooperation

As European industry's is dependent on the international market to secure an important part of its raw material inputs, international co-operation is an important part of the EIP on Raw Materials. This section considers how best to balance the benefits of international trade and international dialogues with the need to support other pillars of the EIP. This can be achieved by encouraging greater recovery and production of raw materials from within Europe, international co-operation on improving access to raw materials globally, substitution, resource efficiency and knowledge/best-practice sharing.

Global governance and international dialogues

This area will specify two types of materials: (1) Critical Raw Materials (CRM) and (2) natural rubber. Economic fairness is extremely important to avoid competition distortions and different regulatory frameworks being contradictory to the principles of undistorted trade.

Actions aim to ensure the fair and unrestricted access to raw materials worldwide, by improving supply conditions for EU companies, ensuring a level playing field of all actors present in the trade of raw material commodities.

Health, safety and the environment: Action should contribute to improving the health, safety and environmental performance of mining activities worldwide and contribute to the development of sustainable mining in partner countries. In parallel, they should improve the framework conditions for raw materials supply thereby tackling the issue of social acceptance of mining. Better transparency in the sector of conflict minerals is also desired. Two action areas are proposed:

  • International cooperation on the regulatory environment for raw materials supply and on standards for secondary raw materials

  • Improvement of health, safety and environmental performance in mining and recycling.

Actions should also improve education, skills and knowledge in the sector in Europe, in Africa and in international organisations within the UN system. Proposed actions:

  • increase European competence and expertise levels in the mining sector by cooperation with the leading educational institutions in non-EU countries.

  • establish the African Mineral Development Centre (AMDC) or similar bodies.

  • dialogue on skills and knowledge with Latin American countries.

  • a functioning knowledge base system on material flows with cooperation of international partners, to better understand shortages and adapt to market developments.

Investment activities

The objective is to support the European mining, research and geological companies in exploration of mining projects abroad, to promote mining investment in Europe, and to foster cooperation with some countries on promoting the positive impacts of mining. Actions should promote:

  • European companies activity in non EU countries

  • inward investment into European mining

  • the positive impacts of mining, including exchange of best practices in social acceptance, in co-operation with Australia, US, Canada, South Africa and Chile.

More information


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