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EU Horizon R&D initiatives centered on significant mineral resources

European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, which was the biggest EU Research and Innovation program with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020), had transitioned to Horizon Europe (2021-2027). Both programs have funded and are funding significant projects focusing on mineral resources, aiming to ensure sustainable supply, reduce environmental impacts, and foster innovation in mining technologies. These projects are crucial for the EU’s ambition to be at the forefront of global efforts to develop a sustainable and secure supply of raw materials. Here are some noteworthy projects that have been or are being funded under these programs, focused on mineral resources:

1. Integrated innovative metallurgical systems to benefit resource efficiency in the mineral processing value chain

Objective: The project aimed to develop fast, flexible, and cost-effective mining technologies for small deposits of strategic minerals. It sought to revolutionize how deposits are mined, reducing environmental impact and enhancing resource efficiency.

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2. Sustainable Low Impact Mining solution for exploitation of small mineral deposits based on advanced rock blasting and environmental technologies (SLIM)

Objective: SLIM focused on developing cost-effective, environmentally friendly mining solutions for small mineral deposits. The project aimed to minimize the environmental impact of blasting operations and improve the economic viability of mining small deposits.

3. Real-time Optimization for Exploitation of mineral Raw materials (ROBOMINERS)

Objective: This ambitious project is designed to create a bio-inspired robot capable of mining underground mineral deposits that are currently not economically viable or accessible with traditional mining methods. ROBOMINERS aims to revolutionize the way mineral resources are extracted, focusing on sustainability and reducing human exposure to dangerous mining conditions.

4. Towards a Sustainable and Responsible Critical Raw Material Mining in Europe (TARANTULA)

Objective: TARANTULA focuses on recovering critical raw materials (CRMs) from mining waste. The project aims to develop new technologies to efficiently extract, recover, and recycle CRMs like tungsten, niobium, and tantalum from low-grade ores and tailings.

5. European Battery Raw Materials (EuBatIn)

Objective: Part of the European Battery Alliance, this project aims at securing the supply chain for battery raw materials within the EU. It focuses on developing innovative solutions for the sustainable extraction, processing, and recycling of battery raw materials, crucial for the EU’s transition to green energy.

6. Horizon 2020 ERA-MIN 2

Objective: While not a single project, ERA-MIN 2 is a network of European organizations funding research and innovation projects in the field of non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials. Its projects cover the entire value chain, from exploration and extraction to processing, recycling, and substitution, aiming to ensure the sustainable supply of raw materials in Europe.

1. NEXT (New Exploration Technologies)

Objective: The NEXT project aimed to reduce the exploration costs and increase the effectiveness of mining operations by developing new sensors, 3D modeling software, and data analysis methods. The goal was to create a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of mineral deposits.
Methodology: The project focused on integrating advanced technologies, such as drone-based geophysical surveys, hyperspectral imaging, and advanced 3D geological modeling, to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of mineral exploration activities.
Expected Impact: By improving the ability to identify and assess mineral deposits, NEXT sought to make mining operations more sustainable and cost-effective, reducing the environmental footprint of exploration activities and ensuring a more responsible supply of critical raw materials.

2. INTMET (Integrated Innovative Metallurgical Systems to Benefit Resource Efficiency in the Mineral Processing Value Chain)

Objective: INTMET aimed to revolutionize the efficiency and sustainability of metal extraction from lower-grade ores through the development of new, integrated metallurgical systems. The focus was on improving resource efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of metal extraction processes.
Methodology: The project developed innovative methods for ore processing, including co-processing of different ores, application of new leaching technologies, and integration of renewable energy sources in metallurgical processes.
Expected Impact: INTMET’s innovations were intended to significantly reduce energy consumption, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and lower the overall environmental impact of metal extraction. It also aimed to improve the economic viability of exploiting lower-grade mineral deposits, thereby extending the life of European mines.

3. X-MINE (Real-Time Mineral X-Ray Analysis for Efficient and Sustainable Mining)

Objective: X-MINE aimed to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of mining operations through real-time X-ray and 3D imaging technologies for ore analysis. The project focused on reducing the environmental impact of mining by improving mineral processing efficiency and reducing waste.
Methodology: The project developed advanced sensor technologies for real-time analysis of ore composition and structure during the mining process. This technology enabled more precise targeting of high-grade ore, reducing the amount of material processed and thus minimizing energy consumption and waste.
Expected Impact: By increasing the efficiency of mineral processing, X-MINE sought to reduce the environmental footprint of mining activities, improve the profitability of mines, and reduce the amount of waste rock and tailings produced.

4. SOCRATES (SOlar Calcium-looping integRATion for Thermochemical Energy Storage)

Objective: While not exclusively focused on mining, SOCRATES aimed to develop a novel thermochemical energy storage system based on the calcium looping process, which could indirectly impact the mining sector by providing a more sustainable energy source for mineral processing operations.
Methodology: The project explored the integration of solar energy with calcium-looping technology to store energy in a chemical form. This approach aimed to provide high-efficiency, large-scale energy storage solutions.
Expected Impact: SOCRATES aimed to reduce the carbon footprint and energy costs associated with mineral processing and other industrial operations, showcasing a novel application of renewable energy technologies in heavy industries.

These projects represent just a fraction of the initiatives funded by the EU to promote innovation, sustainability, and efficiency in the mining and mineral processing sectors. By addressing the entire value chain, from exploration and extraction to processing and recycling, the EU aims to secure its supply of critical raw materials in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

These projects, among others, underscore the EU’s commitment to innovation in the mining sector, particularly in the context of sustainability, environmental responsibility, and securing supply chains for critical minerals. They reflect the EU’s broader strategy for a circular economy and a transition to green energy, which requires a sustainable approach to mineral resources. Horizon Europe is expected to continue and expand upon this focus, further driving advancements in sustainable mining technologies and practices.

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