To mine or not to mine – How to find the raw materials needed for the Green and Digital transition?

The European green deal and digital transition have an enormous impact on societies. The electrification of mobility and the shift from the carbon-based energy production to renewable energy require critical raw materials (CRM). Two new international projects (AGEMERA and SEMACRET) funded by Horizon Europe, and led by the University of Oulu, Finland, will work on raising the awareness of the goals of the transitions and develop agile and sustainable exploration techniques to increase exploration efficiency and minimize the environmental and social impact.
A geologist digging up rock samples
Geologists digging up rock samples. Image credit: Jari Joutsenvaara, University of Oulu

“For an average citizen the critical raw materials may not be that familiar, but the applications where they are used, belong to everyday life: tapping the mobile, watching streamed movies through the flat screen on the wall, cooking on the induction stove or driving one´s hybrid or electric car. For example, electric cars use four times more copper than cars running on fuel”, says Jari Joutsenvaara, leader of the AGEMERA-project.

Currently, the European supply of many important primary CRMs is less than 3 % which leaves the EU in a vulnerable position depending mostly on imports from third countries, especially in the contexts of geopolitical instability and pandemic.

The European Commission has defined a list of critical metals for which self-sufficiency needs to be increased to secure the viability of European industry, and green and digital transition. These include e.g., nickel, cobalt and lithium for battery, vanadium for energy storage facilities, platinum group metals for fuel cells on electric vehicles, rare earth metals for wind power and, chromium for steel industry. Circular economy can partly contribute to the supply of CRMs, but it is far not enough considering the sharp increase of demand in the next decades – up to 10 to 20 times.

Aiming to raise social awareness of raw materials

“The mineral industry has faced criticism for handling environmental and social challenges. The citizens´ low awareness of critical raw materials and where they come from, together with the industry´s, in some context, bad reputation, may affect their attitudes towards, and acceptance of, mining activities”, says Shenghong Yang, leader of the SEMACRET-project.

Therefore, the EU (European Union) aims to boost the domestic exploration and production of critical raw materials to secure its autonomy and also to promote social awareness of critical raw materials.

“In Europe alone there are numerous old and historical mine sites, used to produce mainly basic metals. With the improved knowledge on the possible co-existence of critical raw materials within the base metals these old sites have become interesting again”, say the projects’ leaders Joutsenvaara (AGEMERA) and Yang (SEMACRET).

“In these new projects, the advancement of the sustainable exploration techniques and production potential of relevant raw materials will be harmonized with United Nations classifications and resource management systems, which provide a database for decision making of companies and authorities”, they continue.

International partnerships with 15 M€ budget all together

SEMACRET project (Sustainable exploration for orthomagmatic critical raw materials in the EU) aims to find new ore prospecting methods. Ore deposit model will be refined following the mineral system concept. Intensive geodata related to lithospheric scale structure will be integrated for regional exploration targeting. Different technologies (e.g., geophysics, geochemistry, artificial intelligence) will be combined together as means for finding the ores, and mineral resource modelling will be improved in terms of accuracy and efficiency via artificial intelligence. The project will develop means to promote social awareness of critical raw materials and their responsible sourcing through collaboration of geosciences, social sciences and artificial intelligence.

AGEMERA project (Agile Exploration and Geo-Modelling for European Critical Raw Materials) focuses on the characterisation of European CRM deposits and the overall CRM potential in Europe. Project develops four technologies for sustainable and responsible ore exploration. The geophysical field trial surveys will demonstrate three novel non-invasive survey methods; passive seismic, multi-sensing drone system combining magnetic, radiometric and electromagnetics sensing; and muon-based density detection system. Artificial intelligence methods are also developed to assist multisource data-analysis. The data will be made available through the European Geological Data Infrastructure, EGDI. AGEMERA project increases the awareness of the green and digital transition among the general population, stakeholders and decision makers. The means include surveys to the target regions, creating educational packages targeting schools and universities and publishing an online CRM serious game.

The SEMACRET project is coordinated by Oulu Mining School at the University of Oulu, and the consortium is composed of 16 parties from 12 different countries including EU, South Africa, and UK. The EU and UKRI invest 6.67 M and 0.83 M Euro respectively, with a total budget of 7.5 M euros for the three year project, implemented from June 2022.

The AGEMERA project is coordinated by the Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu, and consortium is composed of 20 partners from 11 countries including 10 Eu countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina (potential candidate country to EU), and Zambia. The total Budget of AGEMERA is 7.5 M€, coming from the EU. The project duration is three years starting from August 2022.

Contact information

SEMACRET: Professor Shenghong Yang, Oulu Mining School at the University of Oulu

tel. +358 50 350 7774, email:

AGEMERA: Doctoral Researcher Jari Joutsenvaara, Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu

tel. +358 40 5569396, email.

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Oulu Mining School…

University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute 

Last updated: 19.6.2024