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The need for mines

In this article, we discuss the need for mines in Europe to be able to be self-sufficient in Europe with critical raw metals.
woman looking out of her balcony
© Luleå University of Technology

In the video on supply risks, Ervin told you about the risks of being dependent on other countries for our critical metal supplies and that it would be wise to increase the level of self-sufficiency to make our societies less vulnerable. But to become self-sufficient means that we need more mines in Europe. And that you might be living next to a mine.

To achieve the climate goals agreed upon in the Paris Agreement from the climate top of 2015, it is estimated that we would need four times the amount of metals used in fossil-free energy systems globally and two times the amount of metals in the European Union than we do now.

The relatively few active mines in Europe are not able to provide for the demand of metals needed in the future, which means we need to increase mining exploration and open more mines and metal processing factories. But the big question is, where do we open them?

Many people in Europe enjoy a comfortable and digital lifestyle, and many care about their environment being disrupted by mining operations. We want clean energy, high-tech phones, fast laptops, and fossil-free cars. We just don’t want to see it “in my backyard”! Something in that equation doesn’t add up and metal deposits cannot be moved or transferred to a more suitable place because geological processes govern the specific places where they occur.

Every type of land use is a topic of debate. This is already evident in the struggle of finding locations for solar panels or wind turbines in grass fields and along the coastlines. For the opening of new mines within Europe, the discussion on land use will be no less, but likely intensify. Politicians will play an important role in this huge debate that will shape society. Are we going to focus on the self-sustainability of metals to secure a fossil-free energy supply, or are we going to continue outsourcing the metal extraction and processing and continue gambling on the supply? Neither alternative comes without problems, and neither will result in everyone being happy.

The future includes conflict areas that need to be handled with care. If the level of European self-sufficiency is to increase, there will need to be mines opened in Europe, in other words, “mines in our backyards”. The outsourcing of metal extraction and processing includes supply risks, and we will have to continue to live with metals not being extracted and processed in accordance with our environmental and social principles. As you can imagine this is a very difficult decision and some will disagree no matter which decision is taken.

To discuss:

Knowing the circumstances, would you be willing to have a “mine in your backyard”? Or should outsourcing metal extraction and processing to countries outside the European Union continue? Are there other options in your opinion?
© Luleå University of Technology
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