Europe and its green digital transition: where and how do we get the necessary critical raw materials?

October 27, 2022
The kick-off of the AGEMERA project funded by Horizon Europe gathered experts from 11 countries in Linnanmaa, Oulu, Finland, to discuss the sufficiency of critical raw materials. Photo: Minna Kilpeläinen

The EU's green digital transition goals are vital for reducing Europe's carbon dioxide emissions.  Among these goals are the electrification of mobility, the transition from coal-based energy production to renewable energy sources, and the development of new technologies and techniques for storing and distributing clean energy.  However, this requires large quantities of metals and minerals.  The international AGEMERA EU Project, led by the University of Oulu, Finland, will research how this can be accomplished in accordance with the requirements of the green transition.  The project has received funding of 7.5 million euros from the European Commission under the Horizon EU research & innovation framework programme.  At the University of Oulu, October 4-7, 2022, more than 50 consortium members participated in the project kick-off event.

Currently, European production of many critical raw materials is at less than 3 percent of the EU's consumption needs, which makes the EU highly dependent on imports from China, Russia and third-world countries.  Recycling and circular economy can contribute to supply to some extent, but not enough to meet future needs.  For example, in the European Commission's report (Critical Raw Materials for Strategic Technologies and Sectors in the EU2020), it is estimated that electric vehicle batteries and energy storage solutions would need 18 times more lithium and 5 times more cobalt at the EU level by 2030 and 60 times more lithium and 15 times more of cobalt by 2050 compared to current consumption.

"Even though the recycling of raw materials is constantly being developed, there is a consensus that new production of raw materials is also urgently needed.  In addition, some of the necessary raw materials, such as magnesium, neodymium, vanadium, cobalt and lithium, are considered critical for the EU in terms of economy or availability," says project director Jari Joutsenvaara from the University of Oulu.

Agile Exploration and Geo-modelling for European Critical Raw materials (AGEMERA) project director Jari Joutsenvaara from the University of Oulu's Kerttu Saalasti Institute says that the project focuses on examining the potential of critical raw materials in Europe with the help of new advanced mineral exploration methods and modelling of mineral systems. Photo: Minna Kilpeläinen

Experts from universities, research institutes, mining companies and deep-tech companies had a lively discussion at the joint project meeting at the University of Oulu's Linnanmaa campus. Photo: Attila Némethy

AGEMERA, coordinated by the University of Oulu's Kerttu Saalasti Institute, is a Horizon Europe-funded project that helps the EU achieve its goals and supports the EU's autonomy concerning critical raw materials.  The purpose of the project is to increase awareness of the essentiality of critical raw materials as an enabler of the green and digital transition; the second goal is to identify the potential of critical raw materials in Europe, and the third is to promote the introduction of the UNFC (United Nations Framework Classification) and UNRMS (United Nations Resource Management Systems) framework programs for the mineral sector in relation to the production, procurement and management of minerals.  The project involves a total of 20 partners from 11 countries.  There are universities, research institutes, mineral exploration, mining companies and technology providers, such as ourselves!

New technologies and methods

Our artificial intelligence platform is used to speed up data processing, modelling and training models with as little human input as possible.  The platform is designed for the needs of critical infrastructure industries and is well suited to the mining industry.  The AGEMERA EU Project project gives us a versatile opportunity to get familiar with completely new technologies, such as muography.

Taras Matselyukh, CEO OPT/NET BV. Photo: Minna Kilpeläinen

"I think the big challenge in this project is that we are working with completely new datasets produced by advanced technologies.  Electromagnetic sensors and muon detectors are new technologies for us.  We need to study the data and develop visualisation and analysis techniques.  I am sure that the project will be successful because of the large number of participants and the great expertise in the consortium.  Of course, we hope to create a new product and commercialise it," OPT/NET BV CEO Taras Matselyukh said.

In the project, the selected areas are investigated using three new methods that do not damage the site or cause environmental harm.  One of the ways is to use passive seismic studies, where rock vibrations are observed (Lithica SCCL company from Spain).  Another is to survey the area from the air with a drone equipped with a multi-sensor system (Radai Oy from Finland).  This way, the object's magnetic, radiometric and electromagnetic properties will be characterised.  The third way is to find out the density of the rock with cosmic-ray muography (Muon Solutions from Finland).  It detects elementary particles called muons that penetrate rocks and stop at denser spots. We will focus on the analysis of multidimensional geoscientific data with special attention to data fusion, the development of new machine learning algorithms and visualising the results.

"International EU projects can be excellent opportunities for both early-stage and SMEs.  The projects enable companies to test technology and service development, product functionality and commercial interest by utilising the international project partner network and, of course, to get references and customer stories relevant to launching products.  It is often felt that the companies do not have the resources for application and project coordination.  However, they can also be involved as part of an international consortium," comments project coordinator Jari Joutsenvaara.

The aim is to increase the awareness of critical raw materials

The AGEMERA project is not launching new mining operations.  However, with the help of new geological information and novel mineral exploration methods, the aim is to bring information to citizens, consumers, decision-makers and industry about the potential of critical raw materials in the project's target areas in Finland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spain, Bulgaria, Poland and Zambia.

The importance of critical raw materials for the EU and the lives of ordinary citizens is emphasised by developing educational packages for schools and universities, organising public and online events and publishing an educational online game related to critical raw materials.

The project consortium

Organisation / Short / Type / Country

University of Oulu, UO, Academic, Finland (University of Oulu)

University of Lapland, UL, Academic, Finland (University of Lapland)

University of Zagreb, UZG, Academic, Croatia (University of Zagreb/Sveuciliste u Zagrebu)

University of Zambia IWRM Centre, UNZA, Academic, Zambia (The University Of Zambia (UNZA))

Tallinn University of Technology, TT, Academic, Estonia (TalTech – Tallinn University of Technology)

Geological Institute of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, BAS, Academic, Bulgaria (Geological Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Science)

CSIC, CSIC, Research, Spain (CSIC)

Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg, TUBAF, Academic, Germany (TECHNISCHE UNIVERSITAT BERGAKADEMIE FREIBERG)

KGHM Cuprum Research & Development Centre, CUP, Research, Poland (KGHM CUPRUM sp. z o.o. - Centrum Badawczo-Rozwojowe)

Lithica, LITH, SME, Spain (Lithica SCCL)

Radai, RAD, SME, Finland (Radai Oy)

Muon Solutions, MUON, SME, Finland (Muon Solutions)

OPT/NET, OPT, SME, Netherlands (OPT/NET BV)

Geonardo Environmental Technologies, GEO, SME, Hungary (Geonardo Environmental Technologies Ltd.)

Latitude 66 Cobalt, LAT, Industrial, Finland (Latitude 66 Cobalt Oy)

Bauxite Mines Jajce, RBJ, Industrial, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bauxite Mines Posušje, RBP, Industrial, Bosnia-Herzegovina

MATSA, MATSA, Industrial, Spain (Matsa Resources Limited)

Assarel Medet, ASSAR, Industrial, Bulgaria

KGHM Polska Miedź, KGHM, Industrial, Poland (KGHM Polska Miedź S.A.)


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Funded by the European Union.  

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