One of the key speakers at the conference organised by the FRDO on 23 October on mining is Peter Tom Jones. He is director of the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals.
What will he talk about? We let him speak for himself.
“Sustainable mining in Europe? No, let’s go for responsible mining. Given the amount of metals that are needed to transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to a climate-neutral economy, recycling cannot do the job on its own. One cannot recycle what is not yet available for recycling. This is particularly true for the Li, Ni and Co contained in lithium-ion batteries or for rare earths in permanent magnet motors. Only from about 2035-2040 onwards there will be ample quantities to recycle. But in the meantime, for “new” metals such as Li, Co, REEs, one first needs to provide the influx of primary metals in the economic circuit.
But where will the metals come from? How moral is it to buy fancy EVs and smart phones if one doesn’t want the mining of the required critical metals to happen in one’s own (metaphorical) backyard? How moral is it if one prefers the mining to occur in poor countries in the global South, where the local environmental and social conditions are atrocious? Instead of succumbing to NIMBY, we should go for BIMBY: Better-in-my-backyard, meaning that we take up our responsibility, and mine the metals in our own (European) borders, in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Here, the Nordic countries lead by example.
However, one should also realise that it does not make sense if Europe extracts critical metals from its own bedrock without having the refining capacity to further process and refine concentrates. Hence, maintaining and/or building up refining (and recycling) capacity is a crucial target for Europe. This is not only a technological challenge, but also a geopolitical one. How can Europe still compete with China? Which EU policies and financial instruments are required to create a better level playing field for Europe’s “fair metals”, using the analogy to fair trade coffee or chocolate. Although the Critical Raw Materials Act is a good start, Europe urgently needs to go beyond merely regulating. More directing and incentivising are just as crucial.”