The future of raw material exploration in the EU
INFACT – Innovative, Non-Invasive and Fully Acceptable Exploration Technologies
Exploration challenges - The background
The EU is one of the world's major consumers of mineral and metalliferous raw materials of which the demand can be expected to rise considerably in the future. The EU INFACT project aims at contributing to raw materials security in the European Union by way of invigorating Europe as a destination for exploration.
Despite its rich history of mining and residual mineral wealth, current conditions within the EU present a number of social, political, legislative, cost, technical and physical challenges to raw material exploration. In order to enable discoveries, access to new physical places has to be facilitated and innovative methods have to be applied.
The project partners envisage to change raw material exploration in a way that it becomes socially accepted, environmentally-friendly and technologically advanced. Also, the INFACT project will lead to re-assessing the mineral potential within Europe.
Dialogue, innovation and reform - The objectives
Both in its consortium and activities, the project unites relevant stakeholders from civil society, state, research and industry. The partners want to underline Europe’s technical strengths in exploration with the best social and environmental practices. Civil society and exploration industry will be the foremost beneficiaries of this concept.
The project aims to engage civil society and build trust in the raw materials cycle. It is to raise both awareness and acceptance of environmentally-friendly, safe and effective mineral exploration methods. And it strives to establish a view of the best practices for exploration that is shared by civil society, state and industry as well as exchanging these within the EU.
Impact innovation, knowledge and growth
The endeavor builds on Europe’s strengths in research, innovation and knowledge, and is targeted at facilitating growth, the most important beneficiaries being exploration technology developers, mining industry and other industries.
Establish EU reference regions
One main part of the project is to establish permanent technical infrastructure facilities, called reference regions, which provide industry-relevant environments representing a variety of social, physical and technical challenges in the EU in the context of exploration as well as enabling datasets. So far the availability of test sites in the EU to aid in the development of a new generation of discovery tools has been inadequate.
In the reference regions, which are marked by active or historical mining activities focused on both industry and high-technology metals, the researchers will test and establish benchmarks for non-invasive exploration methods. This will be accompanied by activities involving public authorities as well as local administrations and communities.
There will be three EU reference regions:
- North: Sakatti is an extensively mapped but as yet unexploited area with deposits of the copper-nickel-platinum group of elements close to Sodankylä in northern Finland, approximately 150 kilometers above the Arctic Circle (operator: Anglo American).
- Centre: This reference region centers around the small town of Geyer in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), situated app. 110 kilometers south of Leipzig, Eastern part of Germany, and with a long history of ore mining. The region is known for its deposits of tin, zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, copper, iron, silver and indium.
- South: This reference region comprises two mining sites in the Iberian Pyrite Belt, both in Andalusia, South of Spain: Cobre Las Cruces is an open pit copper mine and on-site plant in Gerena, 20 kilometers northwest of Seville. It is operated by First Quantum Minerals. Minas de Ríotinto is a well-known ancient opencast polymetallic mine located in Huelva province, 65 kilometers northwest of Seville. It is operated by Atalaya Mining.
Develop innovative exploration technologies
The researchers will develop innovative exploration technologies and processes which are less invasive than classical methods and promise to penetrate new depths, reach new sensitivities and resolve new physical properties. The project addresses also the geological survey platforms from which the technologies are used, focusing on multi-sensor drones, which integrate multiple exploration methods and are expected to be one of the most disruptive innovations in mineral exploration.
Technologies are based on various physical parameters, including magnetics, electromagnetics and infrared spectroscopy. The partners will apply new technologies for mineral exploration like superconducting sensors or, more precisely, superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs). These are the most sensitive magnetic field sensors for geophysical applications and their exceptional performance will be demonstrated in the project. In the field of electromagnetics technology will be pushed concerning data processing and deep geological targets which could not be addressed hitherto. With regard to spectroscopy one main target of the project will be to integrate data from the visible to near-infrared, shortwave-infrared and longwave-infrared systems, allowing to jointly analyze many more minerals relevant to exploration than possible so far.
These technologies can as well be applied in other fields, such as hydrogeology, environmental monitoring and remining (i.e. recovery of raw materials from tailings), so technology development will drive innovation in several fields.
Both state-of-the-art and innovative exploration technologies will be benchmarked in terms of environmental impact, social acceptability and technical performance in order to increase transparency and competition and to inform decision-makers in their technology choices. In order to do so, helicopters, airplanes and drones will be used in the reference regions to apply the technologies. The aim is to create a technology certification system.
Based on stakeholder dialogue and research one more of the outcomes of the project will be a “Discovery Roadmap”, which will address the improvement of the systems affecting exploration conditions in the EU, making the region a more attractive target for mining and investors. In this context the barriers to exploration will be studied (including legal and legislative obstacles, data quality and availability, political and social challenges, land rights and social licenses to operate) as well as exploring mechanisms for lowering the complexity, time, financial costs and risks of mineral exploration. What is more, the project partners will disseminate both knowledge and perception of innovative, environmentally-friendly and safer exploration approaches to the public, state and industry practitioners.
INFACT – Facts in brief
- Funding organization: EU/ H2020
- Funding amount: 5.6 Mio €
- Timeframe: Nov 2017 – Oct 2020
- Coordinator: Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
- Partners: 17 partners from research and academia, industry, state and not-for-profit organizations drawn from seven countries. Altogether they have extensive experience in mining, geology, exploration, IT, social science and communication: Agencia de Innovation y Desarrollo (IDEA), Anglo American Sakatti Oy, Arhus Geo, Atalaya Mining, ATClave, Cobre las Cruces, Dialogik, European Federation of Geologists (EFG), Fraunhofer IAO, GALSA (Geotech), Geognosia, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Koordinator), Oulu Mining School, SRK Exploration Services, Supracon, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, University of Eastern Finland.
Leila Ajjabou | INFACT project coordinator
Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Date: 13 August 2020