Crisis highlighting the importance of minerals – is resource nationalism on the rise?

While renewing its strategy last year, the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) worked on predicting significant future scenarios. As a response to future needs, GTK defined a set of focus areas and areas of growing influence. Amongst others, battery minerals and critical minerals are at the centre.

Global demand for battery minerals will increase significantly in the near future. Finland has great potential when it comes to battery minerals as our bedrock contains, graphite, cobalt, copper, lithium and nickel. They are needed in huge amounts as transport is electrified, and investments are made in renewable energy. Battery minerals are required to achieve carbon neutrality and climate goals.

The EU has identified a number of raw materials, which are needed for example in the electronics industry and the implementation of high-tech solutions, as critical. Finland and the EU must acquire these as imports for the most part, which is a major challenge and risk. Many industry clusters and refining processes are completely dependent on problem-free global trade and secure supply. Recycling must be improved but responding to the evolving needs for raw materials necessitates long-term research and sustainable primary production.

Battery minerals and critical minerals are a key component of technological development and developing low-carbon and circular economy solutions. GTK has invested heavily in strengthening its own capabilities and research infrastructure, for example, by investing in the development of the GTK Mintec mineral processing pilot plant in Outokumpu and by establishing the Circular Raw Materials Hub joint laboratory in Otaniemi, Espoo, in cooperation with Aalto University and the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT). In addition, the Battery Minerals project – which is part of GTK’s basic research – is progressing.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the uncertainties surrounding the availability of minerals. The risks previously associated with trade politics and the interests of great powers have increased. The crisis has also highlighted the importance of mineral production and ensuring mineral availability for maintaining industrial production and wellbeing. This has been stated in many recent studies and reports: e.g. the report on the Finnish minerals cluster commissioned by the Finnish Government, published in March.

In addition to the availability of minerals, the acceptability of production has become an important topic – minerals and metals should be produced as sustainably as possible. GTK also invests in sustainability research, for example, with the BATTRACE project, which is aimed at improving the traceability of metals together with VTT and industry operators.

After the corona crisis passes, the world will not be the same as it was before. Industrial clusters and refining processes based on high-tech solutions will be valued more. This will most likely increase the strategic value of minerals and their availability. Incorporating high-quality research in the mineral cluster provides even more added value.

States becoming aware of significant future needs is likely to increase the risk of extractive colonialism in developing countries and the risk of resource nationalism increasing within the states. Both must be prevented by supporting international agreements and by creating more mineral potential through long-term and targeted action.

Finland’s strengths give it plenty of opportunities. Technological solutions and evolving research efforts to ensure mineral utilization and availability are excellent opportunities.

Mika Nykänen
Director General