The European Commission’s Raw Materials Proposal: Focus on Sustainability and the Circular Economy
The Critical Raw Materials Act published by the European Commission on 16 March 2023 is important for the green transition and the security of supply in Finland and the EU. The Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) sees the act as opening an opportunity for Finland to strengthen international cooperation. To advance the raw materials proposal, Finland should invest in GTK Mintec, which supports the development of responsible mining and the circular economy.
Critical raw materials are used in many key industries and technologies that are needed to advance the green transition. The growing global demand for raw materials, the urgency of reaching climate targets and the increased geopolitical instability have accelerated the need to secure the availability of critical raw materials in Europe.
The act proposes that every EU member state must start an exploration programme for critical raw materials and increase cooperation with EU and other countries. To enhance the EU’s self-sufficiency, the Commission proposes a target of 10–40 per cent for the EU’s own mining, recycling and refining of strategic raw materials by 2030.
The EU is currently highly dependent on imports of critical raw materials. The Nordic and Finnish bedrock has great potential for finding new deposits of critical minerals.
“The war of aggression launched by Russia has increased the significance of raw material self-sufficiency. The whole of Europe needs a better and constantly updated understanding of potential deposits of critical raw materials and modern exploration methods. It is good that sustainability aspects are emphasised in the act. The greater the raw material needs become, the more important it becomes to ensure sustainability,” says Kimmo Tiilikainen, Director General of Geological Survey of Finland.
Finland as a driver of partnerships and proactive information
The proposal suggests that each EU country should classify its minerals reserves according to the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC). Finland was the first country in Europe to do this. Classification was done by GTK. European-wide intellectual capital on raw materials and the harmonisation of classification are the cornerstones of the security of supply of raw materials in Europe.
“With our knowledge and expertise, we can support different European countries in launching their national exploration programmes. We have carried out long-term work in Finland and the Nordic Countries in the research of mineral potential and the refining of geological data. It is great to see more investments in this work elsewhere in Europe as well. It is natural that at GTK, we take the role of strengthening cooperation as one of Europe’s largest geo survey organisations,” Kimmo Tiilikainen states.
The act emphasises strategic partnerships. Partnerships are important to uphold the production of raw materials and to support the refining of partner state`s raw materials. For example, GTK had a role in building a partnership between the EU and Namibia, and the cooperation continues.
Researched information and foresight are needed to support decision making. GTK is therefore investing in analysis and forecasting in the minerals sector, or “mineral intelligence” research.
“GTK has taken part in expert work on critical raw materials in the EU for several years. In the future, we will pay more attention to the development of the Finnish and European minerals sector in relation to the global raw materials market. We are doing this in cooperation with other European research organisations,” says Asko Käpyaho, head of the Mineral Economy Solutions unit.
The role of the circular economy is growing
According to the act, at least 15 per cent of the EU’s annual consumption of the strategic raw materials should be covered by recycling. Currently, the recycling rates of raw materials varies but are typically low.
“Recycling rates need to be increased. It is crucial to take recyclability into account already at the product design stage. GTK promotes recyclability, particularly by assessing and testing the beneficiation rates of mineral and mineral-based materials. The aim is to better recover valuables from raw materials and to reduce the amount of unrecoverable material. There is a growing demand for solutions to promote recyclability based on research and development activities,” says Saku Vuori, Director, Science and Innovations.
There is significant potential in the use of waste and side streams generated by the mining industry. According to Statistics Finland, 75 per cent of all the waste generated in Finland resulted from mining and extraction in 2020.
The proposal also highlights other environmental aspects related to the production of raw materials, as well as the need to obtain information about where the materials have been excavated, processed, refined or recycled. The Geological Survey of Finland supports the EU’s view that the different aspects related to social and ecological sustainability must be taken into account, and for example the pioneering research of material traceability must be continued.
GTK Mintec accelerates strategic investments throughout Europe
GTK Mintec, the only pilot plant and laboratory of its kind in Europe, promotes responsible mining in Finland and abroad. GTK Mintec is the only place in Europe that carries out industrial scale tests for the industry.
GTK is planning a modernisation of the GTK Mintec pilot plant, as well as an expansion of the research and development capacity. The raw materials act further strengthens GTK Mintec’s role as a global promoter of responsible mining.
“The most effective action through which Finland can advance the raw materials act is investing in GTK Mintec. With the investment, Finland can support Europe’s raw material self-sufficiency, advance the circular economy and create preconditions for responsible mining throughout Europe. Investing in GTK Mintec’s modernisation and expansion therefore needs to be included in Finland`s next Government Programme,” Kimmo Tiilikainen suggests.
European Critical Raw Materials Act (europa.eu)
Kimmo Tiilikainen, Director General of Geological Survey of Finland GTK
Saku Vuori, Director, Science and Innovations, GTK
Asko Käpyaho, Head of Unit, GTK
Pasi Eilu, Senior Geoscientist, GTK
The interview requests through GTK communications
Kati Kiviniemi, Communications Manager tel. +358 29 503 0077
Lotta Knuutinen, Director, Communications and Sustainability tel. +358 29 503 2131