Horizon Europe RIA CICERO: MSA-based circular hydrometallurgy for sustainable, cost-effective production of NMC cathode materials

“Europe’s Mining Renaissance”: full documentary now released

The full version of the SIM² KU Leuven documentary “Europe’s Mining Renaissance, a Catalyst for Climate Neutrality” has now been released. This 46-minute film addresses Europe’s quest to responsibly mine the energy-transition metals that are needed to manufacture the cleantech products that can fuel (pun intended) the transition to climate neutrality. With the final approval of the EU Critical Raw Materials Act the timeliness of this documentary is huge.

Full version of "Europe's Mining Renaissance" can be viewed here: Europe’s Mining Renaissance, a Catalyst for Climate Neutrality – Full Documentary (youtube.com)

Trailer of "Europe's Mining Renaissance"https://kuleuven.sim2.be/#uael-video-gallery-b38c2db-1


With the launch of BYD’s new electric vehicle-carrying mega-ships, the tsunami of BYD and other Chinese Electric cars and buses is no longer a distant possibility but is rapidly becoming part and parcel of the new economic reality. What is happening in the field of Chinese EVs, has also become the norm for Chinese electric buses, wind turbines, heat pumps, electrolysers, solar panels… With more than 65% of the respective markets, China dominates in all these clean technologies. During the last decades, China has perfected visionary, long-term, vertically-integrated value chains, from mine-to-final-cleantech-product.

What about Europe?

Well, Europe has been aslaeep at the wheel while the Chinese gradually built up their dominance. For many decades, Europe has been importing (refined) raw materials from the Global South, while exporting the social, environmental and cultural impacts (of substandard mining & refining) to that same Global South. In the New World (Dis)Order, this hypocritical and, ultimately, self-defeating stance is no longer tenable. Jones:

Make no mistake about it: the era of neoliberal, free-trade globalisation is over. The age of protectionism and resource nationalism is upon us, driven by the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act and China’s all-conquering state capitalism and its Belt & Road Initiative. If Europe wants to prevent a disastrous scenario of de-industrialisation and widespread poverty, it must alter its path, pushing for a cleantech-based reindustrialisation.”

Hungry gigafactories

Without domestic metals and minerals, Europe’s flashy battery gigafactories and EV assembly lines – often co-funded through state aid – will be critically dependent on third countries, endangering Europe’s climate targets if/when those countries decide to stop exporting (refined) raw materials. Just like China, Europe needs vertically-integrated mine-to-cleantech value chains, in which the upstream (raw materials provision) part is finally taken seriously. This implies the need for a European Mining Renaissance. Not the dirty coal mining of old that fuels the global heating problem, but future-oriented, responsible mining and refining of the energy-transition metals that are needed to catalyse Europe’s climate change strategy. According to Peter Tom Jones a European Mining Renaissance:

could and should bring together Europe’s diverse political factions, transcending traditional left/green-right divides.” 

European road trip

For this documentary, the film's presenter, Peter Tom Jones, travelled to the far North of Sweden and Southern Finland. He descended 1,400 m underground to explore the illustrious underground iron ore/rare earth mine in the Arctic town of Kiruna, and visited Europe’s largest open pit copper mine and its vast tailing ponds in Aitik. To obtain a view of the indigenous people of the far North, Jones engaged with a key spokesperson from the reindeer-herding Sami in their homeland of Sapmi, where he also met with local citizens in Kiruna. In Finland he got to visit a bespoke battery assembly plant that is asking for more EU-sourced input materials, while in Belgium he interviewed various experts about Europe’s CRM potential and how mining waste can be transformed into green, low-carbon construction materials.

Jones also sat down with the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič to see how Europe’s new Critical Raw Materials Act aligns with the need to open new energy-transition mines. Šefčovič corroborated the urgent need for Mining Renaissance in Europe:

Mining had a bad aura around it, but that is gradually changing. We know that the European mines are the most responsible ones in the world. It’s our ethos. But, to meet the 2030 targets of the Critical Raw Materials Act, we will need to make it a little easier for the investors to come and invest in new European energy-transition mines.”

Will Europe get its act together and secure its strategic autonomy? Will the “strategic projects” within the Critical Raw Materials Act – that would benefit from access to finance and shorter permitting timeframes – trigger the opening of new energy-transition mines before 2030? Or will anti-mining opposition and NIMBYism throw a spanner in the wheel? Jones:

The clock is ticking mercilessly, and Europe is at risk losing out”.


More information and contact details:

  • Dr Peter Tom Jones, Director of the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals, is available for interviews. Contact details: KU Leuven wie-is-wie – Peter Tom Jones

  • SIM² KU Leuven recently also launched a mini-documentary which presents the (reindeer-herding) Sami perspective with respect to mining of energy-transition metals in their homeland: https://kuleuven.sim2.be/mini-documentary-the-sami-perspective/

  • The film crew: Director Stijn van Baarle (Storyrunner) ׀ Presenter Peter Tom Jones (SIM² KU Leuven) ׀ Cameramen Michael Van de Velde & Jérôme Demeyere ׀ Sound technicians Casimir De Kimpe & Marius Acke  ׀Graphic designer Jasper Vander Elst


Acknowledgements

  • SIM² KU Leuven. SIM² KU Leuven is the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals, one of the flagship KU Leuven Institutes formally endorsed by the KU Leuven Academic Council. SIM² KU Leuven’s mission is to develop, organise and implement problem-driven, science-deep research and future-oriented education, contributing to the environmentally friendly production and recycling of metals, minerals and engineered materials, supporting the transition to a climate-friendly, circular-economy. More information: https://kuleuven.sim2.be/about/
  • SOLVOMET. SOLVOMET is KU Leuven’s Research and Innovation Centre for Circular Hydrometallurgy. We support mining, metallurgical and recycling companies in the development of more sustainable (circular, low-energy input) hydrometallurgical processes, using state-of-the-art lab and mini-pilot scale experimental facilities and modelling capabilities. SOLVOMET’s vision is that metallurgical chemistry expertise allows to develop more efficient eco-friendly hydrometallurgical and solvometallurgical processes to provide the critical metals that are needed for the transition to a climate-neutral society. More information: https://solvomet.eu/ 
  • Storyrunner. Storyrunner is a video production agency with a strong focus on “science & sustainability”. Turning complex information into a fascinating stories for a wide audience is our specialty. We make documentaries but also shorter videos with (or without) graphic animations for TV channels, universities and European research projects. https://www.storyrunner.be/about
  • Horizon Europe ENICON. ENICON is a Horizon Europe-funded Research and Innovation Action project. ENICON stands for “Sustainable processing of Europe's low-grade sulphidic and lateritic nickel/cobalt ores and tailings into battery-grade metals”. In view of a “domestic and foreign sourcing” procurement model, ENICON exploits the potential of (low-grade) Ni/Co resources within Europe – i.e. sulphidic Ni/Co ores and derived Ni/Co-bearing pyrite and silicate tailings, and laterite Ni(/Co) ores – while improving and developing the Ni/Co-refining capacity that can process imported ores, concentrates and intermediates. ENICON comprises both major improvements to existing Ni/Co metallurgical unit operations in Europe as well as the development of a new HCl-based route for both Ni/Co sulphide concentrates and laterites. More information: https://enicon-horizon.eu/about/
  • Horizon Europe EXCEED. EXCEED’s meta-objective is to unleash the full CRM and industrial mineral potential of Europe’s vast Li LCT-pegmatite and Rare-Metal Granite hard-rock resources. Using four premier European pegmatite and RMG case studies, EXCEED develops, upscales & demonstrates cost-effective, sustainable and responsible extraction routes for recovering the CRMs and industrial minerals as by-products from Li-bearing hard-rock ores. A suite of CRMs will be extracted and refined, while diverse industrial minerals will be refined and valorised in low-carbon building materials. More information: https://exceed-horizon.eu/
  • Prometia. PROMETIA is an international non-profit association that promotes innovation and sustainability in the fields of mineral processing, extractive metallurgy and recycling for metals and materials production. It’s mission is to facilitate access to critical and strategic raw materials for European industry and citizens. With over 40 members sharing a vision for responsible raw materials supply in Europe, PROMETIA seeks to enhance European technical skills and industrial know-how in raw materials processing, supporting industrial and economic development. https://prometia.eu/the-association/
  • Horizon Europe LITHOS. By targeting the domestic processing and refining of lithium LITHOS directly contributes to the 1st and 2nd CRMA benchmarks (10% domestic extraction; 40% domestic processing). LITHOS processes and refines the ores from three “Strategic Projects” in terms of domestic battery-grade LiOH·H2O production: two spodumene-bearing pegmatite cases (Keliber’s deposits in the Kaustinen region, Finland; Savannah’s Barroso Lithium Project, Portugal) and one Rare-Metal Granite (RMG) case (Imerys’ Beauvoir mine in France). LITHOS triggers innovations along the value chain – mineral processing, concentrate pre-treatment & hydrometallurgical refining – making it possible to deal with different levels and types of impurities in non-spodumene Li minerals (lepidolite & petalite). LITHOS gives specific attention to closed-loop water systems in the mineral processing. https://lithos-horizon.eu/lithos-project/
  • Horizon Europe AVANTIS. AVANTIS‘ rationale is that Europe has a multitude of unexploited, low-grade V-bearing titanomagnetite deposits in Finland, Sweden, Greenland, Norway, Poland and Ukraine. However, these deposits have a complex “spiderweb-like” mineral assemblage. Without selective blasting, selective fragmentation and pre-concentration technologies to separate the Ti-rich ilmenite grains from the V-bearing magnetite, these deposits are not economically viable. Supported by a bespoke forensic geometallurgy, AVANTIS will develop a novel selective-blasting approach that allows for rock excavation with increased mineral liberation at the blasting stage, and reduced energy demand in the crushing and grinding stages. Likewise, AVANTIS designs tailored, water-free and water-lean pre-concentration technologies that can produce two distinct pre-concentrates: (1) ilmenite-rich, Ti-pre-concentrate and (2) ilmenite-free, V-pre-concentrate. https://avantis-horizon.eu/
  • Horizon Europe CICERO. To tackle the twin problems of (1) Europe’s dependence on a few third countries for refined Ni, Co and Mn salts, and (2) these metals are currently mined, processed at a massive environmental, health & safety cost in DRC, Indonesia, and China, CICERO will develop a sustainable and cost-effective processing and refining model for Ni, Co and Mn, and their downstream conversion into “made-in-Europe” NMC materials for Li-ion batteries. CICERO’s unique and innovative approach is that it integrates the Twelve Principles of Circular Hydrometallurgy with the smart use of methanesulphonic acid (MSA). https://cicero-horizon.eu/about-cicero/

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