By developing technology innovation and rethinking business models, a new EU-funded project hopes to improve the commercial viability of mining modest but high-grade critical raw mineral deposits across Europe.
GlobalData's mining technology writer Heidi Vella looks at the project.
She says: "Manufacturing of many modern technologies is reliant on the supply of several key metals and minerals. The European Union (EU) has highlighted their importance in a list of 'critical raw materials' that includes antimony, vanadium, tungsten, tantalum and 23 others.
"To ensure security of supply, a new UK-based project aims to help small to medium-sized mining companies exploit Europe's own resources of these critical raw minerals that can be found in smaller-scale but high-grade deposits.
"Supported by €7m funding from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, the Imp@ct project proposes a new switch-on/switch-off mining paradigm that researchers say can improve the commercial viability of modest deposits.
"The Imp@ct project, will be presented at the end of November at the Horizon 2020 success stories conference in Brussels, [and] hopes to have fully proven the technology developed within it. Because it is funded through Horizon 2020, it will not be affected by Brexit.
"Working with smaller mining companies, including UK-based Mineco and Metal Innovation, the IMP@CT project sets out to develop more resilient business models and better technology for smaller-scale mineral extraction.
"The project proposes a new switch-on/switch-off mining paradigm that is based on updating technology for improved agility, and reducing capex costs, so miners can be more responsive to market demands.
"Using new and existing technology, project researchers have developed containerised, mobile and modular equipment that can be adapted for geological and metallurgical variability."
Kate Moore, Imp@ct project lead and senior lecturer in critical and green technology metals at the University of Exeter, tells GlobalData: "The raw materials supply sector has a problem responding rapidly to changes in demand from the technological manufacturing sector. We want to show a rapid response approach is technologically possible.
"This [technology] makes it possible to deploy an underground mining machine and a rock breaking facility in a matter of hours. A minerals processing facility can be set up in just a couple of weeks, compared to potentially decades from exploration to extraction for very big mining deposits and months-long installation activities.
"For countries that have a lot of technological manufacturing, but are dependent on imported raw materials, there's going to be a big job to start raw material production within that economy. But it's important for security of supply and not least because if we're thinking about climate change, we need to also think about how far we're shipping materials."