Nicholas Arndt - Public Perception of Mining in Europe
Updated: May 31
To achieve a carbon-free economy will require drastic changes. A ban of diesel and petrol cars requires the production of over 30 million electric or hydrogen vehicles. Where will the Li, Co, Ni and other metals needed for the batteries or fuel cells come from? Recycling metals is not sufficient. The total number of vehicles might be radically reduced and work and leisure patterns might change; but these changes invariably boost electricity demand. Construction of wind turbines and solar panels consumes vast amounts of minerals and metals, some exotic like the REE, others more standard, like copper, iron and sand.
Europe currently imports between 60 and 100% of all the metals it needs. Will these metals come from far-flung countries, some with dubious social practices and environmental standards, or could a large proportion be produced domestically? Will a movement to support consumption only of local mineral products appear and will we speak of “metal miles”? Or will growing resistance to mining curtail any domestic production?
The new coronavirus has highlighted the fragility of world supply chains. There are strong calls to “relocate” industry; i.e. to bring offshore factories back to Europe. These calls concern pharmaceuticals, vehicles and electronic components but raw materials are rarely if ever mentioned.
A contributing factor to this situation is the bad press that the mining industry usually receives, both in the mainstream media and social networks. Steps should be taken to improve mining’s public image, through interaction with mainstream journalists and perhaps by attracting the attention of science “influencers”.
I am an emeritus professor of petrology/geochemistry at University Grenoble Alpes and president of Sisprobe, a small company that uses ambient-noise seismology in mineral exploration. I’ve held academic positions in the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany, worked in the minerals industry and am PI of an H2020 project PACIFIC - Passive seismic techniques for environmentally friendly and cost-efficient mineral exploration. My main research interests include petrology and geochemistry of mafic and ultramafic rocks, origin of the continental crust, magmatic ore deposits, and the early-Earth environment. In past years I have worked on supply and demand of raw materials, including deep-sea minerals.
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