EU critical materials rules could lead to new Irish mines

May 25, 2024

New EU rules have come into effect aimed at ensuring the union has access to a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials.

The Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) is focused on protecting access to materials that are considered to be of high economic importance to the EU, but vulnerable to supply disruption.

At the moment the EU is heavily reliant on Critical Raw Materials (CRMs) coming from outside the bloc, often from just one country, leaving it exposed to disruption.

But with demand for CRMs likely to rocket in the coming years as materials like lithium, copper and cobalt are increasingly used in clean energy and digital systems, the EU is seeking to safeguard its own supplies.

The Regulation lists 34 CRMs that member states will have to put processes in place in order to enable projects around as well as a subset of 17 of those that are considered to be strategic.

Benchmarks have also been set including having at least 10% of extraction, 25% of recycling and 40% of processing carried out locally within the EU.

Those considered strategic will have access to a more streamlined and efficient permitting system and facilitated access to finance.

There will also be a designated authority or authorities in each state that will have to act as a single contact point for permits.

In Ireland there will be one contact point for extraction and another for processing and recycling.

According to the Institute of Geologists of Ireland (IGI), with its rich geological landscape, historical mining track record and established permitting and regulatory regimes, Ireland can be a key member state to help the EU meet its targets.

It says in practice this will require opening up to 15 new mines in the EU, including in Ireland, exploring for new deposits here, particularly of zinc, and revisiting closed mines and mine waste facilities.

The IGI also says more local processing facilities will have to be used, there will need to be additional recycling and metal recovery and a more streamlined permitting process.

“Ireland is ahead of many countries in Europe with a mature and established mining industry, accompanied by comprehensive geological data and developed regulatory systems,” said Emer Blackwell of the IGI.

“Most have had limited mining experience in the last three decades compared to Ireland where mining has evolved since the 1960s. It’s clear that Ireland can harness this experience to play a significant role in Europe’s quest to secure the future supply of critical raw materials.”

“With potential deposits of copper, lithium, baryte, antimony, and arsenic awaiting exploration, Ireland’s role in diversifying the EU’s raw material supply is paramount. Zinc, which Ireland is richly endowed with, does not currently meet the critical threshold for supply risk but remains of significant importance for the energy transition and the Irish economy.”

But the IGI also claimed that for Ireland to play its part, more geoscientists are needed here with a greater emphasis required in second and third level education on geology as much of the current geoscience workforce in mineral exploration and mining are coming close to retirement age.

“With the CRMA comes greater career prospects for geoscientists,” Ms Blackwell said.

“However, this opportunity needs to be matched by greater awareness, prioritisation, and investment in geology as a subject across the Irish education system.”

“The next generation of geologists will be the backbone of sustainable mining practice essential to unlocking Ireland’s mineral exploration and mining potential.”

Article Source – EU critical materials rules could lead to new Irish mines – RTE

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