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Project summary

Global demand for minerals is growing rapidly, driven by rapid population growth, urbanisation and an increasingly diverse range of technical applications. Global material supply chains linking the extraction, transport and processing stages of raw materials have become increasingly complex and today involve multiple players and product components. An interactive platform that provides transparency about existing approaches and information gaps concerning global material flows is needed to understand these global supply chains; developing this capability is critical for maintaining competitiveness in the European economy. Against this backdrop, the proposed MinFuture project aims to identify, integrate, and develop expertise for global material flow analysis and scenario modelling.

Specific activities include:

  • the analysis of barriers and gateways for delivering more transparent and interoperable materials information
  • the assessment of existing model approaches for global material flow analysis, including the demand-supply forecasting methods
  • the delivery of a ‘common methodology’ which integrates mineral data, information and knowledge across national boundaries and between governmental and non-governmental organisations;
  • the development of recommendations for a roadmap to implement the ‘common methodology’ at international level;
  • the creation of a web-portal to provide a central access point for material flow information, including links to existing data sources, models, tools and analysis;

MinFuture brings together 16 international partners from across universities, public organisations and companies, to deliver new insight, strategic intelligence and a clear roadmap for enabling effective access to global material information.

A transdisciplinary Advisory Board supports early-on and continuous integration of relevant expertise and perspectives into project activities for strategic guidance. It furthermore enables to increase the salience and topicality of project findings in relation to ongoing processes, as the AB members will function as enabling agents to take MinFuture results further to their organisations and networks.

Raw materials are the backbone of the value chain of industrial production, playing a prominent role as a source of prosperity, growth and competitiveness in Europe. By contributing to employment and value generation, the secure supply of mineral resources is crucial for the European Union’s growth and stability. The global use of mineral raw materials has increased exponentially over the past decades, both in overall quantity, and in number and combination of minerals and elements used for different applications. Global mineral markets have undergone much structural change, creating a set of new and interlinked challenges. The old rule of thumb – 20 percent of the world population in Europe, USA and Japan consuming more than 80 percent of the total minerals production – is not valid any more. India, the People’s Republic of China and other populous emerging economies claim an increasing share of raw materials. Population growth, rapid economic development, and urbanisation are now taking place mainly in non-EU countries, and are key drivers of increasing global demand for minerals and metals. Minerals consumption is expected to double by 2030, and it is projected that 60 % of the built environment needed to accommodate the earth’s urban population in 2050 still remains to be built. Such challenges will lead to increased global competition for resources, and threaten the security of Europe’s resource supply.

To ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials, the EU has launched two interlinked actions: the Raw Materials Initiative (RMI) and the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials (EIP-RM) including its Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) with 95 actions to foster innovative solutions. The SIP recognises that the European industry is highly dependent on the international market and global raw material value chains for securing raw material supply. Promoting international co-operation forms an important cross-cutting objective for long-term EU policies (SIP’s International Cooperation Pillar).

Access to reliable, fair and sustainable supplies of mineral raw materials from global commodity markets is a key challenge for the EU. Geological resources are often concentrated in a few countries, which elevates supply risk, while the decline of primary mining and processing operations in Europe has decreased domestic supply capacity. Mineral supply chains are becoming ever more global and complex, increasing their vulnerability to demand-supply mismatches, price volatilities, and geopolitical developments such as export restrictions. Transparent and reliable information about global mineral supply chains is a prerequisite for strategic development, decision making, and international collaboration efforts. A common and collaborative cross-institutional methodology is required to resolve critical information barriers and open new gateways, and to develop solutions that improve the transparency of international raw material flows. Such an initiative would create a level playing field with fair and unrestricted access to raw materials information from across global markets.

The decline of primary mining and processing has led to a loss of expertise in the EU, which is now reflected by a shortage of specialist knowledge on primary (geological) and secondary (e.g., recycling) raw materials. This translates to a need for integrating specific country expertise and institutional knowledge from abroad, in order to link different Material Flow Analysis (MFA) dimensions across the complex value chains of global raw material flows. This is of particular importance for critical raw materials, which play key enabling roles in low-carbon and information and telecommunication (ITC) technologies, but are usually used in small amounts in a wide range of product components, making them difficult to trace through the raw materials cycle. Geological (primary) mineral resources, in-use stocks, and recycling potentials are not systematically explored and classified, inconsistently reported, and thus insufficiently integrated into national and international databases. Mineral raw materials undergo through transformation stages (often outside the EU), and national and international trade statistics usually report aggregated data with limited per-substance resolution. Available material flow data thus remain highly uncertain and will have to be improved, harmonised, linked across the different dimensions, and integrated into information infrastructures to assist the development of reliable global material flow models.

Globally, many countries are facing similar challenges, and the EU is maintaining raw materials diplomacy activities and policy dialogues with strategic partners including China, Russia, Canada, Australia, countries of the African Union, Latin America, the US and Japan. Facing the challenge of limited access to critical raw materials (CRMs), several countries already cooperate in developing substitutes for critical/strategic raw materials, in comparing methodologies and criteria, and by combining existing data collections. Problems with data availability, accessibility and sharing are common in these initiatives being experienced on various aggregation and decision-making levels. Addressing these problems requires improved data access rights and the use of interoperable data services and classification systems at international and national levels. This is the aim of the INSPIRE Directive for spatial information, and the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC) for reporting resources and reserves of mineral resources. Whilst actions for achieving their implementation have been identified, progress with linking initiatives and information infrastructures is hindered by compatibility issues. Moreover, a suitable resource classification system that can be used for both primary (geological) and secondary (recycling) raw materials, still has to be agreed upon.

Concerning the mapping of mineral raw materials flows, a variety of studies and approaches have been developed. However, all of these address only specific aspects or challenges of raw material flows. Examples include the assessment reports on Metal Stocks in Society published by the UNEP International Resource Panel (IRP), and the Study on Data Inventory and for a Raw Material System Analysis (RMSA), commissioned by DG GROW, which examined the flows of (mainly critical) minerals for Europe in more detail. Many businesses are developing models to underpin strategies for securing their raw material supply, including models to facilitate investment decisions for new technologies and to support mergers for integrating supply chains. Still, these actions often lack the required supply chain context, while the used models have limited scope and high uncertainty.

In general, existing studies describe different systems and different data aggregation levels that fit their specific needs. Although there is a variety of demand-supply forecasting tools available, most have specific fields of application, address only particular parts of raw material cycles, and neglect to consistently mass-balance and integrate primary and secondary resources. Thus, despite the EU initiatives and on-going EU-funded international co-operations, current methods and models for global cycles of materials are based on data that are: (i) highly fragmented, (ii) inconsistent, (iii) measured but not available due to confidentiality reasons, or (iv) not measured at all and hence having to be estimated, often on weak grounds resulting in large uncertainties. Existing models are thus heterogeneous, incompatible, unreliable and difficult to understand for scientists and policy-makers alike.

In response to these challenges, the MinFuture project is designed to take the lead in coordinating international R&D actions in the field of raw material flow analysis and forecasting.

MinFuture pursues three main objectives: (1) to develop a common methodology that creates transparency about the data and approaches used in models for global cycles of materials; (2) to strengthen international collaboration by integrating the networks, expertise and outreach of different governmental and intergovernmental agencies, business areas, and research disciplines; and (3) to create a methodological discourse and stimulate the broad adoption of a ‘roadmap’ towards harmonization among key institutions that are either providing or using data to analyse global resource stocks and flows.

 

Objective 1 – Common methodology, including barriers and gateways

MinFuture aims to streamline existing approaches for analysing global material flows in four dimensions (stages, trade, linkages, and time), in order

  • To identify inconsistencies in terminology (different disciplines, institutions) and address them though a glossary
  • To identify critical data disparities and harmonization needs across the four dimensions
  • To analyze critical data gaps (e.g. confidentiality issues) and approaches to overcome them
  • To survey tools for mass-balance consistent short-and long-term forecasting of demand and supply
  • To review tools for visualizing the different dimensions of global material cycles
  • To develop a web platform for outreach and dissemination

 

Objective 2 – Collaboration across boarders

MinFuture aims to involve partners in government, industry, and research institutions across disciplines and world regions in a shared effort to implement a common methodology, in order

  • To improve methodologies by engaging and co-learning with government and industry decision makers at the EU and international levels
  • To excite interests among researchers, authorities, and industry with a pilot study for CRMs used in a low-carbon technology
  • To raise awareness and stimulate collaboration among authorities and businesses by demonstrating how they can use this methodology for informed strategic decisions
  • To involve key international data providers in the development of a web platform that allows users to easily locate and access relevant data

 

Objective 3 – Roadmap recommendations

MinFuture aims to facilitate a consensus among key stakeholders about priority areas to be addressed, to maximise the methodology’s benefit and impact, in order

  • To stimulate the broad adoption of the common methodology by providing scientific support to key stakeholders
  • To identify and exploit synergy potentials between countries, institutions, and other (non-minerals) research communities
  • To reach a consensus about key barriers and gaps and make recommendations how to adequately address them to maximize the benefit for government and industry
  • To pave the way for new EU-international collaborations (e.g., by consulting and support through MinFuture partners) to help the EU secure future raw materials supply.

WP 1 - Project management

The objective of this WP is to ensure the sound and effective management of the MinFutures project; fostering collaboration between the partners; delivery of milestones and deliverables as agreed and on time; and, ultimately, the achievement of all MinFutures objectives.

WP 2 - Challenges, systems, and data

WP2 aims at identifying and addressing relevant data gaps and inconsistencies. Traditionally, MFAs are used to map material cycles and visualize them in Sankey diagrams. This is done by defining systems and quantifying them using a wide variety of data sources. One of the greatest challenges for conducting MFAs is the fact that the data used tend to be incomplete, highly fragmented, and non-transparent (meaning of the statistics used is unclear). MFA specialists usually address this challenge by using highly aggregated systems, crude approximations, and mass balances.

WP 3 - Assessment of demand-supply forecasting models

This work package investigates methods and approaches to analyze, evaluate, and design anthropogenic material systems with the focus on the temporal scale. Existing methods vary with respect to their field of application and problem solving capacity, data requirements, coverage of time, area, materials, and uncertainty, consideration of internal and external drivers, employability for forecasting as well as software support.

WP 4 - Pilot case on critical materials used in wind energy technology

The main objective of WP4 is to illustrate the use of the common methodology developed in MinFuture for a few key/critical materials (e.g., Neodymium) used in case low-carbon technologies (e.g., wind power and end of life vehicles). WP4 will highlight the key findings of WP2 and WP3 by empirical evidence and provide inputs for recommendations in WP5.

WP 5 - Development of ‘common methodology’ and roadmap to implementation

WP5 aims to develop a common systemic framework for global mineral raw materials flow analyses that could be agreed and used at international level. The applicability of this common framework will be tested at global, EU and business level through stakeholder workshops and feedback. Eventually, WP5 will produce suggestions for a roadmap for enhancing the robustness and relevance of dynamic material flow analyses for governments and businesses.

WP 6 - Stakeholder dialogue, communication and impact-oriented dissemination

Existing knowledge and networks as well as ongoing research provide a wealth of data, information and experience on the analysis of global raw material flows for better informed decision making. Tapping into and contributing to this wealth for knowledge integration is the central objective of Work package 6. WP6 aims to ensure that relevant stakeholders (such as raw material and material flow experts, public authorities and businesses/business associations) are continuously involved in project activities.