Improving the efficiency of mineral exploration and mining in Europe by developing new technologies and models is the main objective of the Vector, a new European project with the participation of Geosciences Barcelona - CSIC (GEO3BCN-CSIC). Researchers will create a new geological prospecting tool, using machine learning, for more sustainable and less invasive geological, geochemical and geophysical measurements.
"This workflow will be transferable and validated in three European sedimentary basins. The main goal is to reduce European dependence of raw materials imports used in renewable energy and digital technologies," says Ramón Carbonell, GEO3BCN-CSIC researcher who is part of this project led by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Germany.
Vector will drive knowledge focuses on evidence-based and accessible knowledge to make Europe more dependent on its own deposits and reservoirs. Specifically, according to the partners in this Horizon Europe-funded project, the European Union (EU) imports 80 per cent of the industrial raw materials needed to manufacture digital technologies. Only 1% of the raw materials used in wind energy and 2% of those used in robotics come from EU production.
"Providing this European production would help strengthen strategic and industrial value chains. Vector's partners aim to take on this agreement and improve the efficiency of mineral exploration in Europe, as well as provide all stakeholders with guidelines for a more sustainable metal supply," explains Carbonell.
Objectives and tools
The project will develop a set of tools integrated into a single, distributed, multi-modal, self-learning and interactive platform. Both geological exploration potential and socio-economic factors will be taken into account to obtain an assessment of the most suitable regions for exploration and, where appropriate, mining.
"The important thing about this initiative is that we intend to carry out an integration of tools. Some of them already exist, others are at different levels of development," explains Carbonell.
GEO3BCN-CSIC scientists will implement, test and validate a subsurface exploration methodology, down to depths of 2,000 to 3,000 metres, using ambient seismic noise. "Another objective is the implementation of integrated interpretation and construction of three-dimensional models through the use of machine learning. This section consists of using data from different geophysical, geological and geochemical disciplines and integrating them into software to obtain three-dimensional geological models," says the Geosciences Barcelona researcher.
Scientifics from the Instituto de Geociencias, (IGEO-CSIC-UCM), led by CSIC researcher Fernando Tornos, will be in charge of the geological and mineralogical characterisation of the borehole samples in this project, information that will be integrated with data from indirect observations of the subsoil.
On the other hand, the research team will carry out a social approval study that will identify, for the first time, the values that the European public invokes when deciding on the exploitation of minerals. This information will be used to produce a social acceptability index.
Dr. Richard Gloaguen, project coordinator at HIF, states that “Europe possesses significant mineral potential but development is limited by the lack of sustainable, low-impact exploration methods and by social opposition to mineral projects. Thus, there is a pressing requirement for environmentally friendly and minimally invasive exploration methods to identify new deposits. With VECTOR we will generate new knowledge about these technical and social barriers, unlocking Europe's raw material potential and improving the resilience of EU raw materials supply chains.”