Nordic Innovation has worked with Sustainable Minerals for a few years now and made sure to set it on the agenda during the World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) in Helsinki.
To reach the climate goals set for 2030 we are expected to need a big increase in renewable power and batteries. This will not only require a change in many industries and infrastructure, but also a great deal of minerals. To meet the needs of the future many have started to look at ways to make the mining industry more sustainable. Finding new ways to recycle and reuse new and old minerals. Sustainable minerals were on the agenda during the WCEF 2023 in Helsinki. We spoke to panellist and Director of Materials Efficiency Research Group, Alan Young, about the future of the mining industry.
Sustainable minerals at WCEF
Nordic Innovation has been working with Sustainable Minerals since 2021. As co-host of the 2023 World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF), Nordic Innovation made sure to put sustainable minerals and mining on the agenda. Joining in on the discussion was representatives from the industry, public sector and the circular economy field.
At the World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki, Nordic Innovation facilitated several events putting this sustainable minerals and mining on the agenda. During the forum session Challenge accepted: circular solutions to green energy’s material demands the panel discussed the future challenges of access to secure and responsible minerals, and what priorities should be made in terms of policy, research and markets in the future.
The discussion continued during the accelerator session Circularity disclosure going mainstream - Preparing for compliance, where the attendees dived into game changing circularity regulatory developments within the European Corporate Sustainability Directive. Mapping which companies are affected, and how they can prepare most effectively to report on the new circular economy and resource use standards.
Working for a sustainable mining industry
Moderator and panellist Alan Young has been working with Sitra and attended WCEF since its inception in 2016, but this is the first time he has seen the issue of sustainable minerals being lifted into the main discussions in such a way. Young has been working in the mining sector for about 30 years now, within civil society groups, governments, and leading-edge companies. Since 1990 he has been designing and implementing social and environmentally sustainable practices and strategies all around the world, including the Nordic region.
He has worked with a wide range of conservation groups, Indigenous organisations, communities, progressive companies, and governments. He has seen the struggle to unite the need for renewable energy and indigenous rights in several countries, a concern well known for the industries in the Nordics as well.
Nordic Innovation met with Young after the final at WCEF panel to discuss the status quo and future of the mining industry.
"Thinking about the road towards 2030, its pretty exciting. But also, I am a realist, so I've never been more excited and or more frightened at the same time. We're working on a very urgent basis against some very dire consequences, but here we are to figure this out," says Alan Young.
"We need to meet the future with a way of extracting and using minerals, while it doesn't transgress planetary boundaries. We must do both of those things, or both of them will ultimately fail. So in 20-30 years, there’s going to be a whole new minerals economy that is going to be tapping into minerals at all levels of supply chain."
To create the new mineral industry and economy, Young points to two main obstacles on the road forward, the business model and investments, and regulations and policies surrounding it. He also pointed out attitude change we need in the use of metals and minerals into a more considerate one, and treat them like reusable resources, not disposable.
"Investors have to think differently about how they reward the companies, and mining companies need to think differently about how their business is set up. We talked about them as non-renewable when in fact minerals are the most renewable resources. Once extracted you can use them forever. Sadly, millions of tons of copper, cobalt, iron and nickel are just sitting in landfills. Minerals as infinite and precious resources that we need to treat as renewable, and that's a big shift in mindset."
"I think that a shift in mindset will have a big return on investment, but if our governments and our regulatory and policy systems have been designed to serve a linear model, this inhibits our ability to think about resource. If waste is no longer an option in a circular economy, then we have to start thinking about enabling it."
Young is expecting to see a whole different mining and minerals industry in 5 to 10 years. With more integrated industries and flow of resources. EV companies and energy companies will be owning mines, and mines will be owning EV. New regulations and laws will also change the business models and way to think, resulting in the industries having to change as well.
"We are leaving literally billions of dollars on the table right now. And, while we're also facing critical supply shortages. Recycling is only one component we can take use of to supply wind, solar, and batteries for renewable energy. If we repair, reuse, refurbish, and repurpose, then then we can be using resources that's already in circulation to much greater value."
He also thinks this will result in innovation and business opportunities for those interested in the mineral field. The Nordics has a long tradition in producing and processing of minerals, metals, and other raw materials. In addition, the region has started an ambitious journey towards reduced environmental and climate impact from the minerals sector.
"The imperative is to get more of the minerals that are in circulation back in service for the renewable energy transition, and also pull these sometimes-toxic minerals out of circulation and put them back into use in a safe way. These are are new business opportunities, new technologies that can be developed and with those we unlock literally billions of dollars of assets that are currently either idle or in waste."
Nordic Innovation and Sustainable minerals
Nordic Innovation will continue the programme sustainable minerals until at least 2024. The Nordic region have a vison to become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world in 2030. Going forward, the need for minerals and metals will be higher than ever. The green transition in for example energy and transport and outspoken targets on carbon neutrality, as well as digitalization of economy and industrial ecosystems require a multitude of these raw materials.
In enabling this ongoing green transition, the Nordics have a unique position to take the lead within sustainable mineral and metal production. With collaboration across sectors and value chains, innovation can be accelerated.