Mining and Resources in Europe: The quest for sustainability and innovation as Germany and Finland head down under for IMARC 2023
Germany, often hailed for its technological prowess and commitment to environmental sustainability, finds itself at a crossroads when it comes to its mining and resources future.
Historically, mining has played a vital role in Germany’s economy, but the industry now faces a multitude of challenges that demand a balanced approach to ensure economic growth and environmental conservation while reducing the country’s reliance on imported resources.
The International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), to be held in Sydney later this year, will for the first time host a dedicated Germany Pavilion, where the country’s mining and METS (Mining Equipment, Technology, and Services) companies will be looking to connect and collaborate with Australian and global industry partners to address the challenges of the global quest for the resources of the future.
Germany's mining heritage dates back centuries, with coal and lignite mining significantly contributing to its industrialisation and economic growth. However, as the world moves towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, the prominence of coal has waned, leading to a gradual phase-out of coal mining in the country. This shift aligns with Germany's commitment to reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy.
Juergen Wallstabe from the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce says that although mining activities have declined across Europe over several decades, Germany has expanded its global presence in the resources sector. High-tech METS companies in Germany are increasing their export of innovative and technologically advanced solutions worldwide.
He is confident IMARC will open more doors for established and emerging German firms to build on to enhance its international reputation for technological excellence and innovation.
“Germany’s leading position in engineering and manufacturing has resulted in a world-leading METS sector,” Mr Wallstabe says.
“We are convinced that on the one hand, German METS companies can support the Australian and other mining industry operators to reach their targets related to safety, productivity, efficiency, and decarbonisation.
“On the other hand, Australia is a valuable partner for Germany’s resources needs.”
One of the key themes at IMARC in recent years has been the industry’s impact on the environment and its role in building a sustainable decarbonised economy. A particular focus has been the often unwelcome legacy of operations, where mining activities have left lasting scars on landscapes, disrupted ecosystems, and polluted water sources.
Mr Wallstabe says that IMARC provides an opportunity to showcase how Germany's emphasis on environmental protection has led to stringent regulations for mitigating these legacy impacts.
“The remediation and restoration of abandoned mining sites demonstrate Germany’s commitment to healing its environmental wounds and there is more we can share with and learn from others facing similar challenges,” he says.
Meanwhile, energy security is once again a buzzword in Europe, partly driven by the ongoing war in Ukraine and the impact of reliable energy supply, but also as a result of shifting political environments in countries like Germany.
Germany's ambitious Energiewende (energy transition) plan aims to eliminate nuclear power and significantly reduce carbon emissions by promoting renewable energy sources. Consequently, the focus has shifted towards sustainable mining practices that support the production of materials crucial for renewable energy technologies, such as lithium for batteries and rare earth elements for wind turbines and solar panels. This presents an opportunity for the mining sector to contribute positively to Germany's energy transformation.
Mr Wallstabe notes that, “To manage the energy transition, Germany’s and Europe’s need for critical minerals will increase dramatically for the foreseeable future. Australia is already and will continue to be a key player in securing a steady supply of Critical Minerals. Wind turbines need steel, copper and strong magnets with rare earths minerals. Batteries consist of a wide range of critical minerals like Lithium, Manganese, Copper, Nickel, Cobalt and the hydrogen industry needs Platinum, Iridium or Scandium. All resources that Europe struggles to produce in sufficient quantities.”
IMARC spokesperson Paul Phelan says it is significant to have Germany so strongly represented at this year’s event. He says delegates can look forward to a showcase of Germany's renowned innovation, and how it extends to the mining sector.
“It is clear that Germany’s public and private sectors are investing in the long term, with its research institutions and companies actively exploring novel technologies to enhance resource extraction efficiency, reduce environmental impacts, and improve worker safety.
“Automation, digitalisation, and artificial intelligence are becoming integral to modern mining practices, enabling better resource management and reduced ecological footprints. IMARC offers an opportunity to witness how a technological giant like Germany is leading the way.”
Like most other advanced nations, Germany's mining industry is inextricably intertwined with global supply chains, both as a consumer of raw materials and as a supplier of technology and machinery. Ensuring ethical sourcing and responsible procurement of minerals from abroad becomes crucial in upholding the nation's commitment to sustainability.
Rolf Kuby, Director-General of Euromines, says the issues facing Germany, however, are not isolated to the country but are felt across Europe.
“Australia embraced its natural endowment as a major strategic asset, while Europe has been over the last decades focused more on acquiring raw materials from elsewhere to process them further,” Mr Kuby says.
“In part, this is due to the lack of deposits but also due to lack of exploration and willingness to foster mining. This is now changing, with the increase in demand for critical raw materials, and the need to future-proof value chains and not to be naive towards the importance of building a degree of open strategic autonomy.”
Birgit Tegethoff, Senior Advisor at Business Finland Australia, points out Finland's position as a leader in the lithium-ion battery supply chain, ranking highest in Europe and fourth overall in Bloomberg's 2022 ranking. She highlights Finland's growing interest in battery metals, especially with increased wind, solar, and offshore wind capacities supporting clean hydrogen development for industrial decarbonisation.
Ms Tegethoff says global mining leader Metso, headquartered in Helsinki, and exhibiting at IMARC, has an extensive technology and services portfolio for the battery minerals industry. The company offers complete processes and services for battery minerals production – from minerals extraction to refined battery chemicals and end-of-life battery black mass recycling. Besides lithium, other critical minerals like nickel and cobalt play an important role in the battery manufacturing chain, either in battery chemistry or in other components and the company has a comprehensive and sustainable process technology offering also for these minerals.
“Circular Economy is deeply embedded in the DNA of the Finnish mineral industry and there is an economic motivation to recycle valuable metals. An interesting area in the battery minerals value chain is the recycling of battery black mass which is becoming an important means to complement virgin battery metals supply and to reduce the carbon footprint of the battery supply chain. Metso’s hydrometallurgical battery black mass recycling process enables the sustainable recovery of critical metals for re-use in new battery production or in other applications.”
Regarding strategic international partnerships in the green minerals sector, Ms Tegethoff notes Finland's focus on reducing dependencies. As the Innovation Funding Agency of Finland, Business Finland seeks cooperation through R&D projects, particularly with countries like Australia.
“We recently launched our Hydrogen and Battery Value Chain program and are in the process of setting up a Green Minerals, including a steel working stream to foster R&D&I collaboration between Australia and Finland, aiming to deliver relevant commercial outcomes.
The Head of the program, Mr Ilkka Homanen, will attend IMARC, extending an invitation to Australian research institutes and industries to join forces in solving challenges related to the green minerals value chain alongside Finnish stakeholders.
IMARC’s Paul Phelan highlights Europe’s profound energy transformation, aligning with EU’s goals of sustainability and innovation.
“The challenges countries like Germany and Finland face are not unlike other advanced nations, from addressing environmental legacies to navigating shifts in energy demand and supply.
“However, by leveraging its technological prowess, fostering collaboration through events such as IMARC, and championing global standards of environmental and social stewardship, they can lead the way in establishing a mining sector that not only sustains economic growth but also contributes positively to the global pursuit of a greener future.
“The expanded presence of European countries at IMARC this year signals an important shift in how many of the world’s leading economies are looking to secure their ‘resources resilience.’”
Mr Phelan says along with the Germany pavilion, there will be a 90-minute German Program at IMARC 2023, curated by the German delegation and Chamber within the Global Opportunities Theatre.
Other programs featured this year include Canada, Ontario, Australia, Mongolia, Ecuador, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Quebec and South Korea.