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Deep earth modelling to reveal vast EU deposits

Manufacturers of jet turbines have already shown interest in the new rhenium compounds identified by ProMine scientists, which are resistant to high temperatures. © Juha Kaija
Manufacturers of jet turbines have already shown interest in the new rhenium compounds identified by ProMine scientists, which are resistant to high temperatures. © Juha Kaija

High-tech 3D models of rock formations deep underground should reveal that Europe has vast concealed ore deposits, researchers believe, helping to ease Europe's dependency on imported metal.

EU member countries consume about a third of all metals produced in the world. However, metal production within the EU itself is only about 3 % of the global production, and many important metals are not produced in Europe at all.

Researchers at ProMine, an EU-funded project aiming to help better exploit Europe's geological resources, have conducted 3D modelling of four highly metal-rich regions of Europe - in Scandinavia, in the region around northern Germany and Poland, in the Iberian peninsula, and in the Hellenic Belt of northern Greece.

They believe that further scanning to create a 3D map of the rocks deep under Europe will reveal the continent's ‘vast untouched geological potential’ of concealed ore deposits up to five kilometres underground.

Importing enough material to cover its needs costs the EU about EUR 11 billion each year, according to the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK). At the same time, the value of unexploited minerals in the EU at a depth of 500 to 1 000 metres is estimated to be about EUR 100 billion, the same geological survey found. The high value of these minerals should now encourage investment in new extraction technologies that will make it economically feasible to exploit them.

‘4D modelling is the new approach to understand genesis and geometry of ore deposits.’

Juha Kaija, ProMine project manager

The European metal industry provides 30 million jobs and 70 % of the EU’s manufacturing production depends on these raw materials, according to the European Association of Metals, Eurometaux.

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Thanks to the leadership of Professor Gabor Gaál (Geological Survey of Finland), the technical coordinator of the ProMine project, scientists from Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom came together to try to work out where Europe's metal deposits are located, and build a database of their results.

‘This has never before been done in Europe,’ ProMine’s project manager and GTK specialist Juha Kaija said. ‘Databases will help direct the exploration activities, but they are also important for land-use planning.

‘(The) team firmly believes that Europe is strongly underexplored and that further initiatives related to understanding the mineral resource base of Europe will lead to reduced import dependence,’ he added.

They used the information to make so-called ‘predictive maps’ of commodities – especially strategic and critical materials such as zinc, copper, antimony used to make alloys, radioactive flerovium and tin.

‘(The maps database) contains a considerable amount of information about mineral resource potential, which now allows predictive assessment studies that were not previously possible,’ Kaija said.

They then went on to do 3D and 4D modelling which can show the formation and shapes of ores, giving some indication of where deposits might be.

Juha Kaija is the ProMine project manager. © GTK, V.-M.JalovaaraJuha Kaija is the ProMine project manager. © GTK, V.-M.Jalovaara‘First thorough 3D analysis is made, a new dimension is added by deciphering the deformation history of ore in steps back in time,’ said Kaija. ‘4D modelling is the new approach to understand genesis and geometry of ore deposits.'

This first ever pan-European database will be used by mining companies to help them decide where to dig, and it also contains information about the economic value of the reserves. A new project, Minerals4EU, aims to continue with the database, setting up a network of organisations providing information on EU minerals, and then transforming this into a sustainable operational service.

‘(The materials developed by ProMine) are a crucial step towards a better assessment of primary and secondary resources in Europe that, in turn, will strengthen the extractive industry and help secure European supply in mineral resources,’ Kaija said.

Whilst the EUR 17 million ProMine project has recently reached its end date, four years since its inception, the story of how its results will change the EU’s dependence on metal and mineral imports is just starting to unfold.

‘Commercialisation of the results is an important step,’ Kaija said, assuring the network built between scientists and industry will ‘live long’ from now.

Here is an example of ProMine interactive map of Europe’s rich underground. Here, we have an overview of critical minera raw materials’ location. (C) ProMineAn example of the ProMine interactive map of Europe’s mineral-rich underground. Here, we have an overview of the location of critical mineral raw materials. (c) ProMine

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