The European Union is poised to work towards a secure supply of raw materials, particularly critical raw materials, to ensure the competitiveness of its countries’ industries and simultaneously enable the shift to a greener economy. Also, the dependency on countries like China and Russia for both raw materials and refined metals is increasingly seen as infeasible. Europe, therefore, is realizing that it must take the sourcing and refining of metals into its own hands. Because of the continent’s lack of mining assets, a particular focus is given to the recycling of metals and minerals - with the Green New Deal, and the newly proposed Battery Legislation both emphasizing this.
As a branch of the EU-funded Innovation community within the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, EIT Raw Materials is developing strategies for the EU to support its agenda. It also developed a strategy for the EU Critical Minerals Sourcing, which rests on three tenants, or so-called ‘Lighthouses’: Responsible Sourcing, Sustainable Materials, and Circular Economy.
Within those lighthouses, EIT Raw Materials is fostering the exchange between relevant actors, from academia, investment institutions, the private sector and others. In fact, each of the lighthouses can have a tremendous impact on the way companies source, produce and collaborate. Each of them offers challenges, but more importantly great opportunities. And all of them have underlying commonalities that can make it easier for companies to start working on them. Let’s look at them individually first.
The Three Lighthouses
Sustainable Discovery & Supply aims to ensure that the raw materials going into our product have been sourced as responsibly as possible. It has rightly been argued that we cannot protect our health and environment with electrification in Europe at the expense of degradation elsewhere. The second part of this strategy is about revitalizing the European raw materials sector and securing strong and lasting relationships with suppliers from elsewhere.
Sustainable Materials for Future Mobility refers to innovation and ensuring that materials last longer, are more recyclable, less energy intensive, and produced without toxic elements. On a broader European framework this is a thread running through decisions like mandating one charger for cellphones, batteries, and other devices, or the movement to the Right to Repair. All of this aims to make materials and products more reusable, reduce waste, and allow for easier recycling.
Raw Materials and Circular Societies is aimed at doing away with the vastly linear business model of produce - buy - use - dispose. Closely linked to the Sustainable Materials component, this aspect is geared towards making end-of-life products a standard resource for new product cycles. Given Europe's dependency on external raw material sources, this is not only desirable from an environmental sustainability point of view, but also from a strategic perspective.
All three aspects mentioned above are closely linked: Knowing your supply chain (maybe even knowing it’s a European one) allows you to assess risks and efficiencies not only in terms of responsibility but also transport. Having secured necessary supply chains will enable a transition to a greener economy and enable you to build materials and products as sustainably as possible. And having done all that will give rise to a circular economy where it is standard for products to be repaired until they are really broken, and then disassembled and the materials reused.
The Common Denominator
Advances on many levels are necessary for all this to fall into place, and one of them is data. You need to know your supply chains beyond your supplier to the source if you want to make the informed decision to go for a responsibly sourced or locally produced raw material. You need to communicate data about your materials and their composition, if the processor is to know what elements are in it and how to best work with it. And you need to relay to recyclers how they can best take apart that 500kg EV battery in front of them.
Now there is an innovative way of communicating this data directly linked to the products in “Product Passports”, essentially data packages traveling with a Product from A to B. Similarly, the European Union has taken that up and will mandate battery passports in the near future.
Having a product (or battery) passport for an individual product is undoubtedly desirable. It would be even more helpful, however, to be able to link together product passports along a supply chain. Then when you hold the final product in your hand, you are able to go back and review the raw materials and components that went into it - or at least the critical ones - through their linked product passports. Sort of the genealogy of a product.
Only when you know the history can you assess whether it has been sourced responsibly and processed sustainably. Only then can you design products in a sustainable manner and make sure the users understand their compositions and requirements. And only then can you make sure they are adequately recycled and appropriately repurposed.
A solution for this is a system, where data packages can travel with the product and be linked together - to communicate both data about the product, as well as its history and the specifications of the materials that went into it. This solution of course needs to provide data on different levels of privacy - product specifications are important to communicate but include patents and intellectual property, so not everybody should be able to review them.
Minespider provides such a solution: Our digital Product Passports link data directly to the product - secured on blockchain and divided into three data layers, (enabling visibility to either the recipient, the entire supply chain, or the public) to make sure everybody has access to what they should see, and not to what they should not. Battery Passports are a solution tailored to the battery sector, incorporating the data points required by the new regulation. When creating a passport - battery or otherwise - the user stores and sends it on the digital platform and simultaneously generates a QR Code that can be attached to the product. Scanning it will give access to the public information and offer a login window for authorized users to review more information.
Onboarding a new company in less than a week, Minespider empowers you to know your products’ story. Our deep understanding of the industry and our services - spanning from providing a digital platform, to supply chain mapping, to consulting and support in responsible sourcing and communications - have been enabling our customers to better understand, collaborate with and transform your supply network
Curious to understand how this could help your business? Meet us at the EIT Raw Materials Expert Forum or reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org to organize a time to speak.