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Ireland poised to play key role in EU’s critical raw materials strategy under new regulation

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The European Union’s new Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) aims to secure a stable and sustainable supply of critical raw materials (CRMs) within the EU. This initiative is crucial given the EU’s heavy dependence on CRMs from external sources, often from a single country, making it vulnerable to supply disruptions. As the demand for CRMs like lithium, copper, and cobalt rises due to their critical role in clean energy and digital technologies, the EU is prioritizing self-sufficiency and supply security.

Key elements of the CRMA

  1. Listing of CRMs: The regulation identifies 34 CRMs crucial to the EU’s economy and sets specific benchmarks for member states:
    • Extraction: At least 10% of CRMs should be extracted within the EU.
    • Recycling: 25% of CRMs should be recycled locally.
    • Processing: 40% of CRMs should be processed within the EU.
  2. Strategic Materials: Among the 34 CRMs, a subset of 17 is deemed strategic, and projects involving these materials will benefit from:
    • A more efficient and streamlined permitting process.
    • Facilitated access to finance.
  3. Designated Authorities: Each member state must appoint designated authorities to act as single contact points for permits. In Ireland, there will be separate contact points for extraction and for processing and recycling.

Ireland’s role and potential

Ireland, with its rich geological landscape, established mining history, and mature regulatory frameworks, is well-positioned to help the EU achieve its CRMA targets. The Institute of Geologists of Ireland (IGI) highlights several points:

  • Mining Potential: Ireland could potentially open up to 15 new mines and explore new deposits, particularly of zinc, and revisit closed mines and mine waste facilities.
  • Geological Resources: Ireland has potential deposits of copper, lithium, baryte, antimony, and arsenic awaiting exploration.
  • Existing Infrastructure: Ireland has a mature mining industry with comprehensive geological data and developed regulatory systems.

Challenges and needs

Despite its potential, Ireland faces challenges that need addressing to maximize its contribution:

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  • Workforce: There is a need for more geoscientists. Much of the current workforce in mineral exploration and mining is nearing retirement age, necessitating an emphasis on geology education in secondary and tertiary institutions.
  • Education and Awareness: Increasing career prospects in geoscience must be matched by greater awareness, prioritization, and investment in geology as a subject across the Irish education system.

Conclusion

The CRMA represents a significant step towards ensuring the EU’s long-term supply of critical raw materials, with Ireland poised to play a pivotal role. Leveraging its geological wealth and mining expertise, Ireland can contribute significantly to meeting the EU’s extraction, recycling, and processing benchmarks. However, to fulfill this potential, Ireland must invest in the next generation of geoscientists and strengthen its educational focus on geology.

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