A (post-)mining Germany produces approximately 750 mt of resources per year. The top position is held by the German rock industry with its annual production of approximately 500 mt aggregate (gravel, sand, and stones). It might be difficult to imagine that the rapid development of open data, digitalisation, modern communication systems, driverless cars, smart technology and the Internet of Things might be suffering from a lack of resources in the foreseeable future. But exactly that is the central issue to explore: how secure is our supply and the physical availability of resources?
This essay will be looking at current informations and aspects to develop prospects from those. It will be picking up the deposit potential of former mine workings and landfills and link them with the expertise of the mineral resource industry. Moreover, it will deliver an initial assessment of the legal framework and appreciate current research projects in this field. The essay is based on a talk the first-mentioned author gave at the event Raw Materials Day at 12th April 2018 at Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA), Bochum/Germany.
New technologies, also known as future technologies, such as e-mobility, Industry 4.0, production of renewable energies and digitalisation have already been significantly shaping the life of humankind today. Their continual and in-depth implementation is often just discussed considering aspects of energy and infrastructure. What we hardly see is the integration of raw materials as those are often not present in the public and political discussion. Actually, sincere forecasts see an immense increase in the demand for certain raw materials (1). This alone should be one reason for the domestic raw materials industry to investigate more intensively which opportunities this development can provide. The question must be how and what the German mining and mineral resource industries can contribute to close the looming gaps in the supply.
2 Future technologies
The term “future technologies” needs a closer look as it is neither clearly defined nor self-explaining. Figure 1 lists the major topics that are generally summed up by this term. The following paragraphs will briefly describe those considering their relevance for the demand of raw materials.
Battery technology plays a special role within future technologies. At the event Batterietag NRW, which took place in the city of Münster in April 2018, it was assumed that battery technology would advance fast (2). One key driving factor in this is the electric mobility.
In this context, we need to address the concept of coupling sectors: this means that power, heat, and mobility are merging more and more (3). The change of the energy system towards more renewable energy, e. g., is to be followed by similar changes in heat and traffic.
E-mobility is of course a hot topic widely discussed in the general public. However, no decision has been made in favour of the perfect energy source for vehicles, i. e. battery or fuel cell; to a considerable amount, e-mobility also depends on the mode of transport preferred. There are several models in place that reflect the development of e-mobility for individual use, and although they may still look like visions from the future, concepts of swarm or collective mobility based on driverless vehicles will revolutionise individual transport as we know it. As a fact, driverless vehicles and transport have been used in mining for quite a while now: at its Australian open-cast mines in Pilbara, the mining company Rio Tinto has been transporting more than 1 bn t of ore and rock using autonomous trucks (4).
One essential precondition of autonomous driving is digitalisation of which examples are shown in Figure 1. The economic impact of digitalisation cannot be ignored: it is in the backbone of all companies, industries and business models. It is hardly possible to draw lines between real (physical) and digital economy: whether e-commerce in retail, the use of robots in nursing care, online-platforms for craftsmen, industrial 3D printing, social media networks in communication or electronic geo-data to identify and extract resources – all of these examples show that the digital transformation of economy, production and customer relations provide a key challenge especially for highly or even post-industrial regions such as North Rhine-Westphalia.
Some buzzwords have become more and more popular over the last few years. One of those is the term “smart”, usually teamed up with words like “home”, “grid”, “city”, “meter”, “watch” and so on. Smart means sophisticated, intelligent, clever and ingenious. Smart is used to mark or identify uses of digital technologies and innovations which concern societal and economic issues. By the way, this term also stands for the use of most versatile sensors which are part of a network and communicate using the internet.
Digitalisation is also evident in the applications for virtual reality and augmented reality. Here, the technology used refers to the representation and perception of reality and its physical properties in an interactive and virtual environment which is generated in real time. The enlargement of perception can involve all senses and is often used to visualise additional information, e. g., on important objects such as sights (historical facts), institutions (opening times), public transport (time-tables) and so on. In other words, the walk through the main shopping street of the holiday destination can already be anticipated when preparing the trip, thus receiving a number of additional details.
Closely linked to the concept of augmented reality is the Internet of Things (IoT), in other words, the communication of most different objects with each other via the Internet. The material essence of the IoT are billions of networked decentral devices. This IoT includes the fridge and the coffeemaker in your home as well as the smartphone or the delivery truck of a logistics company. Although the IoT inarguably provides many positive features, it also requires highly professional management, e. g., when it comes to data security and privacy. The recent significant increase in cyberattacks is a rather worrying trend. To prevent such attacks is one of the main tasks of the German Federal Office for Information Security.
A similar large-scale impact as by the IoT has been delivered by the concept of Industry 4.0, briefly illustrated by the examples given in Figure 1. This fourth industrial revolution is based on cyber-physical systems in which software components use the internet to communicate with both mechanical and electronic parts. The term “cyber”, derived from cybernetics, here refers to the control and monitoring of machines, organisations and other objects.
The German Federal Ministry of Economics (BMWi) defines Industry 4.0 as an idea which represents the internal further development of the production and value chains of both the real and the digital world: “When components communicate independently with the production plant and, if needed, even initiate their own repair – when humans, machines and industrial processes form one intelligent network: that is Industry 4.0” (5). In this context, robotics and the use of 3D printers also play a pivotal part.
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the topics “Artificial Intelligence” and “Deployment of Robots” had taken centre stage and been widely discussed. The messages conveyed there underline the immense speed of innovation. Another future technology is that of e-harvesting: to harvest energy means to use renewable energies as well as to recover the heat which is released when, e. g., braking a car.
We would like to complete this brief overview of future technologies by mentioning the sensors installed in the orbit for the purpose of environmental monitoring. This is a very concrete example of what big data stands for. The European earth observation programme Copernicus uses Sentinel satellites which deliver a data volume of more than 100 terabytes each day, which means an annual data volume that can only be measured in petabytes.
3 Demand for resources
What now are the key mineral resources when it comes to meeting the demand for raw materials in future technologies? One focus resource is copper, followed by in particular lithium, cobalt, rare-earths metals, graphite and nickel. Recent studies undertaken by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) and the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA) show a dramatic increase in demand for those mineral resources. The specific requirements on these resources are high and thus, they can hardly be substituted by others. In addition, current recycling rates of the resources mentioned above are overall low. As a consequence, the market can only be supplied with these resources by mining operations.
Figure 2 shows the example of the demand for copper in the automotive industry and in power generation. The increased demand for copper is obvious. The coupling of sectors, i. e. the use of renewable energies to generate mobility and heat, has already been mentioned above. Without offshore wind farms, the turnaround in energy supply can hardly be achieved. As a result, pressure in the resources market will increase. Significantly growing demand, e. g., in the automotive industry, is also forecast for lithium, cobalt, the rare-earths metals and graphite (6).
Another important aspect that has been receiving more attention is the ethical aspect of sourcing those mineral resources. Apple, e. g., is currently providing informing on the origin of the cobalt used in its iPhones. The company is eager to demonstrate that this cobalt is not produced by means of child labour in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo, worldwide the largest supplier of cobalt. This response was triggered by an investigation of Amnesty International which reported that approximately 20 % of the cobalt production in the DR Congo is provided by small mines using child labour. Apple is now planning to procure cobalt directly from trusted mining companies to produce the batteries of its iPhones (8). In Germany, too, NGOs are drawing attention to the global social and ecological impact of the increased demand for raw materials (9). Against this backdrop, the high standards of deployment and management of personnel, occupational health and safety and environmental protection give the German raw materials industry a significant cutting edge.
4 The supply situation
To what extent can the increased demand for mineral resources be satisfied globally, and to what extent are such resources physically available (and accessible)? This question also includes the discussion whether and in which scope the German raw materials industry can contribute to meeting this demand. To answer this question, further transparency is needed.
At this point, it is worthwhile to visit the online portal ROSYS (10). The DERA, based at the BGR, offers the industry an information service on queries of raw materials management. Interactive maps and charts can be used to keep up-to-date with the development on the international resource markets and to analyse and assess those developments. By the way, the domestic industry will not only be facing a shortage of mineral resources, but also the concentration of such resources in the hands of a few suppliers.
Recently, the Federation of German Industry (BDI) has published a white paper on “raw materials supply 4.0” which contains action plans of how to establish a sustainable raw materials policy in the age of digitalisation (11). According to that paper, future technologies “Made in Germany” could help to maintain the industrial contribution (primary and secondary sector) which amounts to 23 % of Germany’s gross national product (GDP). Politics and industry both have expressly declared their intention to position Germany as a leading provider and a leading market of Industry 4.0 products and services. Therefore, this essay will analyse which impact the availability of mineral resources has on Germany as a place of industrial production. In its white paper, the BDI has defined eight action plans for German politics. One of them includes the recommendation to strengthen the domestic mineral resource industry. It could be worthwhile to find out which other steps the BDI is willing to take with regard to national issues.
5 New deposits
Looking at the situation described above, the questions arise which prospects can be developed, and which strategies can be pursued? Against the backdrop of the demand for raw materials and the boost of domestic mining, three threads gain impact: urban mining, landfill mining and also the recovery or recycling of the residues left by previous mining activities. Urban mining aims at winning resources from waste, viewing densely populated areas as deposits of such resources. Urban mining does not only include the use of deposits within urban areas, but instead deals with the entire inventory of durable goods (12). The term landfill mining identifies one specific sector of urban mining, i. e. the redevelopment of landfills and waste dumps which are targeted as secondary sources of raw materials. If the process encompasses the recovery of resources, the term enhanced landfill mining is used (13).
Old mine heaps and sludge settling ponds as well as remnants of former mining activities are also potential deposits of relevant mineral resources (Figure 3). Those parts of former mining works have to be assessed using status reports, potential analyses and project planning; where renaturation is possible, targeted communication activities have to accompany that process.
There are a number of starting points that look promising. In this context, we think it requisite to mention one information system of the North-Rhine Westphalian mining authority. Based on the state act of soil protection, the district government in Arnsberg records former historical mining operations all over Germany and archives the data compiled in a catalogue called “Bergbau Alt- und Verdachtsflächen Katalog” (14). Another source of information for this purpose can be the results of an examination survey that was executed by the Fraunhofer UMSICHT institute at mine heaps (15).
The concept to combine the development of deposits with the clean-up of mining residues provides the opportunity to add the value of domestic raw materials meeting the demand of future technologies and to safely control the existing waste deposits left behind by mining. There is the justified question what the economic framework of a mining production in those deposits would be. This is something that needs to be checked and answered in each individual case. It is obvious that former mining objects can provide environmental impact. However, this impact might be reduced if the raw material source is tapped into. Former mining objects are one focal point of post-mining endeavours and, based on the risk level assigned require either monitoring, safe isolation or redevelopment. The situation sketched there implies the opportunity to generate a renewed mining life cycle, following the motto: “It ain’t over when it’s over!”
6 Legal framework
The legal assessment of the raw materials production in former waste dumps, abandoned structures, sludge settling ponds and, in particular, landfills of any kind, is a complex matter. Insofar, only some fundamental aspects can be discussed here. The use of the term landfill shows that mineral stockpiles are not included. The landfills of former mineral resources production include
- old mine heaps as defined in §128 BBergG (Federal Mining Act);
- heaps and other landfills from abandoned owner’s mining (not supervised by the mining authority); and
- old sludge settling ponds resulting from mining activities.
The following paragraphs will investigate the above-mentioned three types of landfills regarding the following aspects: Which legal regime applies to the three landfill types? Which legal framework would generally apply to the resources they harbour? And, in addition, who holds the power of disposition (matter of civil law) over the landfills in question?
6.1 Legal regime for anthropogenic landfills from previous mineral resources production
According to § 128 BBergG, the exploration and production of mineral raw materials in old mine heaps is subject to the pertinent regulations of the BBergG if these raw materials are defined as mineral resources according to § 3 (3, 4) BBergG and result from a previous exploration, production or processing (16). If such mineral resources are not identified inside the mine heap, then the Federal Mining Act does not apply.
German law defines mine heaps as artificial heaping of rock mass extracted from a mine which has been disposed of as no longer exploitable without or after processing (17). This definition of a mine heap is – as far as it is solely limited to rock mass – too narrow and does not consider the long-standing mining practice of disposing of other materials together with the rocks in the landfill.
When it comes to intervening in an old mine heap, § 128 BBergG defines the exploration and production of mineral resources as a mining activity. Regardless how these terms are to be construed with regard to § 4 (1, 2) BBergG, the wording of § 128 obviously means that the processing of recovered raw materials does not fall under this rule (18). This leads to the conclusion – which has been justifiably criticised – that the processing of recovered raw materials is subject to other legal regulations, in particular those of immission control law.
Taking into account the simply corresponding application of the rules stated in § 128 BbergG, there is a strong argument that the recovery from old mine heaps should be legally regarded like open cast mining as stipulated in § 1 (2; 1b) UVP-V Bergbau (19). This would mean that principally general mining plans including an environmental impact assessment according to § 52 (2a) BBergG would be considered.
Mine heaps and other landfills from abandoned owner’s mining – which had not been supervised by the mining authority – are not subject to § 128 BBergG as they are not the result of any former exploration, production or processing of (non-mining or owner’s) mineral resources. Thus, they are to be defined as digging and filling according to German building law and thus subject to the legislation of construction planning and building law.
To answer the question which regulations apply to old sludge-settling ponds which result from mining activities, it needs to be checked whether the settling pond is still covered with water or not. If the pond is still covered with water, it is a surface waterbody as defined in § 3 (1) WHG (Water Resources Act) or as an artificial waterbody as defined in § 2 (4) WHG. In such cases, it is subject to the regulations of water law. However, if the pond is now longer covered with water, it is to be specified as a sediment area according to § 29 (1) BauGB (German Federal Building Code).
6.2 Civil law: right of disposition over the landfills
In addition to the queries of public law regarding the recovery of resources from landfills, a civil-law aspect plays an important part, too, i. e. that of the power of disposition. Only the person or organisation that has this power is permitted to recover resources or to commission their recovery.
The power of disposition over the mineral resources in old mine heaps as defined in § 128 BBergG depends on the ownership of the old mine heap. § 128 BbergG assumes that there must have been a production concession of some kind in place for the pertinent mine when the mine heap was filled. If no concession holder exists any longer, the mine heap material becomes ownerless according to § 958 BGB (German Civil Code). Thus, the owner of the land where the mine heap was filled can acquire the mine heap material. Regarding the power of disposition over mine heaps and landfills from abandoned owner’s mining – which had not been supervised by the mining authority – it has to be assumed that the mine heap is the property of the respective landowner. The power of disposition over old sludge-settling ponds resulting from mining activities is subject to the legal regulations described above.
The recovery of mineral resources from landfills of former raw materials extraction and protection produces numerous legal issues which can only be given a cursory glance in this essay. Some issues need an in-depth investigation to cover even rare cases. One can only hope that the legal obstacles are not too high to be overcome in order to level the path for such an efficient method of winning resources in the future.
7 New prospects for the raw materials industry
Domestic rock resources which are overall mined in quarries are mainly sold to the construction and construction materials industries. More than half of those materials are used for publicly funded projects, mostly infrastructure, building and civil engineering and landfill construction. Due to their high transport costs they should be produced close to their place of consumption. The geological deposits of such domestic rock resources are available all over Germany in top quality for many generations to come. However, their production h application of networked intelligence, starting at the digitalised deposit, through quality-controlled extraction planning and continual product tracking to the generation of reproductive product qualities, will bring about completely new application options for rock resources. Key product qualities, e. g., for the concrete production, the biggest customer of the industry, are overall physical properties such as grain shape and rock hardness and the grainsize distribution. If such quality features are precisely specified and can be met over long supply periods with only little deviation, then new reinforcement systems can be supplied for modern construction methods such as 3D printing and filigree wall construction. Such construction methods aim at e. g. achieving the same construction properties (of dynamics and stability) using fewer resources. If, parallel to these developments, the aggregates from recycling can be refined further, then they will also be used for construction materials of low or medium load in the future. That would mean a use of new resources predominantly for high-load construction parts and, in turn, would reduce the use of natural resources significantly.
8 Obtaining information, research projects
The development of domestic sources of raw materials in order to ensure future supply of the market with urgently needed mineral resources should make use of research projects – both completed and running projects – as sources of information. For this purpose, key projects to refer to are among others the following: the heap register of BGR/Fraunhofer UMSICHT (REStrateGIS); the programmes EIT RawMaterials with its RE-ACTIVATE network, and the EIT RawMaterials: Stings project of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology; the earth observating programme COPERNICUS, and the landfill mining project of BMBF/FONA. Together with its partners in science and business, Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola (THGA), Bochum/Germany, has been active in the research fields of the EIT and Copernicus for a considerable time.
REStrateGIS is the conceptual design and development of a resource register for slag heaps of former smelters. It uses geo-information technology to develop a strategy for recovering and recycling materials (15). The EIT RawMaterials programme is the most important research network for raw materials in Europe (20). The newly created network RE-ACTIVATE, which has been established as a part of EIT RawMaterials, focuses on the recommissioning of abandoned mines and the (re)valuation of deposits; to achieve that, it bundles the scientific-technical expertise of the EIT partners (21). Another project of EIT called STINGS is geared towards the technical development and combination of ground-based and satellite-supported methods for monitoring tailing basins (22). STINGS also intends to evaluate the substances in plants regarding their resource content and the hazardous potential.
Co-funded by the FONA programme (research for sustainable development) of the Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) guidelines could be developed for improved landfill mining and the redevelopment of landfills and waste dumps (13, 23). One key assumption of these guidelines is that landfill mining is not just a question of whether it is feasible, but also of the conditions which are in place, which are to be expected and which need to be created: location-specific assessments are compulsory.
The apparent demand for mineral resources of future technologies can open new prospects for the domestic raw materials industry. The long mining tradition in Germany has not only established a highly-developed raw materials industry, but also produced a nearly unmanageable number of abandoned mining objects, landfills and sludge-settling ponds. All in all, this means that the physical and the technical potential for recovering relevant resources does exist. The initiation of new mining projects in a post-mining era can lead to synergy effects when it comes to the elimination of existing waste deposits, creating high-value areas for different purposes, the recovery and production of resources as well as agriculture and environmental protection.
Those ideas are supported by the results of research projects undertaken by different parties and the interest of specialist institutes. The collaboration of companies in mining and industrial minerals with the relevant authorities and scientific institutes provides the opportunity to tackle technical, economic and legal challenges. To promote timely and open communication it is paramount that transparency and understanding are established in the general public, politics and authorities in charge of licenses and concessions.
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(18) Boldt, G., Weller, H., Kühne, G., von Mäßenhausen, H.: BBergG, 2. Aufl., 2015.
(19) Verordnung über die Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfung bergbaulicher Vorhaben vom 13. Juli 1990 (BGBl. I S. 1420), die zuletzt durch Artikel 2 Absatz 24 des Gesetzes vom 20. Juli 2017 (BGBl. I S. 2808) geändert worden ist.“
(20) EIT – European Institute of Innovation and Technology (2018): Developing raw materials. URL: https://eitrawmaterials.eu/ (zuletzt geprüft 25.4.2018).
(21) EIT – RE-ACTIVATE (2017): Developing superior technical infrastructure throughout EIT RawMaterials community to foster technologies and methodologies for re-activation of former mine sites. URL: https://eitrawmaterials.eu/project/re-activate/ (zuletzt geprüft 25.4.2018).
(22) EIT – STINGS (2017): Supervision of Tailings by an Integrated Novel Approach to combine Ground-based- and Spaceborne Sensordata. URL: https://eitrawmaterials.eu/project/stings/ (zuletzt geprüft 25.4.2018).
(23) r3-Projekt TÖNSLM (2016): Leitfaden zum Enhanced Landfill Mining. URL: https://www.fona.de/mediathek/r3/pdf/20160614_Master_LF_StGR1_final_SD.pdf (zuletzt geprüft 25.4.2018).