The third industrial revolution is transforming our societies at a rapid pace. The transformation is underpinned by the EU’s high-tech economy, which itself relies on extraction and secure supply of raw materials. A resource-efficient Europe is embedded as a Flagship Initiative in the Europe 2020 Strategy. The pathway from searching for new mineral deposits, to discovery, economic evaluation, eventual production, processing and refining is complex and involves a number of sectors (geosciences, chemical analysts, mining, processing, metallurgy) that have tended to work in silos (e.g. geoscientists and chemists being educated in science faculties versus miners and metallurgists being engineers). Limited intersectoral collaboration has led to compartmentalised thinking which has become a major impediment to improved resource and energy efficiency.
The overall aim of MetalIntelligence is to disrupt this compartmentalisation, by training 6 early stage researchers (ESRs) through a multi-disciplinary network of academic and industry leaders with an exceptionally broad range of expertise and skills. MetalIntelligence will provide innovative research across the trans-disciplinary edges of the compartments outlined in Fig. 1. It will train and equip a new generation of leaders in the minerals processing field and provide lasting novel technological and training methods to build capacity in this growing area thus further establishing the EU’s leadership position in minerals processing. Minerals prospecting and processing is an employment growth market with over 350,000 people employed in the sector within the EU. Mineral processing contributes significantly to national carbon footprints (e.g. 5% in Australia) and therefore offers great potential for CO2 reduction. A newly trained, highly skilled workforce, is needed to develop the next-generation method of dynamic and efficient minerals processing. These needs of the sector have informed the original research questions of the ESRs MetalIntelligence.
The programme is arranged as work packages (WPs), including management, training, and dissemination as well as three research-driven packages. The first research-based WP aims to improve mineral analysis in preparation for more efficient processing. The second concerns itself with advanced modelling of dynamic minerals processing. The third will research modern, technology-enhanced training for future professionals. The tailor-made training programme consists of network wide components, delivered by industry and academia leaders as well as specific training in the workplace.
The objectives of MetalIntelligence were designed to align with European innovation capacity policies and the network will contribute to keeping the industries competitive by developing innovative, more gender-balanced human capital for the raw materials sector in Europe.