The need to regulate the mining sector is an issue on which international and supra-national institutions have always raised concern. The International Council on Mining and Metals as well as the European Union look at the governmental, operational, environmental, and social implications that the mining sector has at the global level, especially in the developing countries where there is the highest concentration of mines in the world. The discipline of the mining sectors impacts different fields, from environmental directives (i.e. the Climate package, the EC Directive on environmental liability, the Strategic Environmental Assessment, Water Framework Directive, Raw Materials Initiative), to human and social rights protection (i.e. the Chart of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Social Charter).
The European Innovation Partnership (EIP) aim to help raise industry’s contribution to the EU GDP to around 20% by 2020
The EU level: European Innovation Partnership
At the EU level there are a lot of national initiatives and good practices that member states share that aim to implement the EU policy and legislative framework, as in the case of the Raw Materials Initiatives and the more recent European Innovation Partnership (EIP) which aims to help raise industry’s contribution to the EU GDP to around 20% by 2020.
Figure1. List of raw materials under the EIP framework
Under the EIP umbrella the two flagships are “Innovation Europe” and “Resource Efficient Europe”. In order to create a European energy union and, at the same time, promote the cooperation between national and international institutions and businesses. This aspect is particularly interesting for small and medium enterprises as the EU is specifically focusing on “remove obstacles to innovation like expensive patenting, market fragmentation, slow standard-setting and skills shortages” by allowing organizations to digitally transform their business models and, in turn, better differentiate their offerings within the national and international market, while encouraging the creation of new ones.
By digitally transforming, small and medium companies can really provide greatest value to their operations, reducing the existing gap with the leaders
According to IDC, the digital transformation of the mining sector is in progress. Companies need to define a digital strategy must by focusing on data collection and analysis, through analytics and automation. By digitally transforming, small and medium companies can really provide greatest value to their operations reducing the existing gap with the leaders.
When looking at the impact that the EU policy framework has on member states’ legal and economic field, Portugal appears to be a peculiar case. The Portuguese legal system has been largely focused on mining. In particular, since 2011 the Portuguese government declared the necessity to define a national strategy for geographical resource allowing to attract foreign investments while investing on new technologies and sources (following the Law 64-A/2011 disposal).
In 2015, the National Strategy for Geological Resources – Mineral Resources (NSGR-MR) that radically changed the existing Mining Code. NSR-MR was based on four main pillars:
- Adequacy of the bases of the sector by redefining the role of the State and the revision of the rules of organization and discipline of the activity
- Development of knowledge and appreciation of the national potential, through the improvement of collection methods and systematization of information for a better use of resources
- Dissemination and promotion of the national potential
The National Strategy for Geological Resources – Mineral Resources (NSGR-MR) that radically changed the existing Mining Code
- Economic, social, environmental and territorial sustainability.
As member state of the European Union, Portugal is also subject to European legislation which outlines that mining activities must consider tax, waste management, social security, territorial planning, health and safety regulations and the special regulations for the hazardous activities. This governs and directly impacts mining activities like reconnaissance, exploration, and extraction.
Also, in 2015, the so-called Geological Resources Law (Law 54/2015) was approved and it further developed the institutional and legal framework set in 2012. Moreover, a dedicated commission responsible for the evaluation of the national strategy has been created to monitor and review the correct implementation of the national strategy whose responsible institution is the Project Management Office – composed by representatives of the General Directorate for Energy and Geology, the National Laboratory of Energy and Geology, a member of the government that is responsible for the geographical resources, the Mining Development Company, the General Directorate of Natural Resources, Security, and Maritime Services and the Institute for Ocean and Atmosphere based in Portugal.
Business management procedures
According to IDC’s Worldwide Mining Technology Decision Maker Survey, 66% is still not assigning top priority to operational processes innovation in the next three to four years. Indeed, lack of innovation is not perceived as a major business concern for most of mining decision makers. However, more than 40% of mining companies expect an IT budget increasing. Moreover, compliance tracking is perceived as a planned technology investment within operations over the next two years only after mine automation and workforce management system. It is, therefore, essential for European mining companies to focus on data management capabilities, connectivity requirements, security and analytics capabilities.
Existing supranational and national legislation on the mining sectors aims to overcome the digital divide between companies and encouraging the creation of the new initiatives on innovation.
Integrating IT and operational systems is central for companies in order to become digitally determined.
A further aspect that is worth considering is the focus on the cultural and organizational change. This aspect is already mentioned among the EIP on Raw Material’ specific objectives: i.e. achieving concrete targets by 2020 such as the creation of Network of Research, Education and Training Centres on sustainable raw materials management, organized as a Knowledge and Innovation Community. This, in turn, would require enabling collaboration between IT and operations.
In mining industry, the process of digital transformation is in progress. The so-called Industry 4.0 initiative, promoted at the EU level, impacts the mining sector especially in the usage of machines, mobile and interconnected devisers, and more and more sophisticated sensors. The final goal is to generate and manage automated and smart processes.
The European Commission has planned to make available the SME Support Programme across the EU and opened Your Europe Business portal aiming to support SMEs’ exports in Europe
Specially on SMEs, the European Commission has planned to make available the SME Support Programme across the EU and opened “Your Europe” Business portal aiming to support SMEs’ exports in Europe. Starting on 1st January 2021, the related EU Regulation will come into effect. Furthermore, within the 2021-2017 Digital Single Market strategy, the EU plans to encourage new opportunities for digital transformation for SMEs by:
– fostering cooperation projects among member states,
– increasing investments funding innovation- and digital-related programs
– by focusing on AI, cybersecurity, digital skills, supercomputing, and digital technologies.
Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) is a key area for mining companies and these are looking up to digital solutions to mitigate EHS risk. SMEs can save lives, reduce costs and protect the environment as well as elevate operational performance with an integrated EHS risk solution that meets the compliance and sustainability objectives through:
- Managing emissions centrally
- Flexible calculations and formulas
- Data analytics and dashboards
Similarly, SMEs can keep employees and contractors safe by best practice Health and Safety workflows through:
- Mobile data capture online and offline
- Root cause analysis of incidents
- Health and safety risk, hazard and control management
To protect the environment, SMEs can automate environmental compliance and monitoring by
- Manage environmental incidents, hazards and risks
- Collect, store and analyze key environmental metrics
- Track permits, licenses and obligations
Besides, miners are embracing digital tools and capabilities, including cloud-enabled mobility, big data-powered analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) to ensure remote diagnostics of assets and equipment, monitoring of work condition and alert management in case of safety breaches. Digital concepts and framework related to Connected mine, digital twins, automation will increasingly help the SMB players to improve efficiency and reliability of their operation.
Finally, the deep sea contains a vast base of minerals like (minerals and metals such as copper and nickel) with great potential; however, many of these resources are in sensitive ecosystems. In this context, the development of appropriate technological tools and sensors is essential to ensure a sustainable and responsible exploitation of these marine resources and the implementation of strategic actions with national and regional impact.