To mine or not to mine, that is the question

On February 21, 2018, Leuven will host a unique Symposium on the topic of the Social License to Operate for mining (and recycling) of critical metals for cleantech applications. Rather than focusing on the technical challenges for critical metal extraction/recycling, this Symposium takes a step back, reflects on a number of intriguing questions and discusses these with a plethora of stakeholders, ranging from academia, industry, public authorities and, crucially important, civil society. (Leuven, PTJ/17-1-2018)


The rationale for this Symposium is the paradox between the importance of critical metals  for the transition to a low-carbon, cleantech-based economy on the one hand and the not-always-so-positive image of the primary mining industry on the other hand. Clean energy and clean mobility for instance require vast amounts of rare earths (neodymium, dysprosium etc.) for the permanent magnets that are needed in wind turbines or electric motors for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (HEVs). Likewise, energy storage systems and HEVs need even increasing amounts of lithium and cobalt for the Li-ion NMC batteries. Emission control systems require Platinum Group Metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. Unfortunately, the mining of these metals does not always happen in the best environmental and/or human rights circumstances. Mining conflicts in China, Congo or Latin-America are widespread. In Europe, where concentrations of critical metals are less outspoken than in other parts of the world, primary mining is often blocked by local activist groups, who don’t want to see industrial mining activities to take place in “their backyard”. Although there can be good reasons for this rejection, this often may also imply that the environmental burden is shifted to other parts in the world, as clean technologies and also hi-tech electronics (e.g. smart phones, laptops etc.) are critically dependent on the mining of these types of critical metals. Some argue that the West behaves hypocritically: European citizens want to enjoy the luxury of hi-tech electronics (e.g. smart phones and electronics) and a multitude of cleantech products (electric bikes and cars, solar panels, clean energy) but don’t want to share in the burden of the primary production of these metals.

Societal questions

This leads us to a number of questions: How can the primary mining sector clean up its act in and outside Europe? Is responsible mining a pipe dream? How can mining companies obtain and maintain a Social License to Operate? Which interaction is required between industry, policy makers, civil society and local communities? Are they any best practice examples? What is the relation between primary mining of critical metals and recycling of End-of-Life products? Can recycling replace primary mining or is it merely complementary to mining? Which policies are required in Europe to support the recycling industry and how does this relate to the Circular Economy vision? Should we look at our industrial landfills in Europe to recover critical metals from previously dumped, critical metal-containing mining waste and industrial process residues (i.e. Enhanced Landfill Mining)? Are local communities supportive for such a strategy? These questions will form the background for a number of keynote lectures and two panel discussions. Read the full programme here >

The Symposium

The Symposium is organised by SIM² KU Leuven, STUK, i-cleantech Vlaanderen and the Province of Flemish Brabant, who have joined forces with a multitude of other local, Belgian and EU organisations (incl. EIT RawMaterials and EU METGROW+). The Symposium is part of the Arts festival Artefact 2018: This Rare Earth – Stories from Below, the largest in its kind in Flanders. The Symposium will also offer the participants to have a speed trip allowing to enjoy the unique,  rare-earth related artwork that will be exhibited.


Participation is free of charge. Registration is to be done on-line.

Register here (for free) >