Henrik Schiellerup is the Geological Survey of Norway’s (NGU) Director of Resources and Environment. That involves the country’s metals, industrial minerals, natural stone and construction materials; all manner of rich resources below the ground. It’s an intriguing job, given Norway’s abundance of EU Critical Raw Materials – 30, as of 2020. Here Henrik talks to us about Norway’s next steps when it comes to not only producing materials much needed for the clean energy transition, but also its viability of hosting entire value chains in the future.
Q. What makes Norway’s geology so unique?
Henrik Schiellerup: The Norwegian bed rock spans a time interval of almost 2.5 billion years and the oldest rock types in Norway are 2.7 billion years old. Our bedrock is quite exposed and visible in dramatic landscapes in many places along the Norwegian coast and inland areas. Everyone can see with their own eyes the geological processes that have occurred through time. So, age variety and changing geological environment through 2.5 billion years are significant factors. Future value creation based on Norwegian geology and geological resources is an integral part of NGU’s mission, and identifying areas with possible future resources is a basic premise for NGU’s systematic mapping of Norway. But we do not only work with resources. Our land is susceptible to avalanches and clay slides, and security and protection against geohazards another big part of our work. Seabed geology, environmental themes, water and surficial geology are also within our sphere of work. But today, our minerals are the focus of increasing outside attention, with the demand for metals and minerals needed for green technologies surging.
Q. How involved is the NGU with the European Union regarding Critical Raw Materials?
Henrik Schiellerup: We are deeply involved in the European Union’s criticality work and the European focus on raw materials needed for European industry extends also to Norway. Norway is not part of the EU, but we are part of the inner market, Schengen and several other common EU structures. We are Europe’s biggest graphite producer, and Norwegian graphite is important for the EU. Graphite is considered critical and necessary for lithium-ion batteries in electric cars, mobile technologies etc. The EU also imports 30% of the silicon metal needed in the Union from Norway. Silicon is a good example of a complete Norwegian value chain, where little more than 100 people work with the extraction of quartz and quartzite – which is subsequently refined to silicon and silicon alloys through the work of several thousands.
And we also produce titanium; Norway is Europe’s biggest producer of titanium minerals. Norway has a documented potential for several other critical metals and minerals, some of which were produced in Norway in earlier times, including cobalt, vanadium and phosphate. And there is active exploration also for rare earth elements (REE). For Europe, the issue is clear. Europe hardly produces anything – just 2 or 3% of the world’s minerals and metals. But, we are veracious consumers claiming probably in excess of 20% of world production. In recent years, our main concern has been the accelerating demand for metals needed for decarbonisation. But now we have the Ukrainian conflict contributing to our already existing supply chain concerns.
Q. On that note, is the current geopolitical situation putting an increased focus on Norway and its viability as a CRM producer and supplier?
Henrik Schiellerup: The NGU is working systematically with promoting the Norwegian resource potential and we are continually improving the geological datasets needed for the industry to target their investigations. We do have an active and living exploration industry, but of course, we would like to see more companies exploring in Norway. Now suddenly, we have the war in Ukraine in Europe, and Russia is a gigantic country with equally gigantic resources. Embargoes are causing havoc around the world and this certainly might speed up and increase the attention Norway gets. When it comes to raw materials, Europe is actually in deep trouble right now, in my opinion. Europe could, for example, never introduce embargoes against China, because China controls so many of the raw materials that are needed by Europe and European industry .
Q. Can Norway offer the entire value chain when it comes to certain minerals and metals?
Henrik Schiellerup: Absolutely. I’ve already mentioned our silicon metal value chain. We have roughly 150 people working in the mining and quarrying of silicon metal. And we have approximately 3,000 people working in refinement. We are now looking very intensely at a value chain strategy for sustainable raw materials for batteries – from resource to product. There are three battery projects in Norway right now. We’ve all had faith in a functioning global market for so long. But now there’s no guarantee that emerging battery factories can obtain the lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite they need in their production. Many supply chains are already broken and raw materials need to be increasingly part of downstream strategies. That’s really important.
Q. How accessible are Norway’s harbours?
Henrik Schiellerup: We are on the Northern Latitudes and we are a coastal nation. We have fairly warm waters. That means all Norway’s harbours are ice free. This is a huge asset in terms of shipping things out of the country. Our northernmost harbour is close to the Sydvaranger iron mine in Kirkenes, close to the Russian border. Of course, we all worry about climate change, but alternative sea routes across the Arctic Ocean also represent an opportunity for shipping raw materials from Norway to Asia. On land, we are not Siberia; we have excellent infrastructure and the country’s inhabited along the whole length of the land. What’s more, Norway is an old mining nation.
Q. How do Norwegians feel about mining?
Henrik Schiellerup: Mining is an encroachment into nature. There’s no escaping that. But, modern mining is not like the old times, and modern day mining projects in Norway are under intense scrutiny. All mining projects are challenged on how they’ll impact the land, the environment and communities, as they must be. Impacts must be minimised. The Norwegian Mineral Industry – the national mining association in Norway – has adopted the ‘Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM)’ initiative, a corporate social responsibility programme developed by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC). This aims to improve environmental and social practices in the mining industry. Raw materials are considered important to the future development of Norway, in generating land-based industry. But this needs to be more than just mining. We need to make sure we create value chains with plenty of jobs for Norwegian people. So, there’s a whole matrix of expectations that exploration companies must now adhere to. You have to show people that you’re doing your very best and that all actions are fact-based. Mining companies can’t just do whatever they want to make money; everything has to be done properly.