Pål Thjømøe is Norge Mineraler’s new Sustainable Business Solutions Manager – in charge of overseeing the creation of new products in the future. A geologist by trade – and a UNESCO Global Geoparks site auditor, no less – Pål has a deep passion for sustainability and the circular economy. Here he talks about his background, the impact he hopes to have – and not being afraid to speak out on sustainability issues…
Q. You have taken on the role of Sustainable Business Solutions Manager at Norge Mineraler AS. What are your main responsibilities?
Pål Thjømøe: My job focuses on all the different sustainable activities of the company. This includes analysing and devising a plan for how to create products from any waste that’s created from mining in due course. For example, you can crush the waste rock and use it in asphalt and concrete. And with the finer grade tailings, you can create elements used in concrete. There will be big projects in Europe that need these materials – such as plans in the Netherlands to create a new airport on a new island. You need a vast amount of cement, concrete and rock, essentially, to build something like this. Sustainability must be achieved in an economically viable way. These are the kinds of projects we will be interested in down the line.
Q. How do you hope to have an impact?
Pål Thjømøe: I bring a lot of experience to Norge Mineraler. In Norwegian we have an expression of being ‘a rock in a shoe’. In English it’s to be ‘a thorn in one’s side’. This means that I will not be afraid to say what I mean and speak out. I always care deeply and ensure that we are doing what we are saying. Or if things can be done better, I will make myself heard.
Q. How can mining become more sustainable?
Pål Thjømøe: When you finished the mining process, you should not be able to see what’s happened there. You can recreate the landscape however you want. You need to monitor all activities – going in and out of the mine. And act if operations aren’t as green as they can possibly be. You need to make mining part of the circular economy. Mines are not just in rural areas; towns and bigger cities are also the mines of tomorrow. Above all, we want to make the world a better place to live.
Q. As a geologist, which of Norway’s Critical Raw Materials – vanadium, phosphate, and titanium – excites you most, and why?
Pål Thjømøe: For Europe, it’s increasingly important to have production inside the territory when it comes to Critical Raw Materials. It’s exciting for me to be part of developing the products. For example, vanadium – there will be a huge surge in demand, no doubt, as redox flow batteries advance. These industrial batteries can store vast amounts of renewable energy. Norge Mining could certainly be a huge supplier of these to the European Union. There are also plans to build battery factories close to here.
Q. It’s fascinating that you are an auditor for UNESCO. What’s does that involve?
Pål Thjømøe: Being an auditor for UNESCO has taken me to a wide range of places – from Shetland to China! There is a checklist of requirements, of course, when assessing what sites get to extend their UNESCO Global Geoparks status. It’s my job to ascertain whether existing sites or new sites get a four- or two-year extension (green or yellow card) or are stuck off the list or have to submit a new application (red card). This depends on how much progress has been made. There is a lot of EQ involved. You need to be well versed in the local culture, but also be entirely objective. It’s a very challenging and sensitive job; people are very invested in these applications, and it can make a big difference to tourism and it’s also a question of pride.
Q. Norway has its own UNESCO site, which you’ve been involved in since the beginning – the Magma UNESCO Global Geopark. What is this?
Pål Thjømøe: Norway’s Magma UNESCO Global Geopark has geology of major international importance, recognised by UNESCO, and where sustainable development plays an important role. The ‘Magma geopark’ is in a network of more than 180 UNESCO Global Geoparks in about 45 different countries on five continents. Most of the solid rocks in the area were formed from molten rock – magma – about 930 million years ago. Large volumes of magma crystallised to form the rock type anorthosite. On a global scale, it is a quite rare type of rock – although the light parts of the moon consist of it! We applied for funding back in 2006 and I started as Business Development Officer, then became Director. In 2015 UNESCO ratified a whole global geopark network – these have the same status as world heritage sites.
Q. You’ve also been an Earth Science teacher, inspiring Norway’s next generation of geologists…
Pål Thjømøe: In 2008 the government wanted a new subject in secondary schools called ‘Geoscience’. I started a Geoscience programme in local secondary schools in Egersund and taught about 15-20 students a year. It was exciting to create a new curriculum and I took the kids to many fascinating sites – in Scotland, England, and Slovenia. They could study geology for up to five hours a week. That’s very special. It was a strategic decision by the government to invest in the next generation of geologists.
Q. Have you always had a passion for geology?
Pål Thjømøe: I have tried my hand at a few things; this has given me a variety of skills and disciplines. First, I wanted to be an architect. Then I went on to pedagogy and economics. I’ve even worked at a drug centre for adolescents – helping them through problematic times. But geology has always been a passion of mine; it started at a young age. I grew up beside a lead sink mine from the 18th century. It has a special skarn mineralisation – a magma chamber that contains 120 different minerals. As kids we often looked at the mine and these minerals. At 180 metres depth, I am glad my parents didn’t know about it. My cousin once disappeared for many hours down the mine! We also found some beautiful black garnets. Happy memories of a happy childhood.