Geodaysit 2023

Vittoria Olgiati


Earth Observations applied to Critical Raw Materials supply chain
Susanna Grita, Piero Boccardo, Vittoria Olgiati, Alberta Pavone

As humanity is entering the 4th Industrial Revolution, marked by the digital transition, the global demand for strategic minerals is quickly rising. Critical Raw Materials (CRM) are among those commodities which are facing an increasing supply risk due to availability and political reasons. In order to increase EU's self-sufficiency in CRM, there is a growing interest for the identification of mineral resources in Europe and for the stipulation of acceptable trade agreements with diverse external suppliers. With the Raw Materials Act, the European Union commits to a sustainable management of raw materials. This includes promoting sustainable mining, which undertakes to the minimization of social, economic and environmental impacts caused by resource extraction. It means also reducing mining rates, in order to guarantee reserves for future generations. Despite these stringent rules applied to the extractive industry, the conversion to more sustainable practices on a global scale is still slow, and not all countries have translated the principles of sustainable mining to laws or are able to successfully enforce them. In this context, thanks to the increasing availability of aerial and satellite data, mineral and mine facility mapping with optical images is quickly gaining ground. This technique is a cost-effective, non-invasive solution for supporting early-stage exploration and monitoring of extractive facilities. Here we show some examples of how Earth Observations can support the mining industry at different phases of the supply chain. These applications use freely available multi-spectral satellite data, such as Landsat and Sentinel-2 images, as well as commercial high-resolution data, such as Planet. The high temporal resolution, as is the case of Planet and Sentinel-2 products, and the long lifespan of Landsat data, allow to effectively analyze the evolution of mine sites and their surroundings. The outcomes represent preliminary results focused on mineral characterization through band indexes and spectral signature analyses, and impact assessments on the nearby land associated with the extraction sites. The study aims at being a contribution to understanding the current relative standing of the mining sector in the achievement of the sustainable mining targets. It shows, on the one hand, that remote sensing is an innovative tool for identifying and characterizing new, inaccessible resource deposits; on the other, that it is a sufficiently mature technology for measuring the social and environmental footprint of the CRM market on a global scale. As illustrated in the Raw Materials Act, Earth Observations are key to supporting different phases of minerals’ value chain. These results and the related literature may be considered as a benchmark for future research in this domain.
This research is funded by the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience (PNRR) project GeosciencesIR.

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