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Mining refers to the industrial activity consisting of the selective extraction of rocks and minerals existing in the earth’s crust, in such a way that it is economically profitable. In a broad sense, the term mining includes, in addition to underground or open pit operations that require the application of mining techniques or the use of explosives, those necessary for the treatment of the extracted substances, such as crushing, sizing, washing , concentration, etc., in order to condition said substances for sale.
The extractive industry plays a strategic role as a supplier to the rest of the industry of many of the basic raw materials for modern society, in such a way that the possible difficulties in the supply of these mineral raw materials can affect the functioning of the industrial activity. In this line, the European Union has been developing the Raw Materials Initiative since 2008 with the main objective of guaranteeing access to these raw materials, promoting their obtaining from European sources and increasing efficiency in the use of resources, promoting recycling, in order to reduce dependency on third countries.
The steps to guarantee access to raw materials materialize, in the European Union, through different actions, such as the launch in 2017 of the European Alliance for batteries and the most recent, in September 2020, the European Alliance of Raw Materials (ERMA). At the same time, the list of critical raw materials for European industry is regularly reviewed. The latest revision has also been released in September 2020, with the incorporation of minerals with great potential in Spanish mining, such as strontium or lithium.
In 2015, the Action Plan for the Circular Economy was defined to promote the recycling and recovery of waste with the dual aim of keeping materials and resources in the economy for as long as possible and minimizing waste generation. The Spanish Circular Economy Strategy (EEEC) is aligned with the objectives of the two circular economy action plans of the European Union, “Closing the circle: an EU action plan for the circular economy” of 2015 and “A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe” of 2020, in addition to the European Green Deal and the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
In addition, the decarbonization of the economy requires access to new types of mineral resources that are essential for its electrification, for the development of renewable and cleaner energies and eco-efficient technologies. Through the sustainable exploitation of deposits of the more than 70 minerals and rocks that can be found in the country and, in particular, lithium or rare earths, it will be possible, for example, to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles or the digitization of the economy. In addition, a proximity supply will reduce transport needs, limiting emissions and the corresponding impacts on a global scale.