Ireland and Europe must be open to exploration and mining of "critical metals" to ensure the transition to a green economy, according to leading geoscientists.
"Persistent misinformation", however, in relation to exploration activities could eventually impair the sector's ability to support the transition, the Institute of Geologists of Ireland (IGI) warned.
In response, the IGI launched on Monday a science-led series of factsheets to raise awareness of “the role of mineral exploration and mining in meeting Ireland’s future societal, economic, and environmental needs”.
With decarbonisation, the switch from fossil fuels means moving to renewable options such as wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy and battery storage which will create huge demand for critical metals, it warns. “However, society’s awareness is perceived as low that all of these processes are reliant on using a wide variety of metals and minerals.”
IGI spokesman John Barry said: "A future of clean and renewable energy to mitigate climate warming is not possible without metals. Mineral exploration and mining are essential to ensure supply of these metals."
The critical role of mining had become less recognised in an increasingly technological world yet it is one “increasingly reliant on these critical metals”.
"Mineral exploration and mining, which are highly regulated in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, " he underlined.
Available at igi.ie, the series "aims to support learning and help inform the public conversation, including among communities, environmental interest groups, public representatives, and anyone with an interest in Ireland's green energy future".
The series was produced by experts in mineral exploration and mining, and environmental geologists based on the island of Ireland. They also address “outdated perceptions in relation to the industry and its practices, which are subject to rigorous safety and environmental standards and regulation”.
Europe’s green deal recognises the importance of ensuring mined and recycled materials in adopting green technology. “However, raw materials are lost in part or in full at various stages in the circular economy cycle. This means significant challenges still exist when it comes to realising a more circular economy without continued primary metal production,” the IGI notes.
Europe is 75 per cent dependent on imports for almost all metals and up to 100 per cent for some critical minerals. It is lagging behind the rest of the world, the IGI said, yet demand for minerals and metals has reached an all-time high, driven by population increase, advances in modern technologies and moves towards a low-carbon economy.
The Republic has only two working mines though it is a major international source of zinc generated by Tara Mines in Co Meath. Northern Ireland has one mine operated by Irish Salt Mining and Exploration in Co Antrim.
“Ireland can offer more. Strong potential exists to further explore for zinc, in addition to other known metals critical to the green economy which are also found on the island including silver, gold, copper, lead, lithium, barytes, antimony, cobalt, platinum group elements and rare earth elements,” the IGI adds.
Geologists are adapting to work in green energy technologies such as geothermal energy, carbon capture and energy storage, Mr Barry confirmed.