Improving the exploration efficiency in Europe

Improving exploration efficiency in Europe: The new EU project VECTOR aims at evidence-based, freely accessible knowledge and social acceptance.


Europe imports most of its raw materials used in renewable energy and digital technologies. But Europe has its own deposits of key raw materials and boosting domestic production would help to secure strategic and industrial value chains. A new European project VECTOR wants to improve the acceptance and the efficiency of exploration in Europe by developing new technologies and exploration models and providing all stakeholders with guidelines for more sustainable metal sourcing. VECTOR is coordinated by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), 17 partners from seven countries. The EU and the UK are investing 7.5 million Euros over the next three years to improve Europe´s raw materials supply.

The need for raw materials for the green and digital transformations

State of the art technologies, such as in electric cars, wind turbines, and ICT hardware, are essential to the green and digital transformations but are also raw material-intensive. The EU imports 80% of its industrial raw materials, which are necessary to manufacture these technologies. Only 1% of the raw materials needed for wind energy and 2% of the 44 raw materials utilized in robotics are currently provided by the EU production. This dependence on non-EU countries makes European industrial and strategic supply chains highly vulnerable to disruption. To overcome that, Europe has to improve its own value chain.

Environmentally friendly and minimally invasive exploration methods are required

Recycling and reuse of metals are increasing but mining is still required to bring raw materials into the circular value chain of the future. A report by the European Commission on critical raw materials recommends increasing mining of key raw materials in the EU. Richard Gloaguen, project coordinator at HIF, states that “Europe possesses significant mineral potential but development is limited by the lack of sustainable, low-impact exploration methods and by social opposition to mineral projects. Thus, there is a pressing requirement for environmentally friendly and minimally invasive exploration methods to identify new deposits. With VECTOR we will generate new knowledge to overcome these technical and social barriers, unlocking Europe's raw material potential and improving the resilience of EU raw materials supply chains.”

Integrate a more human-centered approach and include all stakeholders

To overcome the known barriers against exploration and mining, all affected parties need to be heard and convinced. That´s why VECTOR's overall objective is to deliver evidence-based and accessible knowledge that integrates the scientific and social pathways to successful mineral exploration and mining.

To gain that, three pillars will be examined:

  1. First, the project team will create a geological prospectivity toolkit based on less invasive geological, geochemical and geophysical measurements. This is an entirely new workflow using machine learning. The workflow will be validated in three European sedimentary basins and transferable worldwide.
  2. The second pillar is a social acceptance procedure that identifies, for the first time, the values that the European public invokes when deciding about mineral development. This will result in a Social Acceptance index and a new body of knowledge that reflects diverse values-based perspectives.
  3. And third, an integrated toolkit consisting of a unique, distributed, multimodal, self-learning, and interactive platform. Both geological exploration potential and socio-economic factors will be considered to yield an assessment of regions more suitable for exploration and, eventually, mining.

VECTOR´s benefit to Europe´s society

The VECTOR project is based on the premise that a prerequisite to any sustainable human activity is to minimize the environmental and social costs and include all the stakeholders in the decision-making processes. Boosting domestic production would help to secure strategic and industrial value chains. It would provide a significant number of skilled, high paying jobs enabling economic growth, including in rural and less-developed areas and it would ensure that mineral extraction complies with strict EU environmental and social standards.

The GFZ focus in the project

Researchers from the GFZ will lead a work-package on “Geoscience Vectors” towards hidden ore deposits in sedimentary rocks. The study will focus on two main study sites; the Zn-Pb systems of the Irish Midlands, and the Cu-mineralized “Kupferschiefer” in Spremberg, Germany. Researchers will study background (barren), weakly mineralized and mineralized rocks to understand the changes in the chemical and geophysical signals associated with ore forming processes. Furthermore, they will test the utility of low, environmental impact, geophysical techniques such as passive seismics and magnetotellurics for imaging subsurface structure, stratigraphy and sulphide deposits at depth. Other partners will contribute initial geological models, quantitative mineralogy, petrophysics and hyperspectral imaging of cores.

All these data will then be integrated in other work packages to produce innovative 3D models and an interactive platform for the visualization of the geoscience and social data to enable communication and decision making by key stakeholders, such as industry, policy makers and the public.

Sarah Gleeson, leading the GFZ part of the project: “The secure and safe supply of metals for green technologies will be a key factor in enabling the energy transition in Europe. In the Vector project interdisciplinary research will not only deliver innovative research and tools to find these resources but also generate key new data on the environmental, social and governance aspects of potentially using those resources.“

The VECTOR Partners:

  • Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Coordinator)
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam – Deutsches Geoforschungszentrum (GFZ)
  • SFI Research Centre for Applied Geosciences hosted by University College Dublin (NUID UCD)
  • Agencia Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)
  • Terranigma Solutions GmbH
  • Asistencias Técnicas Clave SL
  • KSL Kupferschiefer Lausitz GmbH
  • Group Eleven Mining & Exploration Limited
  • EIT RawMaterials GmbH
  • Rio Sava Exploration Doo Beograd
  • Foundation Institute for the Study of Change
  • SRK Exploration Services Ltd.
  • Satarla Ltd.
  • Sazani Associates
  • Natural History Museum London
  • Teck Resources Ltd, Boliden Limited

(UD based on material from Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at HZDR)

Scientific contact:

Prof. Dr. Sarah Gleeson
Head of Section 3.1 Inorganic and Isotope Geochemistry
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
14473 Potsdam
Phone: +49 331 288-27503

Dr. Richard Gloaguen
Project Coordinator
Department Exploration
Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at HZDR
Phone: +49 351 260 4424



Dr. Richard Gloaguen
Project Coordinator
Department Exploration
Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at HZDR
Phone: +49 351 260 4424

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