Stepping up the international cooperation for the sustainable supply of raw materials

Dina Carrilho*

*Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), Av. D. Carlos I, 126, 1249-074 Lisboa, Portugal


ERA-MIN is a pan-European network of R&I funding programmes in the non-energy and non-agricultural raw materials sector that has established cooperation with Argentina and South Africa. Analysis of the transnational cooperation between the 12 countries involved in the 13 R&I projects funded under two ERA-MIN joint calls shows significant cooperation across the EU and with non-EU countries, covering the different value chain areas for the sustainable supply of raw materials in Europe. Moreover, significant participation of companies from most of the countries is observed, although it is not equally distributed by the thematic areas. Future joint calls aim to mobilise more companies to cover the whole raw materials value chain and to promote the shift to a circular economy.

The EU raw materials policy context

The technologies and systems that support the current lifestyle of the developed economies are based on products that require a wide range of raw material inputs. Many sectors of the economy, such as construction, machinery, chemicals, automotive, aerospace, information technologies and conventional and renewable energy would be constrained if raw material supplies were interrupted. Securing access to a sustainable supply of raw materials, such as minerals, is of utmost importance and crucial for the economy, competiveness and growth of European industry and for society as a whole, in line with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy for developing the EU into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy (European Commission, 2010).

The “Raw Materials Initiative” (European Commission, 2008) is the medium- to long-term integrated EU strategy covering non-energy and non-agricultural raw materials and is based on the ‘three pillars’:

  1. Ensure access to raw materials from international markets under the same conditions as other industrial competitors;
  2. Set the right framework conditions within the EU in order to foster the sustainable supply of raw materials from European sources;
  3. Boost overall resource efficiency and promote recycling to reduce the EU’s consumption of primary raw materials and decrease the relative import dependence.

The first pillar is being implemented through Raw Materials Diplomacy (strategic partnerships and policy dialogues) with non-EU countries. So far, political agreements and letters of intent for raw materials (mostly during the Missions for Growth) have been signed with Latin American countries (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru), the EuroMed countries (Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt) and Greenland. The Commission maintains policy dialogues with China, Russia, the US, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the countries of the African Union (For more information:

The European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials (EIP Raw-Materials) was launched in 2012 to promote innovation in the raw materials sector under three pillars: technology, non-technology and international cooperation (European Commission, 2012a). For the sustainable access of the European industry to non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials, its action plan – the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) ( – was launched in 2013. The main objective of the EIP on Raw Materials is to contribute to the 2020 objectives of the EU’s Industrial Policy – raising industry’s contribution to the EU’s GDP to around 20% – and the objectives of the flagship initiatives ‘Innovation Union’ and ‘Resource Efficient Europe’.

A Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) that brings together academia and business organisations of all the European Member States has been established to boost the EU’s innovation capacity across the whole value chain for mineral resources. The strategic objectives of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology on Raw Materials (EIT on Raw Materials) are to: secure raw materials supply, design solutions, and close material loops. It will focus on four strategically relevant markets for Europe with significant potential for job creation and export to international markets: mobility, machinery & equipment, information & communication technology and energy.

European Research Area-Networks (ERA-NETs)

The European Research Area-Networks (ERA-NETs) are public-public (P2P) partnerships and are one of the instruments of the EU RTD Programme to accomplish the objectives of the European Research Area (European Commission, 2012b). Seventy one ERA-NET actions, either thematic or targeting a region or a country in the globe, were funded for the first time under the 6th Framework RTD Programme (2002-2006) ( In the 7th Framework RTD Programme (2007-2013), besides ERA-NETs, a new instrument was created, the ERA-NET Plus actions. This kind of P2P partnership is being supported in the Horizon 2020 programme (2014-2020) through the new ERA-NET Cofund actions (ERA-LEARN 2020: The only eligible partners for these ERA-NET Cofund actions are organisations that define strategies and priorities and fund national collaborative projects (e.g. ministries, funding agencies).

The main objective of the ERA-NET Cofund actions is to promote the cooperation and co-ordination of research and innovation funding programmes; not only across European Union Member States but also with non-EU countries and regions (e.g. Associated countries and Third countries), thus mitigating ongoing duplication and fragmentation of scientific research and public funding and fostering transnational collaboration among academic and industrial researchers in common global challenges and priorities.

Cooperation between funding organisations within ERA-NETs usually includes joint activities such as mapping, strategies alignment, dissemination, monitoring, and international cooperation, with the ultimate goal to implement joint transnational ‘calls for proposals’ based on agreed research topics and procedures. Under the joint calls organised by ERA-NETs, small transnational R&I consortia (ranging between 3–5 partners from 2–4 countries) are supported, where each research partner is funded by the respective participating funding organisation of their country following national rules and procedures. Since the support is provided for coordinated and focused projects run by small consortia, this scheme provides the framework to promote the internationalisation of national and regional research and innovation communities, complementing national and regional scientific programmes. The ERA-NET Cofund scheme could be attractive to newcomers from academia, SMEs and industry within both EU and non-EU countries. The expansion of existing partnerships or the development of new partnerships in funded R&I consortia under the ERA-NET programme could facilitate future applications to larger R&I projects (e.g. Horizon 2020).

ERA-MIN – the pan-European network on Raw Materials

In November 2011, ERA-MIN, the ERA‐NET on the “Industrial Handling of Raw Materials for European industries”, was one of the ERA-NET projects funded under the 7th Framework Programme. For the first time, 11 funding organisations (e.g., ministries and funding agencies) of nine European countries gathered in a network aiming at cooperation and co-ordination of research and innovation funding programmes in the three segments of non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials: metallic, construction and industrial minerals.

After four years, funding organisations from EU and non-EU countries with common priorities and challenges were invited to join the network and as a result ERA-MIN was successfully enlarged to 15 full partners and 6 associate partners from 15 EU countries and from two non-EU countries, Argentina and South Africa.

The research and innovation gaps and major challenges were identified through the mapping of the European Non-Energy Raw Materials Community, the Stakeholders Forum and the annual Stakeholders Conferences. Almost 150 experts from academia and industry drafted a Roadmap for Research Priorities for the next five to ten years in the non‐energy non-agricultural raw materials sector, which has been used as a background document of the SIP of the EIP on Raw Materials. The topics of the ERA-MIN Research Agenda cover the entire mineral raw materials value chain, from primary to secondary resource to the substitution of critical materials, as well as cross-cutting issues such as public policy support, environmental and social impacts, public perception, international cooperation, education and outreach (Vidal et al., 2013).

ERA-MIN joint calls analysis

Based on common challenges and priorities as described in the ERA-MIN Research Agenda (Vidal et al., 2013), ERA-MIN launched three joint calls for transnational research proposals in 2013, 2014 and 2015, to which 5, 11 and 12 countries, respectively, committed national funds to support a total of 17 transnational projects corresponding to a total of €13 million of public funding. Italy and UK were associate partners and Slovakia was a full member that did not participate in any of the joint calls because they could not commit national funds at that time.

Whereas the pilot joint call for transnational research projects in 2013 addressed only the “Sustainable and Responsible Supply of Primary Resources in Europe”, the 2014 and 2015 joint calls focused on the “Sustainable Supply of Raw Materials in Europe” by addressing the entire value chain of mineral raw materials: from primary resources to secondary resources (recycling) and the substitution of critical materials. So far, ‘needs-driven’ research has always been the joint call’s scope but areas of Public Policy Support and Minerals Intelligence or Education and International Cooperation could also be addressed. In addition to the five countries (Finland, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Sweden) that participated in the pilot joint call 2013, other EU and non-EU countries joined the second joint call 2014, namely Argentina, France, Hungary, South Africa, Spain and Turkey. In the third joint call 2015, two new countries joined (Germany and Ireland) but Spain did not participate.

The results reported here will not take into consideration the pilot joint call since it only addressed primary resources and only five countries were involved. More information on the funded projects’ summaries, consortia and call statistics under the first two joint calls, 2013 and 2014, are summarised in the ERA-MIN Project Catalogue (2015) available at the ERA-MIN website, which will be updated with the results of the joint call 2015.

The 13 funded transnational projects under the two ERA-MIN joint calls 2014 and 2015 were analysed to identify the partnerships established between the participating countries as well as the research topics addressed in those partnerships. Considering the funded project consortia, the number of partners ranged from three to eleven, coming from a range of two to seven countries. Each of the funded projects could address more than one of the three main topics, namely: Topic 1 – Primary resources; Topic 2- Secondary resources and Topic 3 – Substitution of critical materials. For that reason, five different combinations of topics were identified in the funded projects: five on Topic 1, four on Topics 1 and 2; two on Topic 2, one on Topics 2 and 3 and one on Topic 3.

Portugal, Finland, Romania, France, South Africa, Poland and Sweden have participated in both joint calls and were the countries with the highest number of funded projects: Portugal has supported seven joint projects and Sweden four projects. On the contrary, Germany and Spain have participated in only one joint call and have supported one project each. It is worth noting that a Norwegian company and a German research institute have joined a funded project with own funding in the ERA-MIN joint call 2014, in which Germany did not commit national funds and the Norwegian funding organisation did not participate.

There are several reasons that can justify why a country did not support any project, such as, no significant engagement of their institutions in establishing consortia, not being recommended for funding by the independent scientific peer-review of submitted projects, or the non-availability of funding from a country. It should be noted that in the case of Turkey, the funding programme could only support Turkish companies which did not apply.

Figure 1 displays the established partnerships between countries for the 13 funded projects and their distribution by the three main topics. When considering the funded projects addressing both Topics 1 and 2, Portugal and Romania established partnerships in three projects whereas France and Sweden were partners in two projects as well as Portugal and Sweden; and Romania and Sweden. Finland and South Africa participated in two projects addressing only Topic 1. The other countries have only established one partnership in the different combination of topics.

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Figure 1: Partnerships established between countries in the projects funded under ERA-MIN joint calls 2014 and 2015. The size of the circles in each country reflects the total number of projects with partners from that country. The thickness of the connecting lines reflects the number of partnerships.

It is worth to note that both South Africa and Argentina have participated in consortia covering all three topics; however, while South Africa established a partnership with all participating countries, Argentina partnered with just Poland, Portugal, Romania and South Africa. On the contrary, France and Sweden addressed only Topics 1 and 2.

No cooperation was established between Portugal and Finland despite the high number of funded projects in each country. The lack of partnerships between Spain and other countries (Argentina, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Sweden) could be just a reflection of the low number of funded projects by Spain (only one) and does not necessarily reflect the potential cooperation between those countries.

Companies corresponded to 22 % of the total participants in joint call 2014 and are partners in a high number of funded projects in all call topics. Almost 80% of the Finnish participants are companies, of which more than 60% addressed Topic 1. In other countries, less than 50% of the participants are companies (Figure 2(A)). Finland and Portugal have the highest company participation, especially covering Topic 1, when compared to the total number of participants (Figure 2(B)). Interestingly, there is no cooperation between companies of these two countries, as depicted in Figure 1, eventually pinpointing the existence of two clear hubs.


Figure 2: Company distribution per country and per topic in the funded projects under ERA-MIN joint calls 2014 and 2015. (A) Number of companies in relation to the total participants of each country. (B) Number of companies in relation to the total participants in the joint calls.

Companies from all countries except France, Romania and Spain are cooperating in projects covering Topic 1. Companies from Finland, France, Poland, Portugal and Romania have participated in consortia that covered Topic 2, Topics 1 and 2, and Topics 2 and 3 while only companies from Poland, Portugal and Romania are cooperating in Topic 3 and Topics 2 and 3 (Figure 2).

Future perspectives

Building on the experience and lessons learnt from the ERA-MIN programme, an ERA-NET Cofund on Raw Materials has been selected for funding under Horizon 2020, to implement a European-wide coordination of research and innovation programs on Raw Materials through (1) a joint call for proposals with EU co-funding in 2017 and (2) additional joint calls. The international cooperation will be further strengthened in the raw materials sector in Europe through the enlargement to almost all EU countries relevant to the raw materials sector, as well as to other countries outside Europe that are global leaders in mining, which will guarantee the global dimension of the R&I transnational projects to be publically funded.

Thematic areas of future joint calls will address the three segments of the non‐energy mineral raw materials: metallic, construction and industrial minerals, from exploration to recycling and substitution, based on the ERA-MIN Research Agenda and national and regional priorities under a circular economy perspective (European Commission, 2015).

Through research and innovation co-ordination and coherence between regional, national and EU funding in the mineral raw materials sector, transnational collaboration and targeted international collaboration are expected to strengthen the industry competitiveness in line with the objectives of the EIP on Raw Materials.

Participation of researchers from academia, SMEs and industry will be encouraged in future joint calls to address their research needs, stronger links will be developed and knowledge transfer and access to know-how and markets will be promoted. Engagement with social scientists working in the area of public awareness, acceptance and trust will also be encouraged.


In general, the countries that have participated in the two ERA-MIN joint calls and have a higher number of funded projects, established cooperation across Europe and outside Europe. Since the analysis was based on only 13 transnational funded projects, conclusions should be drawn with caution, especially when considering only one or two funded projects in a country.

This analysis shows significant cooperation within EU countries and also with Argentina and South Africa in the non-energy and non-agricultural raw materials sectors, from exploration, extraction, mineral processing and metallurgy to recycling of mining and smelting residues and substitution of critical materials for green energy technologies. Moreover, the companies in the mining sector and in the recycling sector are cooperating mainly through academia-industry partnerships.

None of the funded projects covered the whole raw materials value chain, which could be due to the fact that usually only small consortia with small budgets are supported under an ERA-NET joint call.

It is worth underlining the pioneering role that ERA-MIN has played in boosting the dynamics of collaboration across national programmes in the raw materials sector. Given the aims of the EU Raw Materials Initiative and the global nature of the raw material supply chain, the engagement of two non-EU funding organisations in the ERA-MIN joint calls is a significant success.


ERA-MIN, 2015. Project Catalogue, 24 p.

European Commission. 2008. Raw Materials Initiative- meeting our critical needs for growth and jobs in Europe. COM (2008) 699 final

European Commission. 2010. EUROPE 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM (2010) 2020 final

European Commission. 2012a. Making Raw Materials Available For Europe’s Future Wellbeing Proposal For A European Innovation Partnership On Raw Materials. COM (2012) 82 final

European Commission. 2012b. A Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth. COM (2012) 392 final

European Commission. 2015. Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy. COM (2015) 614/2

Vidal, O., Weihed, P., Hagelüken, C., Bol, D., Christmann, C.,Arndt, N. 2013. ERA-MIN Research Agenda., 112 p.


I would like to thank Claudia Gaspar (FCT) for preparing the figures and for revising the text. I am grateful to José Bonfim (FCT) for the very helpful review.

This article has been published in European Geologist Journal 42 – International cooperation on raw materials.

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