The EU metallic minerals sector produces a wide range of ores yielding metals or metallic substances. The EU is an important producer of chromium, copper, lead, silver, and zinc. However, most metallic ores that supply the European metallic industry are imported. Only a few EU countries have active mines. They include Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, and Sweden. In those countries, metal mining contributes more than 1% to the global production of a particular metallic mineral.
Eurostat records data on metallic minerals can be found under NACE codes CB13.1 and CB13.2.
Competitiveness and trade
- Trade - there is more global trade in metallic minerals than in industrialor construction minerals. Prices for:
- base metals (copper, lead, zinc, aluminium, nickel, aluminium alloy) and steel are set by central exchanges such as the London Metal Exchange (LME);
- precious metals, such as gold and silver, are not traded on the London Metal Exchange, but on the over-the-counter market usually referred to as the London Bullion Market.;
- platinum and palladium are traded on the London Platinum and Palladium Market;
- several minor metals, often by-products of base metal mining, are traded through companies often associated with the Minor Metals Trade Association (MMTA).
- Production - certain "high tech" or "minor" metals essential for future environmental technologies such as Rare Earth Element (REE) metals or the Platinum Group Minerals (PGMs), are currently only produced outside of the EU in significant quantities.
- Investment - metal mines usually require considerable investment reflecting the large scale or complexity of operations, processing requirements to concentrate the ores, and in many cases, the need to operate underground.
- Energy consumption - underground mining requires significantly more energy than surface operations because of the need for ventilation, pumps, and the longer haulage distances involved. The cost of energy accounts for between 10% and 20% of total operating costs, depending on the mineral and the nature of the operation.
- Recycling - in Europe, recycled metal (scrap) is used as an input for the metals producing industry. The use of recycled scrap now represents 40% to 60% of the inputs to EU metal production. This contributes to energy efficiency. The recycling of aluminium is the best example as energy consumption is only 15% compared to the processing of the ore (bauxite).
- Waste management - unlike construction or industrial minerals, metals occur in low percentages in ore. The waste resulting from their extraction is one of the largest sources of waste in the EU. Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries aims to ensure the long-term stability of the industry and to prevent or minimise any water and soil pollution from heavy metals.
- Best available techniques – Directive 2006/21/EC requires all mines to have a permit based on the "Best Available Techniques" (BAT) approach. There must be a waste management plan and a financial guarantee before obtaining a permit. Dangerous facilities (category A) need to have an accident prevention policy. The Best Available Techniques Reference (BREF) document was adopted by the Commission in 2009.