28 April 2021 Trends and Challenges for the Raw Materials Sector in Europe: Interview with EIT RawMaterials – The World’s Largest Consortium in the Raw Materials Sector History of Raw Materials in the Region Historically, Europe was the home of mineral exploration, discoveries, and the subsequent mining of primary resources. Today, public acceptance of the raw materials sector is low, and Europe is highly dependent on raw materials that are sourced from overseas. Hence, the continent is vulnerable to scarcity and supply shortage. The good news is, recent years have seen an increased activity in the European raw materials sector, boosted by ambitious and leading-edge initiatives such as the EU Green Deal and Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials. “EIT RawMaterials is developing raw materials into a major strength for Europe. The raw materials sector produces minerals and metals which are the lifeblood of our modern society and the key to the energy and mobility transition and to digital transformation,” shares Mr. Bernd Schäfer, CEO at EIT RawMaterials. Responsible investments that boost innovation and capacity-building measures are critical to unlocking Europe’s raw materials potential and to enabling the European Green Deal. This is spearheaded by EIT RawMaterials and the European Raw Materials Alliance. A specific example is the metal mining, recycling, and production in the emerging battery value chain. As a result, there is a rising number of projects to produce battery-grade lithium, cobalt, nickel, and the respective functional materials. Rising Trends and Challenges Europe is on a path to a more responsible and sustainable raw materials sector. “Reducing dependencies and the import of conflict minerals, on one hand, and increasing the responsible sourcing of critical raw materials by employing smart, fit-for-purpose technical solutions, on the other hand, can make Europe the blueprint for a resource-efficient, circular, and carbon-neutral economy,” says Mr Schäfer The technology and expertise are there. What is needed are investments, alongside the willingness to act responsibly as a global leader in the full life cycle of raw materials. European equipment and technology companies, start-ups, and researchers are world leaders in providing hands-on technical solutions for finding, extracting, and processing minerals and metals, as well as in designing advanced materials, products, and recycling solutions. Building on these existing strengths in industry, research, innovation, and infrastructure is the key to unlocking the potential for a renewed minerals and metals sector in Europe as a driver for domestic value chains, and to ramp up capacity for a Circular Economy of complex industrial materials and products. Intelligent and fully integrated exploration, smart mining, and improved resource efficiency in mineral and metal processing are essential cornerstones of this objective. EIT’s Success Stories Through its entrepreneurship activities, EIT RawMaterials is closely involved in supporting a number of exciting start-ups across Europe, which have great potential to contribute to the transformation of the raw materials sector. For example: Circularise is digitising materials on blockchain to create a digital thread through the whole supply chain. Thus, it enables material traceability, assuring law compliance, mitigating risks across the supply chain, and enabling organisations to create new revenue streams, avoid greenwashing, make validated claims about their materials and products, and track the CO2 footprints and other sustainability metrics like water savings. Purified Metals Company is the world’s first company to responsibly process contaminated steel scrap into a high-quality raw material. The process is patented and developed to separate the contaminants from the steel in a safe way. This solution is not only sustainable but also cost-efficient, eliminating the costly cleaning process. ResourceFull is offering a cement alternative based on the use of secondary resources, eliminating the dependency on primary raw materials and offering a far more ecological alternative to the construction industry. EIT RawMaterials partner universities across Europe are connecting via the EIT RawMaterials network to support raw materials start-ups with their knowledge and expertise. Institutions such as TU Delft, Luleå University, Trinity College Dublin, and Montanuniversität Leoben are playing key roles in enabling innovation ecosystems in raw materials. “Research and technology organisations in the EIT RawMaterials consortium are also central to supporting entrepreneurship in our sector,” shares Mr. Schäfer. “We create a collaborative environment for breakthrough innovations by connecting business with academia, research and investment.” The Go-to Accelerators, Incubators, and VCs in the Ecosystem EIT RawMaterials targets the entire value chain of strategic and critical raw materials and is active in many industry sectors and segments. Therefore, by definition, the consortium is engaged with a very broad variety of accelerators, incubators, and VCs (among which, members of EIT RawMaterials and EIT RawMaterials itself). Naming a few wouldn’t do justice to the many outstanding stakeholders that are enabling and facilitating innovation. “Instead, we would like to highlight that the best tailored and most complete accelerator programme in Europe addressing the needs of innovative start-ups in the raw materials sector is the RawMaterials Accelerator driven by EIT RawMaterials,” proudly shares Bernd Schäfer. Role of the RawMaterials Accelerator Within the RawMaterials Accelerator, EIT RawMaterials captures Europe’s most promising start-ups at an early stage and guides them in three phases (21 months in total): Developing a business Market introduction Scaling their business The uniqueness of this programme lies not only in its tailored package of methodology, expert coaching, mentoring, and funding. It also lies in its position in the centre of the programme of activities of EIT RawMaterials. This means that start-ups directly benefit from engagement with the EIT RawMaterials partner network and business partners, such as VCs. How Does EIT RawMaterials Help Entrepreneurs and Start-ups? EIT RawMaterials delivers positive change and impact by understanding and thereby designing an offer that meets the needs of entrepreneurial innovators in all stages of development. At a very early stage, this starts with embedding the principles of entrepreneurship in Master’s and PhD education programmes, complemented by interactive engagement and exchange with start-ups, SMEs, and corporates to provide inspiration and grow an entrepreneurial mindset. Student innovators wanting to test the potential of their ideas can sign up for the EIT Jumpstarter programme. Within it, trainers and business coaches guide them on how to develop their idea into a product, a business model that meets customer needs, how to pinpoint the right beachhead market, and eventually develop a business. Once committed to starting a business with a team of like-minded entrepreneurs, early-phase start-ups can sign up for the RM Accelerator programme to benefit from a tailored package of methodology, expert coaching & mentoring, funding, and gaining access to the EIT RawMaterials partner network. More mature start-ups and young SMEs can sign up for the RM Booster funding programme to reach pivotal milestones in their development. RM Booster entails a package of mentorship, funding, and access to the partner network of EIT RawMaterials. Established SMEs with an innovation relatively close to market introduction but still needing additional steps to complete the product, can either sign up for the SME-call (independent development) or the call for upscaling projects (in a collaborative development with EIT RawMaterials partners). Both entail funding and access to the partner network of EIT RawMaterials. Once ready for market introduction and/or scaling of the business, EIT RawMaterials provides access to capital by either: An introduction to public and private capital business partners; or – in the case of scaling a business and/or large-scale impact investments Offering the opportunity to position the start-up under the investment pillar of the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA), a high-level initiative of the European Commission which contributes to ensuring reliable, secure, and sustainable access to raw materials as key enablers for a globally competitive, green, and digital Europe. ERMA is managed by EIT RawMaterials. Relation with Tech Tour and Their Events Tech Tour has been partnering with EIT RawMaterials for several years now, in a collaboration that brings together the two worlds of: Innovative entrepreneurs with a need for capital to develop and grow their business A varied group of investors looking for investment opportunities in different industrial areas The collaboration, branded under the name RawMaterials Venture Forum, has led to a large number of matches between entrepreneurs and investors/investment experts. “While the collaboration continues, we expect to see an increasing number of successful matches and therefore real impacts in the raw materials sector,” concludes Bernd Schäfer. EIT RawMaterials is an Innovation Community within the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which drives innovation across Europe to find solutions to pressing global challenges.