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UN Framework Classification helps EU to manage raw materials for batteries and shift ‎to circular economy

Sustainably managing raw materials, especially the critical raw materials needed for batteries, is of strategic importance for the European Union. As the energy system moves more strongly to embrace intermittent energy sources and to deploy e-mobility and “smart everything”, the role of chemical storage looms large (along with mechanical, thermal, and physical storage). Delivering the volumes of critical raw materials needed for batteries will require careful cradle-to-grave management of volumes to ensure efficient primary production and processing and to optimize resource recovery from wastes.

EU actors offered strong endorsement of the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) and the United Nations Resource Management System (UNRMS) to accelerate attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the EU Raw Materials Week 2019 in Brussels The need for acceleration resonated throughout the Week and it was considered that UNFC was an appropriate tool for redirecting investment to sustainable outcomes. The Week comprised a series of events for the raw materials community to discuss and exchange on issues related to policy, technology, international cooperation, framework conditions, knowledge base and more.

At the 3rd EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base Event, sessions focussed on UNRMS and the Sustainable Development Goals as well as a training on application of UNFC.

Milan Grohol of the European Commission’s DG GROW and Vice-Chair of the UNECE Expert Group on Resource Management underscored: “The European Agenda is driven by sustainability and an ambitious goal to become the first climate-neutral continent. This ambition will require a shift to green energy and technologies, based on different resources. We already see the benefit of work at the UN level on a classification framework for resources (UNFC), which we used in the EU to map the raw materials necessary for building battery value chains. We believe that UNRMS could help us to manage available resources sustainably and responsibly.”

UNECE plans to establish a Centre of Excellence for experts, practitioners and for training on adopting UNFC and, in the future, UNRMS, in support of the SDGs and the sustainable management of all resources. Scott Foster, UNECE Director of Sustainable Energy, noted “We must meet the world’s quality of life ambitions, but we also must reduce both our carbon footprint and our resource consumption. Recognising that stakeholders will act in self-interest, our challenge is to align their self-interest with desired societal outcomes. Deployment of UNRMS will give us the right tools to close that circle.”

The final event of the EU-funded ORAMA project (Optimising quality of information in RAw MAterials data collection across Europe) closed the Week with a focus on “Next steps in improving European raw materials data”. Data issues are significant for harmonizing resource information, optimizing resource acquisition, and ensuring alignment with environmental, security, and social objectives. ORAMA seeks to harmonise statistics from primary production through to secondary flows of resources. Although the importance of recycling continues to grow, it cannot (yet) substitute for primary resource production. If data on recycled secondary raw materials were comparable with those of primary raw materials, identification of business opportunities related to recycling would be facilitated.

Discussions at the ORAMA event underlined that UNFC can be applied at any level to compare and classify primary and secondary raw material resources. Harmonization of raw materials projects across different resource types is essential for decision makers such as governments, as well as operators and investors, to assess and compare projects based not only on economics and feasibility, but also on sustainability and environmental and social impact. Application and adoption of UNFC provides the framework to compare otherwise diverse projects.

For further information on UNFC, please visit: https://www.unece.org/energy/se/reserves.html