Raw material sourcing key to sustainable energy solutions

Online Editor

Mikael Bergqvist explores strategies for securing essential raw materials vital to the shift towards sustainable energy storage and production.

Building energy storage for sustainable energy sources is ongoing, with battery production plants starting or being constructed throughout Europe and elsewhere. Still, the needed raw materials are in scarce supply, and mining and processing is often done in regions where working conditions are both dangerous and hard. Reliance on imported critical raw material from regions where the regime suddenly might change its policy on exports versus domestic consumption is like gambling and might jeopardise entire projects.

Examples on how Europe and the USA are tackling these challenges are the Critical Raw Materials Act from the European Commission, and the Inflation Reduction Act issued by the White House. Both aim to reduce dependency on remote sources to strengthen local sourcing of critical raw materials.

Let us go through an example on how this might work out in practice, from examples in the Nordic countries, and how novel technology can be put to use to make the process more effective.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common types for energy storage, of which there are a number of varieties, many containing cobalt as well as lithium as part of their cathodes, and of course being connected to energy production or consumption with copper wires. So where does one find these metals?


Cobalt has been used as an ingredient in ‘cobalt blue’ glass and ceramics since thousands of years. One of the larger European cobalt mines was in Norway; The Australian-Norwegian company Kuniko decided to have a closer look at the areas surrounding the old mine, with modern equipment and current expertise to explore how much remains and how it can be retrieved efficiently and with a minimum of environmental impact?

One of the state-of-the-art methods used was the Orexplore Geocore X10 analyser, revealing not only the elements but also structures, essential for the understanding of the formation of the actual ore body.

Harry Guest, exploration geologist at Kuniko, explains what we see in Figures 1 and 2: “The photographed piece of core comes from a key zone of high-grade cobalt mineralisation. Observations suggested that the mineralisation had a complex 3D structure, and understanding this structure is of critical importance for planning further exploration on the project. Orexplore’s core scanning gave us a 3D visualisation of the target mineralisation, allowing us to clearly see how the mineralisation had been tightly folded throughout the volume of the drillcore. This helped to confirm that intense folding plays a critical role in creating high-grade cobalt zones, and the orientation of these folds has a strong influence on the overall geometry of the target. By taking the information gained from this exercise, we are able to more confidently plan exploration drilling to target the continuations of these strongly folded zones which is of great benefit to a project like this.”


One source for lithium is brine, another is hard rock; the main lithium ore minerals in the latter being spodumene and petalite. Let us look closer at one such mineralisation in Bergby, north of Gävle in Sweden. After the discovery during a university field course in 2007 – a find of a spodumene-bearing pegmatite boulder, and in 2020 the Bergby project was acquired by United Lithium and its subsidiary Bergby Lithium AB.

A joint project: ULiBSS, between Uppsala University, Orexplore and with Magnus Leijd and Anders Zetterqvist from Bergby Lithium, was formed in 2023 and could quickly determine the lithium contents in the drill cores drilled in June, the same year, using the Orexplore scanning technique.

According to Karin Högdahl, associate professor at Uppsala University, the GeoCore X10 analyser has a great potential to be used in lithium exploration, not least by the information gained of the spodumene petalite ratio in the ore, but also the non-destructive detection of additional mineral phases hosting other critical metals besides lithium, such as tantalum and beryllium.


None of the electronics such as computers, generators, batteries, motors that we take for granted would be possible without copper. Electrical cabling uses copper for the transport of electricity due to its low resistance and comparative softness. The copper production is large worldwide – it is fairly straight forward to recycle copper from scrap – but to meet the demands of the transition to a society where more of the energy is in the form of electricity, copper still needs to be mined from ore in the ground.

The term ‘ore’, by the way, is a purely economic term – if the metal mineralisation in the ground is economically viable to mine it is called ore, otherwise not. And with the scarcity induced by the increased need and usage leading to higher world market prices, suddenly what was old, barren and closed down mine is turned into long lived thriving project with mineral reserves worth mining, with interesting perspective for resource expansions.

This is what is happening in Kiruna in Sweden, where Copperstone Viscaria AB is reopening the old Viscaria mine. Marcello Imaña, chief geologist, says that understanding structural features and textures of mineralisation in drillcore is key for guiding near mine exploration and metal recovery strategies. Looking into the core provides scalable 3D information that helps connect subtle surface points to depict mineral plunging and trends.


When putting together the pieces above, an emerging regional supply chain of critical raw material needed for the storage and transport of electrical energy seems not only plausible, but in fact on its way.


Mikael Bergqvist is CTO at Orexplore.

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