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Italy seeks to reopen mines in critical minerals quest

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Italy adopted measures Thursday aimed at ramping up domestic sourcing and processing of critical raw materials, as part of an EU strategy to compete with China on green technologies.

The cabinet passed a decree simplifying procedures for mining permits, as Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government seeks to tap into essential minerals from lithium to cobalt.

The extraction, processing and recycling of these materials are “urgent”, and the decree brings Italy into line with the European Union’s new Critical Raw Materials Act, Industry Minister Adolfo Urso told a press conference.

The act dictates that the bloc must meet 10 percent of its demand for mining and extraction of raw materials through production on its own territory, while 15 percent of its annual consumption of each critical raw material should come from recycling.

“We are currently totally lacking in extraction, while we are in pole position within Europe as far as recycling (of minerals) is concerned,” said Energy Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin.

Licenses for extraction, processing or recycling materials, if approved, must now be issued within 18 months of an application being made.

Companies with mining concessions will have to pay up to seven percent in royalties to the government or regional authorities.

Italy believes it possesses reserves of at least 15 of the 34 raw materials considered critical by the EU, but many are in mines that closed decades ago, as they were unprofitable at the time, Urso said.

According to ISPRA, Italy’s environment agency, potential minerals for extraction include lithium near Rome, lead and zinc in Lombardy, cobalt in Piedmont, titanium in Liguria, and ores in Sicily and Sardinia.

The agency has until May 2025 to provide an up to date minerals map. Satellites and drones would be used in some cases to detect minerals deep underground, Urso said.

Mining presents significant environmental concerns, particularly regarding carbon emissions from production and refining sites.

But the EU wants to meet the growing need for materials for the transition towards renewable energy technology, much of which it currently imports from China, to avoid relying on one country for a specific product.

China currently dominates in many sectors including semiconductors, critical minerals, batteries and solar panels.

Italy and fellow EU countries must act now “so as not to go from subordination to Russian fossil fuels to a more serious subordination to Chinese raw materials and technologies”, Urso said.

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