mind of the CEO
I strongly believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will fuel a number of major shifts in mindset and practices around the globe in many different disciplines, fields and industries. Most of the change will be positive. This is human nature. We struggle and fight and then strive towards progress to make things better.
The less positive lessons from the spread of COVID-19 are that the solutions approach taken so far by world leaders has been predominantly national. At times of great disaster or threat, we tend to narrow our perspectives down to care mainly for those within our national borders.
So, what has that got to do with mining? I’d say plenty. Many technical solutions depend on raw materials that stem from different minerals, and one very topical example is the manufacture of ventilators. Ventilators use a refrigerant gas to help people with respiratory diseases breathe, including COVID-19 patients. This gas is made from the processed mineral fluorite.
At present, Mexico concentrates 20 per cent of the world’s fluorite reserves but accounts for 80 per cent of the raw material used to produce this gas, which in turn is used by respiratory manufacturers worldwide. I am not suggesting this value chain doesn’t work for the moment, but anyone can understand that the current situation could become vulnerable, especially as there are a number of additional steps along the value chain that depend on several manufacturers to produce the end product.
Fluorite is present in many locations worldwide, but currently Mexico and China produce 80 per cent of the world supply. In Europe, for example, fluorite can be found in Spain and Germany. I will, therefore, repeat the message I often present to the battery industry. Europe must look after its own needs in terms of minerals. A reliance on one or two countries may not only present an obstacle to business development, but could have devastating consequences that we would rather not consider.
The European Union and its individual nations need to take a good look at the areas or industries that cannot be allowed to fail due to a shortage of minerals. It needs to see this as an opportunity to act and to draw up a long-term strategy towards sustainably produced minerals in Europe.
Roberto García Martínez