Present and Future Mineral Resources Exploration in Estonia: RITA MAARE
In Estonia, the tradition of exploring local mineral resources is more than a hundred years old.
Unfortunately, after the restoration of independence there was a period where little exploration took place. At the same time, the material level of Estonian society took a big step forward and the stagnation in our knowledge of mineral resources began to limit the development potential of the field. Thus, after the adoption of the Natural Resources strategy in 2017, government financing of mineral resources exploration was started. The implementation of the collaborative project MAARE between the University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology and the Geological Survey of Estonia in 2017–2020 within the framework of a measure of the national research and development support programme RITA was a part of this process. This ambitious project included studies on the more efficient refining of Estonia’s mineral resources, the possibilities of using mining waste, the geological problems of building the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel, as well as an analysis of the economic and other impacts of the use of mineral resources. This article gives an overview of the results of the project in the field of refining of four Estonian mineral resources: basement metallic ores, phosphorite, graptolite argillite and peat.
The studies showed that the exploitation of base metal deposits for the production of iron currently holds no perspective, but the presence of the rarer metals needed for green technologies may be important. The same can be concluded for the prospect of phosphorus production in Estonian phosphorite deposits. Nonetheless, Estonia would need to have the technological readiness for the sustainable refining of phosphorite, as well as the technology to produce rare metals from graptolite argillite. Experiments at laboratory level offer good prospects for the use of Estonian peat with a significantly higher added value than today. Specially treated and partially graphitised carbons synthesised from well-decomposed peat, which have been little used so far, are well suited for the production of a wide range of electrochemical devices. The RITA research has been a valuable input for the subsequent, much more focused mineral resources exploration under ResTa programme.