Mining the Future


The Mining the Future competition is organised by Montanuniversität Leoben in Austria, CERN and the Future Circular Collider (FCC) study, with the support of the EU-funded H2020 FCCIS project. The goal of the competition is to identify credible approaches for the innovative reuse of the molasse material that is expected to be excavated in large amounts during the construction phase of the next generation of particle colliders at CERN. Reusing this material will help reduce the amount of material discharged in landfills.

Identifying innovations for the applicability of this material will help future underground construction projects to be more resource and cost efficient. This will help strengthen European´s industry in line with the principles of a sustainable and circular economy.

This international competition intends to bring innovation to the Future Circular Collider and other future tunnel projects with the help of the three O's: Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World.

Beyond the next decade, more powerful particle accelerators will be required to succeed the LHC/HL-LHC around the 2040ies. CERN is currently evaluating the feasibility of the construction of a 90-100 km subsurface infrastructure to host the next generation of particle accelerators after the LHC. This infrastructure is called the Future Circular Collider. These machines will boost the intensity and energy frontiers by providing more data that could guide our exploration of fundamental physics.

The FCC will be located in an area geologically composed of molasse. About 9 million cubic meters of material will be excavated from the construction of the tunnel and will have to be disposed of. To create new ways of reusing excavated material from constructions, CERN has launched the EU-project Future Circular Collider – Innovation Study (FCCIS), with, among others, the Chair of Subsurface Engineering of Montanuniversität Leoben as a partner.

The registration officially opens on Friday 30th of April 2021.

The registration for the first part of the contest officially closes on Sunday 31st of October 2021.

  1. Complete your account profile on Indico
  2. Fill in the names of team members or consortia partners if applicable
  3. Upload maximum 3 proposals that should reach at least TRL 3 at the time of submission
  4. Please carefully read the contest guidelines and application template. Should you have any questions, please contact
  6. Upload a signed copy of your application

To foster a broad and diverse competitor pool and reduce barriers to participation, the registration fee has been waived for eligible participants. For more details about eligibility criteria, please refer to the contest guidelines.

The competition will run for approximately 2 years.
The registration Phase 1 of the competition open on the 28th of April 2021 and close on the 31st of October 2021. By the 1st of December 2021, selected candidates will be invited to a detailed review and will be asked to design their original solutions and create original content.

The deadline for Phase 2 is the 30th of June 2022. The jury members will then scrutinise the solutions of the finalist teams and announce the winning proposals by the end of July 2022. An Award Ceremony will be organised in October 2022 at CERN.

The goal of this competition is to identify innovative solutions that could be used in the framework of the FCC study as well as in other European construction projects that involve the disposal of molasse material.

Teams can be formed by anyone, anywhere as long as a member of the team is a legal entity and a natural person from a country eligible to participate in the EU-funded H2020 framework programme. This includes:

  • Individual persons
  • Non-profit, academic and higher education organisations
  • International European Interest Organisations (IEIOs)
  • For-profit organisations, including companies and firm consortia which have their corporate headquarters in the EU or Horizon 2020 associated countries.

Teams are often startups, university groups, small to midsize companies or even individuals. Teams can have any background, including but not limited to scientific and/or technical disciplines such as geology and geo-engineering, civil engineering, material science, geochemistry, architecture, tunnelling or landscape architecture.

Legal entities and natural persons affiliated to entities that include a member of the judging panel are not eligible to participate.

The FCC Conceptual Design Report identified a possible area for hosting a new 100km circumference ring to host the Future Circular Collider and associated infrastructures. The area is located in the canton Geneva, Switzerland and the French region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, as depicted in Fig. 1. Its scope has been extensively examined with the intent to start physical measurements by 2040 (Abada et al. 2019a, b, c). On top, CERN launched a PhD study in September 2018 which offers an improved understanding of FCCs proposed subsurface conditions, i.e. Laboratory analysis, legislation review, technical state-of-the-art review, borehole review of Geneva Basin a.o. (PhD Thesis, M. Haas).

The remaining time gap tends to investigate the subsurface being part of the geological Western Alpine Molasse Basin in terms of environmental, civil engineering and geological considerations and feasibility.

Figure: The proposed FCC ring layout of 100km in green (large) and its predecessors LHC/HL-LHC hosted in the existing 27km tunnel (small) both in blue (REF)

The Western Alpine Molasse Basin (WAMB), as depicted in the figure below, often referred to as the Geneva Basin in Western Switzerland, is part of the Swiss Plateau and limited by the Salève Mountain to the SE and the Jura mountains to the NW. These distinctive geological elevations were influenced by tectonic deformation during the Alpine foreland emplacement, the associated glaciations of Pleistocene age and post-glacial processes (Moscariello 2018). The WAMB is divided into the Alpine foreland consisting of the Jura plateau and the Haute Chaine as well as the Alpine units represented by the pre-alps (Penninic), the subalpine and Helvetic nappes, the external Crystalline massifs and the Penninic nappes (Chelle-Michou et al. 2017). The molasse rock units present in the basin crop out along the Salève, the Vuache and the Jura mountains, which consist of Mesozoic sedimentary rocks.” (Haas et al., 2020)

Figure: Geological units with associated boreholes in the Geneva Basin. The well of Thônex chosen for this study is depicted in green. Modified after (Moscariello et al. 2020).

You can find more information here.

Reference: M. Haas et al., “A mineralogical reuse classification model of molasse rock mass in the Geneva Basin” ISRM International Symposium Eurock 2020 – Hard Rock Engineering Trondheim, Norway.

The molasse rock units present in the area consist mainly of Mesozoic sedimentary rocks. Different molasse packages were deposited as detrital formations during the Alpine orogeny (Trümpy et al. 1980) and represent FCC’s targeted construction depth of 100 to 500 m.

Two prominent classification models of its marl and sandstone components exist based on stratigraphy and the analyses of physical parameters. A stratigraphic classification of the Molasse is given by Trümpy (1980) as Lower Marine Molasse (UMM), Lower Freshwater Molasse (USM), Upper Marine Molasse (OMM) and Upper Freshwater Molasse (OSM). In literature, molasse abbreviations usually refer to German terms. Data sets outsourced and gathered by CERN within the last 70 years served for a second and more recent geotechnical classification given by Fern et al. (2018). It subdivides the molasse into: very weak marl, weak marl, medium-weak marl, weak sandstone, medium-strong sandstone and strong sandstone. These categories increase in uniaxial compressive strength (UCS) and are further based on differences in e.g. Young’s moduli or Atterberg limits, merely taken from HL-LHC Point 1. Even though these classifications led to a better understanding of molasse properties, a potential reuse classification was neither investigated nor demanded.

For the Mining the future competition, various measurements on molasse samples have been conducted in a laboratory. The analysis of the first set of samples covered mineralogical information (XRD and ICP measurements), effective porosity, thermal conductivity and as well as bulk and grain density. The effective porosity was determined with the grain and bulk density, where the grain density was measured with a helium pycnometer (Quantachrome) and bulk density with length, diameter and mass dry. Thermal conductivity was measured with a thermal conductivity meter (TeKa, Berlin).

The next two sets of series cover about 500kg of rocks (various marl and sandstone samples). The following data have been determined in the laboratory: Abrasivity with CERCHAR and LCPC, Point load tests, uniaxial compressive strength, compressional and shear wave velocity, as well as a Brazilian test. The CERCHAR test was used to determine the CERCHAR abrasivity index (CAI). The LCPC (Laboratoire Central des Ponts et Chaussees) also delivered information about abrasiveness. Point Load, Brazilian and UCS have been determined for the information about uniaxial compressive strength as well as uniaxial tensile strength. Compressional and shear wave velocity have been measured with an ultrasonic device and deliver elastic properties of the material.

A comprehensive list of data can be downloaded HERE.

One of the main challenges for the FCC feasibility study is the handling of more than 9.1 million m3 of excavated material. This volume is expected to be excavated using the following methods:

  • Conventional excavation (Drill & Blast / Roadheader)
  • TBM excavation

However, as of today, there is no definite decision on the excavation techniques that will be used. This is one of the open questions that the FCC Innovation Study (FCCIS) aims to address. Participants should not consider a specific excavation technique in their proposal.

Successful proposals must come up with a credible and promising solution for the reuse of molasse excavated materials with a likelihood that the proposed technology can be turned into a product, service or industrial process by 2030. The proposals will be judged by an international jury committee that will take into account both the technological readiness of the proposal as well as the socio-economic benefits that it brings.

  • The solution must be originally developed or implemented.
  • The application must explain all activities necessary to produce one or more end products or induce processes or services using molasse that has resulted from a subsurface excavation process. The details of the construction methodology are not fully determined and may vary from conventional tunnelling using road headers and/or drill and blast, to mechanised tunnelling using tunnel boring machines, where the type of face and ground support is not determined. The existing raw data from different laboratory tests (provided as supplemental materials to the participants in this Competition) does therefore not include an inventory of pollutants that emerge from the subsurface construction methods.
  • The application must contain a description of the current technology readiness of the proposed technology (TRL scale level indication, refer to Annex 1), including evidence of the feasibility in a controlled, laboratory environment.
  • Only proposals that have successfully completed TRL 3 at the time of submission are eligible for participation in the competition.
  • Demonstration of TRL 4 is required in Phase 2 of the competition.
  • The technological process must be developed for non-military purposes only.

Each team’s technologies will be evaluated across four dimensions:

  • the technical feasibility
  • the economic viability (in terms of revenue potentials)
  • the added value for society and the benefits it could spread in other applications
  • the project relevance for the region.

Judging criteria include an evaluation of an entry’s vision, business plan, occupation landscape analysis, training method strategy, worker engagement and support plans, and more. The judges will compare teams against each other and will nominate the finalists for the final award.

The winning proposals will be awarded financial assistance for services required to advance the technology readiness level (TRL) of the proposed technology with regard to carrying out further needed tests and analysis activities for the proposed reuse approach in laboratories. Such analysis works will be contracted for the winners by the organisers. Support may include small-scale and/or large-scale tests at facilities such as the full-scale underground research centre ZaB-Zentrum am Berg. This procedure aims at bringing the new product, service or process closer to market. The award, as described above, has a value of in total up to €40 000, which will be split into equal parts for all winning proposals.

In October 2022, a symposium related to the reuse of tunnel excavation material will be held at ZaB-Zentrum am Berg where participants will be invited to present their developments.

The winning business development plan could be used as an example for other projects.

The finalist solution(s) will be a basis for the reuse of excavation material in the framework of the FCC study. Furthermore, they can be useful for different industries from around the world that are working in the tunnelling and construction sector.

We are looking forward to receiving your questions or any feedback. Please contact us at and submit your question to the judges. Any new or additional information will also be added in this FAQ and communicated to contest’s participants (without revealing any information about the quester).