Green energy minerals top EU action plan
European Commission proposes critical raw materials plan Metal Tech News – September 9, 2020
Last updated 9/22/2020 at 5:02pm
The European Union is taking action to ensure it has the critical minerals and metals needed for the coming "transition towards a green and digital economy" over the coming decades.
"A secure and sustainable supply of raw materials is a prerequisite for a resilient economy," said European Commission Vice President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Maroš Šefčovič.
Since 2011, the European Commission has been assembling a list of raw materials, predominately minerals and metals, critical to the EU. Assessed and updated every three years, this list of materials has grown from 14 to the 30 on the newest list published by the commission on Sept. 3.
Four minerals and metals – bauxite, lithium, strontium, and titanium – have been added to the 2020 EU Critical Raw Materials list.
These new additions join a list already populated with many of the mined materials needed for renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other high-tech applications. Cobalt, graphite, niobium, platinum group metals, rare earth elements, and vanadium are among some of the high-profile critical minerals and metals on the EU list.
"A number of raw materials are essential for Europe to lead the green and digital transition and remain the world's first industrial continent," said Thierry Breton, commissioner for internal market at the European Commission.
The EU, however, is heavily dependent on countries outside the union for its supply of many of these materials.
For example, China supplies 98% of EU's rare earth needs, 85% of the bloc's niobium comes from Brazil, 71% of its platinum metals supply is imported from South Africa, and 68% of its cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Seeing this heavy to near total reliance on single countries outside the union as a threat to the EU economy, the European Commission has developed an action plan for developing a critical minerals supply chain within the EU that would include the extraction, processing, recycling, refining and separation of critical minerals and metals.
The commission is also calling on individual nations to consider investing in securing supplies of the 30 critical raw materials as they put together economic recovery plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staggering mineral foresight
A foresight study prepared for the European Commission forecasts that renewable energy and digital transition will drive a massive increase in many of the raw materials needed for batteries, fuel cells, wind turbines and photovoltaic solar power.
By 2050, the commission forecasts that the EU will consume 56 times more lithium, 14 times more cobalt, 13 times more graphite, and 12 times more of the rare earth element dysprosium than today.
"For e-car batteries and energy storage alone, Europe will for instance need up to 18 times more lithium by 2030 and up to 60 times more by 2050," said Šefčovič.
Despite this staggering expansion of need for lithium, this battery ingredient is not at the top of the raw materials considered to have the highest supply risk for the EU. Instead, the foresight study finds the suite of rare earths needed across the renewable energy, EV, and defense and space sectors as the materials most at risk for supply disruptions.
"For rare earths (REEs), China's dominance in the market renders the value chains extremely vulnerable. For the individual rare earths, dysprosium is at a higher supply risk due to the higher rate of demand growth and lower proportion in rare earth ores," authors of the foresight study wrote.
Magnesium, niobium, germanium, borates, and scandium are the minerals and metals considered at high supply risk to the EU.
Lithium actually lands low on the list due to plenty of short-term supply.
"However, in the medium-term, large investments are needed to avoid a significant market deficit beyond 2025," according to the study.
The European Commission is using the analysis and recommendations from the foresight study to prioritize its strategy to secure the supplies of materials needed for the EU to transition to the low carbon future envisioned in the European Green Deal – a roadmap for making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Bold action plan
To ensure that the EU can meet the rapidly growing demand for the raw materials on the bloc's critical list, the European Commission has proposed a bold new action plan.
The EU Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials aims to:
• Develop resilient value chains for EU industrial ecosystems.
• Reduce dependency on primary critical raw materials through recycling, sustainable products, and innovation.
• Strengthen sourcing of raw materials within the EU.
• Diversify sourcing from countries outside of the EU and remove distortions to international trade.
"By diversifying the supply from third countries and developing the EU's own capacity for extraction, processing, recycling, refining and separation of rare earths, we can become more resilient and sustainable," said Breton.
The first of 10 actions in this plan is the establishment of the European Raw Materials Alliance, which will be tasked with identifying barriers, opportunities, and investment cases to build capacities at all stages of the raw materials value chain, from mining to waste recovery.
Expected to be formed in the coming weeks, this alliance of EU raw material stakeholders will include members from EU states and regions, trade unions, research and technology organizations, investors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
This alliance will initially work on diversifying the rare earths and magnets supply chain and creating EU autonomy in this important sector of green energy and e-mobility.
At a later stage, this alliance could expand to other EU critical raw material and base metal needs.
The other nine actions of the EU critical raw materials plan are:
• Develop sustainable financing criteria for the mining and extractive sectors.
• Launch research and innovation on waste processing, advanced materials, and substitution of critical raw materials.
• Map the potential supply of secondary critical raw materials in Europe and identify viable recovery projects.
• Identify priority mining and processing projects for critical raw materials in the EU.
• Develop expertise and skills in mining, extraction, and processing in regions in transition.
• Deploy Earth-observation programs and remote sensing for resource exploration, operations, and post-closure environmental management.
• Develop research and innovation projects to reduce environmental impacts of raw materials extraction and processing.
• Develop strategic international partnerships to secure a diversified supply of sustainable critical raw materials, starting with pilot partnerships with Canada, interested countries in Africa and the EU's neighborhood in 2021.
• Promote responsible mining practices for critical raw materials.
The European Commission says building greener, more digital and resilient critical raw material supply chains are part of its rebuilding plan in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and is calling on individual nations within the union to invest in critical raw materials as they formulate their COVID-19 recovery plans.
"As our foresight shows, we cannot allow to replace current reliance on fossil fuels with dependency on critical raw materials," said Šefčovič. "This has been magnified by the coronavirus disruptions in our strategic value chains. We will therefore build a strong alliance to collectively shift from high dependency to diversified, sustainable and socially-responsible sourcing, circularity and innovation."