Europe’s transition to a sustainable and digital society is only possible with a strategic approach to the raw materials needed to manufacture chips, electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies, the EU’s internal market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Monday (25 April).
No green and digital transition without raw materials, EU warns
Europe will see a huge increase in raw material use in order to meet its climate goals, according to a study by Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit, presented on Monday.
Critical raw materials act
At the moment, coal-powered Chinese and Indonesian metal production dominate the refining of battery metals and rare earths found in magnets used in wind turbines and electric batteries.
Meanwhile, the EU relies on Russia for its supply of aluminum, nickel and copper, which has already created problems for the industry.
The European Commission has monitored the EU’s raw material supply for over a decade. But it didn’t anticipate that “a large chunk of the world that provided us up to today, which is China and Russia, would no longer be providing,” said Kerstin Jorna, the director-general, of the Commission’s industry and internal market department (DG Grow).
The EU is currently looking at the best way to tackle issues in critical raw material supply, including a possible legislative act.
If the raw materials act were to materialize, it would need to have a focus on sustainability, said Julia Poliscanova, senior director at the clean mobility NGO Transport and Environment (T&E).
There is a theoretical potential for new domestic mines to cover between 5 and 55% of Europe’s 2030 needs, with projects already in the pipeline for lithium and rare earths, according to the study. But although this would create jobs, particularly in regions transitioning away from coal mining, opening new mines will require a change in mindset in Europe.
The other areas mentioned in the study focus on the period after 2035-2040 when recycling is expected to play a key role in ensuring Europe has a sufficient supply of raw materials.
According to the study, Europe’s primary metals demand will peak around 2040 and, by 2050, 40-75% of Europe’s clean energy metal needs could be met through local recycling if Europe invests heavily now and fixes bottlenecks.
But more innovation is needed to ensure that other raw materials can be recycled and, without the suggested measures in place, the EU risks missing out on the availability of raw materials and could have little say in the sustainability of production and the diversity of its supply chain.