BRUSSELS – Worried by an increasing dependency on the raw materials used to make smart phones, televisions and energy-saving lights, the European Union on Thursday launched a new strategy to secure access to rare earth minerals and to reduce reliance on suppliers like Chile, China and South Africa.
The EU is predicted to need around 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt for electric vehicle batteries and energy storage by 2050. Its demand for rare earth materials in permanent magnets used in several technologies could increase 10-fold over the same period.
The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the world’s increasing reliance on electronics and technology for remote work, education and communication, and the 27-nation EU enters a widening race to secure supplies for its communications, health, defense and space sectors along with the United States, China and Japan.
“We have to drastically change our approach,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said. “We are largely dependent on unsustainable raw materials from countries with much lower environmental and social standards, less freedoms, (and) poor, unsustainable economies.”
The EU gets around 98% of its rare earth minerals from China. Turkey supplies 98% of its borate, while Chile meets 78% of Europe’s lithium needs. South Africa provides 71% of its platinum. The European Commission believes that the EU’s mining potential is underused.
“We need to diversify supply and make better use of the resources within the European Union, where we would apply the highest environmental and social standards to that effect,” Sefcovic told reporters in Brussels.
The strategy aims to set up a European Raw Materials Alliance with industry, investors, the European Investment Bank, EU member countries and others to help secure raw mineral supply chains. The commission wants to start a partnership with Canada and interested African countries starting next year.
The EU also wants to study ways to reuse, repair and recycle products that use rare earth minerals. The commission said that while recycling works well in Europe, less than 1% of products containing the components are actually recovered to be treated.
The goal is to map the possible supply of critical raw materials in EU stocks and waste, as well as to identify projects to help recover them, by 2022.