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Eurometaux fears a shortage in the EU of metals used in the energy transition

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, April 26th 2022 à 16:15 | Read 489 times

In its latest report, Eurometaux, the European association of metal producers, asks the European Union to organise itself quickly to avoid a shortage of metals needed for the energy transition.

According to a Eurometaux report, the European Union will experience supply problems for the metals needed for the energy transition (photo: Eurometaux)
According to a Eurometaux report, the European Union will experience supply problems for the metals needed for the energy transition (photo: Eurometaux)
EUROPE. "If European industries do not secure their supplies in the long term, they risk disruptions or price increases that could slow down the energy transition. This sentence, taken from the report "Metals for Clean Energy: Pathways to solving Europe's raw materials challenge", published on 25 April 2022, sums up the alarm raised by Eurometaux.

Commissioned by the European metals producers' association from researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven in Dutch) in Belgium, the 112-page English-language document reveals that "in the wake of supply disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Europe's lack of resilience to its growing need for metals has become a strategic concern. This is at a time when Europe's plans, including the Green Pact for Europe and plans for local production of green technologies, will lead to increased demand in the Old Continent.

Lithium, cobalt, nickel, rare earths and copper in particular are the high-volume metals that will see the greatest acceleration in demand due to the energy transition. Iridium, scandium and tellurium are the low-volume commodities most affected by this increase.

By 2050, the EU will need 35 times more lithium than today, or 800 000 tonnes per year, and up to 26 times more rare earths (neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium, etc.). It will also need twice as much nickel, as well as 330% more cobalt, 45% more silicon, 35% more copper and 10 to 15% more zinc.

Recycling could make it possible to cover 40 to 75% of needs by 2050

The energy transition (renewable energies, nuclear power, electrical networks, battery storage, electric vehicles, hydrogen) is indeed metal-intensive. "Electric vehicles, batteries, solar photovoltaic systems, wind turbines and hydrogen technologies all require far more metals than their conventional alternatives to replace fossil fuel needs," the report says. The production of electric cars accounts for 50-60% of the overall demand for metals in the energy transition, ahead of power grids and photovoltaic production (35-45%).

"Metals will play a central role in the development of Europe's clean technology value chains and in achieving the EU's 2050 climate neutrality target," the report says. The report notes the need to "reduce strategic dependencies" for its metals related to the energy transition. This will involve assessing demand, supply and sustainability.

According to the study, "Europe has the opportunity to lay the foundations for a higher level of strategic autonomy and sustainability for its energy transition metals through optimised recycling, investment in the domestic value chain and more active global sourcing". For example, according to researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven, recycling could cover 40-75% of needs by 2050. "But firm action must be taken quickly to avoid bottlenecks for several materials that are likely to be in short supply globally by the end of this decade," they insist, advising rapid investment in infrastructure.

For Liesbet Grégoir, a researcher at the Catholic University of Leuven and lead author of the report, "Europe needs to decide urgently how it is going to fill its primary metals supply gap (...) Without a firm strategy, it risks new dependencies on unsustainable suppliers.

Read Eurometaux's report "Metals for Clean Energy: Pathways to solving Europe's raw materials challenge"

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