“Without a more strategic approach to developing primary and secondary raw materials capacities in Europe, there will be no green and digital transition, no technological leadership and no resilience,” said Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market Commissioner recently. In his mind, without tackling the looming supply gap, Europe’s future resilience is in jeopardy.
Closing this supply gap quickly and decisively is certainly easier said than done – with 2050’s carbon neutral goal hurtling towards us and the EU hurrying to reduce its dependency on imported Russian energy.
Staggering, yet unsurprising new statistics
Thierry Breton’s words follow findings from a new study commissioned by Eurometaux – an industry group that represents some of the region’s biggest metal producers. According to the Financial Times, it marks the “first attempt to provide some EU-specific numbers around last year’s warning from the International Energy Agency of supply challenges” – owing to the number of metals needed for batteries, solar panels and wind turbines.
The results are staggering and worth noting in detail here. Although unsurprising. According to the research, Europe’s plans for producing clean energy technologies will require huge amounts of raw materials every year by 2050, to the tune of:
- 5 million tonnes of aluminium (an increase of 33% on top of today’s use)
- 5 million tonnes of copper (35%)
- 800,000 tonnes of lithium (3,500%)
- 400,000 tonnes of nickel (100%)
- 300,000 tonnes of zinc (10-15%)
- 200,000 tonnes of silicon (45%)
- 60,000 tonnes of cobalt (330%)
Risk of new, questionable dependencies
Liesbet Gregoir, lead author of the report says: “Europe needs to decide urgently how it will bridge its looming supply gap for primary metals. Without a decisive strategy, it risks new dependencies on unsustainable suppliers”. In Gregoir’s opinion, Europe needs to develop new mines, new refineries or co-invest or finance new mining projects around the world. She adds, “If you look at China, they have been very proactive. They have projects across the globe for everything they can’t produce themselves. Europe could learn from that.”
Strategic, sustainable partnerships
While Eurometaux’s new study focuses on metals specifically, the same can be said for many other Critical Raw Materials – like phosphate and vanadium – also in great demand for our clean energy transition.
Back to Thierry Breton, and an end thought from the European Union’s internal market Commissioner: “We are pursuing an ambitious agenda in the area of raw materials, based on more circularity, exploring sustainable domestic production, and of course, continuing to diversify our supplies through strategic partnerships with reliable partners across the globe who share our environmental and social standards.”