March 28, 2023

Europe is struggling to address the shortage of critical raw materials to ensure the green transition

In the critical raw materialsincluding the lithium and rare countriesit will likely soon be more important than oil and gas as Europe strives for a carbon-free future.

In the supply chains of rare earths are part of the European Union’s industrial policy ambition to transition to greener technologies.

Right now almost everything rare earth permanent magnetsneeded for electric vehicle batteries, it’s almost all made in china.

Currently, the Europe is completely dependent of lithium imports.

What are rare earths and why are they an integral part of so many technologies?

Euronews went to the small coastal town of Sillamäe, in Estonia, which is home to the unique commercial rare earth separation facility of the European Union.

Basilios TsianosDirector of Corporate Development at the company Neo Performance materials explain what rare earths are used for.

“Rare earths are the critical raw materials needed for the European Union’s transition to green technologies. In the case of neodymium and praseodymium, two rare earth elements that we process at Silmet, they are used to make rare earth permanent magnets, which are energy savings and use in electric vehicle batteries, in some cases saving more than 20% of the battery size required for electric vehicles,” he explained.

There are 17 rare earth elements,which has hundreds of usesfrom rocket launch systems to banknotes, although the main use is to make extremely strong magnets.

“This is niobium metal, which is introduced into the electron chamber. This chamber operates at about 30,000 volts. These electrons melt the metal and it drips down a lot, just like water, and we purify it to the highest purity. niobium and tantalum, which is produced outside of China, which is important for jet engines or space rockets and other applications,” he added.

China supplies Europe with 66% of all critical raw materials

Europe is aware of the need for news minesas well as strengthening the entire value chain of raw materials.

It is currently dependent on a small number of third countries, notably from Chinawhat supplies 66% of all critical raw materials is 98% of rare earths.

To address this issue, the EU will present a proposal for a law on critical raw materialsharnessing the power of the single market to ensure that Europe has a diverse and reliable supply of these materials, while ensuring high social and environmental standards.

For example, the company Neo Performance materials is a member of the Responsible Minerals Initiative.

Julia Ignatovadirector of rare metals sales, at Neo Performance Materials, emphasized that the origin of the materials is important, as well as the working conditions.

“We focus on the origin of the material, then how the factory operates. If they pay taxes, if they care about human rights because that is the most important aspect in all the facilities,” he said in an interview.

Europe depends on other countries to import lithium and rare earths

When it comes to lithium as well as rare earths, Europe is dependent from other countries, especially the AustraliaTHE China and South America. This is an essential component in electric vehicle batteries.

French company Imerys wants to explore lithium deposits

ONE French company Imerys wants to exploit lithium deposits found at its kaolin mine in Beauvoir, central France.

“With Europe’s need for lithium expected to increase tenfold by 2030, it is essential to develop more and more local projects to reduce this dependence. Therefore, it is necessary to acquire and develop lithium mining projects in France and Europe. The purpose of the project at Bauvoir is to supply 34,000 tons of lithium hydroxide per year, which is equivalent to the need for approximately 700,000 vehicles per year,” he said. Alan PartVice President of Lithium Projects, Imerys.

ONE A focus on recycling is also a priority about this company: “Another key element of the critical raw materials bill is investing in and supporting innovative recycling. Of course, the more raw materials that can be recycled, the less need there is for mining.”

Back in Estonia, in Narva, the Neo Performance Materials company plans to participate in part of the rare earth supply chain by building Europe’s first magnet production facility and research and development center, which will use rare earthmagnetic oxides separated from rare earthsproduced in Sillamäe.

Located near the Russian border, the plant will help the city itself move away from the local oil shale industry, bypassing the fossil fuel era.

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