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Europe aims for local extraction of critical raw materials.

The European Commission has unveiled an action plan to address the issue of critical raw materials. One of its main objectives is to promote the revival of extraction within the European territory with the aim of reducing dependence on imports.

The action plan on critical raw materials in europe

The action plan on critical raw materials has the main objective of exploiting resources present in Europe, focusing on four major axes. Firstly, it aims to establish strong European value chains. Secondly, it seeks to strengthen supply at the European level. Thirdly, it strives to promote circular economy, product sustainability, and innovation to reduce Europe's dependence on external sources. Lastly, another important measure involves diversifying sources of supply from third countries and eliminating distortions in international trade. To achieve these objectives, the European Union (EU) proposes the implementation of ten specific actions, with a particular emphasis on addressing the challenges related to rare earths necessary for the production of permanent magnets, which are essential components for renewable energy, defense, and space sectors.

The European Union (EU) aims to revive extraction and processing of raw materials within its territory by 2025. The Commission justifies this approach by highlighting the promising potential of raw materials required for batteries, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese, which are found in various regions across Europe. It also emphasizes that mining waste can sometimes contain significant concentrations of these materials. To facilitate their exploitation, the EU plans to focus on regions with mining expertise and skills, particularly in coal mining areas. The Earth observation program, Copernicus, will also be utilized to support exploration, extraction, and post-extraction management of raw materials. Simultaneously, the Commission will work on developing "sustainable financing criteria" for the mining and extractive sectors by the end of 2021.

Recycling is also a major focus of this plan. Currently, the European Commission laments that recycling contributes little to the supply of rare earths, gallium, or indium. As a result, the Commission will undertake a mapping of the potential for critical secondary raw materials from EU stocks and waste. The goal is to identify viable valorization projects by 2022. The Commission's research and development (R&D) efforts will also be focused on recycling, as well as on substituting critical materials with non-critical alternatives that offer similar performances.

A growing list

Regarding the update of the list of critical raw materials, the main novelty is the inclusion of lithium among the 30 critical raw materials due to its economic importance and supply challenges. According to the Commission, the European demand for lithium, a crucial metal for electric vehicle batteries, could increase dramatically, multiplying by 18 by 2030 and by 60 by 2050. Similarly, bauxite, titanium, and strontium are now added to the list, which keeps growing with each revision: 14 critical materials in 2011, 20 in 2014, 27 in 2017, and now 30.

On the other hand, helium, while still a concern due to its supply concentration, is removed from the list due to its decreasing economic importance.

Finally, the prospective report for the 2030 and 2050 horizons assesses the needs of the sectors considered essential. It highlights tensions concerning nickel, particularly the supply of high-purity nickel required for battery manufacturing. The nickel market is undergoing structural changes that bring technological challenges, geological resource availability issues, and trade barriers. The report also identifies tensions in the supply of rare earths, especially dysprosium, due to Chinese dominance in this field. Similarly, the concentration of cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of Congo presents similar issues. Lithium raises fewer concerns in the short term, but the document explains that investment will be necessary to avoid a significant market imbalance after 2025.

While bauxite, the source of extraction for aluminum

While bauxite, the source of extraction for aluminum, was initially considered a "critical raw material" in the Commission's proposal, it was not yet listed among the "critical raw materials" subject to national production targets and the accelerated authorization procedure.



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