EU hopes to avert imminent raw material shortages for energy transition

More and more special raw materials are needed for, for example, electric cars, windmills and electronics. The European Union is very concerned about this dependence on other countries, as it could jeopardise the energy transition. That is why the European Commission today published a so-called raw materials strategy.

Vice President Maros Sefcovic of the European Commission states that Europe will need eighteen times more lithium in 2030 for batteries in electric cars and energy storage alone, and sixty times more by 2050. “We cannot afford to have to trade our current dependence on fossil fuels for dependence on scarce resources such as lithium,” said Sefcovic.

With the new strategy, the EU hopes to secure the supply of raw materials and special earths and to reduce dependence on countries such as China, Chile and Southern Africa. In order to meet the 2050 climate targets, the EU will need 15 times as much cobalt in addition to lithium, and possibly 10 times as much ground for magnets used in, for example, digital technology and wind turbines.

Lessons from the corona crisis

“We need to change our approach drastically,” said Sefcovic. Above all, the EU wants to become less dependent on countries where there is less freedom, social security and strict environmental legislation, and more poverty. The seriousness of the problem has occupied the European Commission for several years, but was made even clearer by the corona crisis.

“As if this challenge weren’t enough,” the strategy says, “the Covid-19 crisis has revealed how fast and how deeply global supply chains can be disrupted One of the lessons that the crisis has taught the EU is that this dependence on other countries needs to be tackled quickly.

The document also contains a list of all materials. The EU wants to secure imports by also entering into contracts with other countries. In addition, the growing demand for resources needs to be addressed by encouraging Member States and manufacturers to use fewer materials and recycle more. The EU also wants a better assessment of the availability of raw materials within its own borders.

European response to Tesla

Last week it was announced that the number of electric cars sold in the EU is growing rapidly. More and more models are coming onto the market. Today the first Volkswagen ID3 was delivered in the Netherlands. According to some connoisseurs this is the long awaited European answer to Tesla. But cheaper models are also being added. This pushes the demand for raw materials further and further.

Auke Hoekstra of Eindhoven University of Technology suspects that electric cars will cost less than ordinary petrol cars in about four years’ time. From 2030, according to him, probably only electric cars will be sold. “This is my expectation as a researcher and this means that the demand for raw materials will increase very rapidly

Many raw materials are first bought by China, for example from African countries, then made into semi-finished products and sold on to Europe. In order to reduce dependence on China, Hoekstra believes that the EU itself should enter into direct purchase contracts with African countries. “That also gives us the advantage that we can have our say in making extraction more sustainable