Shortage of Rare Earth Elements Threatens Low-Carbon Technologies in Europe

Scientists at the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission's in-house science service, have identified five metals that are both essential for manufacturing low-carbon technologies and at high risk of shortage.

These five metals are: neodymium, dysprosium, indium, tellurium and gallium.

According to the report, titled Critical Metals in Strategic Energy Technologies, the risk of shortage stems from:

Europe's dependency on imports (as in the US, virtually the entire European supply of these metals comes from China),

increasing global demand,

supply concentration and

geopolitical issues.

Furthermore, these metals are not easily recyclable or substitutable.

As the JRC points out in a press release,wide-spread implementation of low-carbon technologies requires a more secure and abundant supply of these critical elements. A large-scale deployment of solar energy technologies, for example, will require half the current world supply of tellurium and 25 percent of the supply of indium. Likewise, the extensive deployment of wind energy technology in Europe will require large amounts of neodymium and dysprosium (about 4 percent of the current global supply each) for permanent magnet generators.

The JRC report suggests several possible strategies to mitigate the risk of shortages. These strategies include: promoting recycling and reuse, substitution by less critical materials, alternative technologies and increasing Europe's domestic production.

"European companies need to have a secure, affordable and undistorted access to raw materials," European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said. "This is essential for industrial competitiveness, innovation and jobs in Europe."

The full report is available here.

TAGS: Finance
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