Critical Raw Materials – The Bottleneck of Electrification

by | 2. Jun 2023 - 12:09 | Economy

A new study argues that the global supply will not match the EU’s demands to electrify its industry. Urges substitutions long-term, increase in extraction short-term.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have published a study on raw material demands conducted on behalf of the European Commission. The team behind Maria Ljunggren, Associate Professor in Sustainable Materials Management at Chalmers University, arrived at the conclusion that the European Union’s demands to electrify its industry are outpacing the current global supply including new recycling abilities.

Demands for critical raw materials like rare earths or lithium are steadily climbing in fields like clean energy, electromobility, and advanced technologies. While recycling critical minerals is a relatively new form of increasing the supply, conventional mining capacities are slow to adapt to the rising demands, according to the researchers. Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB announced the discovery of large deposits of rare earths in Kiruna in early 2023. While these findings present hopes in the EU to diversify its supply chains away from industry-leader China, mines and the connected infrastructure will take years to complete.

According to Ljunggren, neodymium and dysprosium usage has increased by around 400 and 1,700 percent respectively in new cars since 2006 and the demand is expected to grow further in the coming years. There needs to be more than the currently adopted recycling strategies to fulfill these needs. Hence the team urges to increase recycling efforts and develop new methods. However, Ljunggren also emphasizes that recovering used minerals alone will not be enough long-term. Critical raw materials must be substituted with other resources in the future. In the meantime, the researchers argue that an increase in extraction is inevitable if the EU wants to reach its climate targets.

Photo: iStock/Denis Shevchuk

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