Russian metals: more recycling, less dependency

Status: 04/25/2022 09:28 am

According to a study, the EU could close the bottlenecks in metals in the medium term through recycling. The demand for raw materials will increase considerably in the future for the energy industry and transport to be sustainable.

According to research, the EU is threatened by bottlenecks in the medium term in the supply of metals such as lithium. This is the result of a study by the Catholic University of Leuven. “Electric vehicles, batteries, photovoltaic systems, wind turbines and hydrogen technologies require many more metals than their traditional alternatives,” the experts said. The study was commissioned by the European association Eurometaux, which brings together producers and recyclers of non-ferrous metals.

According to the study, the global energy transition is progressing faster than the number of mining projects to extract the necessary metals. For copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and the so-called rare earths, there could be bottlenecks in world supply from 2030. Experts stress that Europe only has a small window of opportunity to advance its domestic production. . From 2040, a large part of Europe’s metal needs could also be covered by recycling.

Aimed at long-term self-sufficiency.

“Recycling is Europe’s most important way of improving its long-term self-sufficiency and could meet 45 to 65 percent of Europe’s base metal needs by 2050,” the study says. With the so-called rare earths and lithium there is the potential to reach quotas of more than 75 percent.

According to the study, the demand for lithium is by far the one that is increasing the most. Global demand for the metal as a transition product by 2050 is expected to be more than 2,000 percent of total global demand in 2020. But also for rare earths such as dysprosium (up 433 percent) or the heavy metal cobalt (up 403 percent), according to the information, a significantly higher demand can be expected.

Critical bottlenecks are imminent

Regarding Europe, the researchers calculate that 35 times more lithium, between 7 and 26 times more rare earth metals and 3.5 times more cobalt will be needed to generate energy sustainably and make the EU climate neutral by 2050.

“Without an early supply of new primary metals and better recycling, there is a risk of critical bottlenecks that jeopardize Europe’s goal of a more autonomous clean energy system,” said KU Löwen. However, the study is limited by the fact that technological developments and changes in behavior can still influence the situation, but were not taken into account in the study.

gain independence from Russia

The German Raw Materials Agency had already commented on this issue a few days ago: According to experts, further recycling of raw materials could also make Europe less dependent on Russian imports. “We still see considerable potential in recycling, even if we are already doing comparatively well in Germany,” said Siyamend Al Barazi, head of the raw materials sector at the German Raw Materials Agency, “Automobilwoche”. For copper, lead, aluminum and nickel, the recycling rates in Germany are already between 40 and 60 percent. Russia supplies about ten percent of the world’s nickel needs.

According to him, Europe still has a lot of potential when it comes to raw materials. “In Finland, for example, there are nickel deposits, and there are also interesting lithium deposits in Spain, Portugal and Serbia.” The question is, however, whether such projects could be economically operated in a global comparison. It also costs time and money to fundamentally change established process chains.

China’s largest producer of rare earths

Ukraine and Russia are particularly important suppliers to the European market, for example of aluminium, nickel or noble gases such as neon. The expert said that these amounts could not be replaced overnight by other providers. The German Raw Materials Agency is an institution under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Analyzes and evaluates the international markets for mineral raw materials and fossil fuels.

China is the world’s largest producer of rare earths. Russia is one of the countries with the largest reserves, along with China, Vietnam and Brazil.

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