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25th Feb 2024

EU launches critical raw materials act

  • Single market commissioner Thierry Breton: '97 percent of our magnesium comes from China. That's all well and good, but we have to take action' (Photo: EU Commission)
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On Thursday (16 March), the EU presented its strategy to ensure access to critical raw materials needed for clean technologies.

Chinese dominance of clean tech supply chains prompted a green subsidy spree in the US last summer. The EU is now following with a plan of its own.

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Under its Critical Raw Materials Act, the EU has identified 18 critical raw earth metals necessary for the transition, including lithium and cobalt used in batteries, boron used for windmill coating and more.

For those curious: EU single market commissioner Thierry Breton, who presented the file on Thursday, posted a complete list on Twitter and even attached a playlist for each key material.

"Turkey provides 99 percent of the EU's boron. 97 percent of our magnesium comes from China," Breton said. "That's all well and good, but we have to take action."

The EU has set targets for mining and processing. In 2030 at least 10 percent of rare metals must come from European mines. That means 90 percent will still be sourced from outside of the EU.

But no country should supply more than 65 percent of any key material. Currently, China dominates almost all rare earth metal markets and also provides most of the products derived from it, such as batteries.

"Almost all the refining happens in China. Only between zero and three percent is done in the EU," said Breton. "We plan to raise this to 40 percent by 2030."

The commission will also set out 'strategic projects' within and outside of Europe, which would get streamlined access to permits and financing. For this, the EU will seek new partnerships across the globe to meet demand, which according to Breton will be five to six times higher in 2030.

One of the most important potential partners is the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces 70 percent of the world's cobalt. Breton visited the country to draw up plans for the development of critical materials infrastructure and plans to go back in July to finalise negotiations.

To boost the development of mines and infrastructure in third countries, the EU will seek "like-minded" countries such as Canada and the US to join a 'critical materials club.'

"There is much interest," Breton said, but no concrete plans have yet been announced.

Breton also claimed the EU offer could be interesting for resource countries because of the focus on environmental and humanitarian standards. "Resources are a source of opportunity but also a source of pain as well, if they are extracted in a brutal way either by partners who don't take environmental considerations into account or if surrounding countries steal it," Breton said.

Opinion

EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict

Solar panels, wind-turbines, electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies require minerals including aluminium, cobalt and lithium — which are mined in some of the most conflict-riven nations on earth, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Kazakhstan.

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