The limited supply of rare earth materials makes extensive electrification infeasible.

The raw materials needed for electrification are not geologically scarce and efforts are already underway to improve the supply chain.

According to IRENA, most rare earth minerals are not geologically rare. For the EU, the issues are ‘the time lags’ needed to ramp up production and import dependency, as more than 90% of these metals are coming from other regions, mainly from China. A heightened focus on improved sourcing, resource efficiency and recycling has already helped lower prices since 2011.

To avoid future constraints and reduce import dependency, the EU has put forward a list of critical raw materials and started several initiatives to prevent future supply shortages. These initatives include SecrEEts , a project to establish a stable and secure supply of critical rare earth elements in Europe, and the European Rare Earths Competency Network (Erecon) , to identify opportunities and bottlenecks and increase both resource efficiency and recycling.

Options being pursued by the EU to enable a secure supply of critical raw materials include:

  • substitution of materials using varied technologies, e.g. cobalt-free li-ion batteries,
  • supporting new supply sources to decrease the reliance on single countries,
  • improving reuse and recycling through the EU’s circular economy strategy (European rare earth recycling rates were below 1% in 2014 , and
  • the mining of critical raw materials in promising locations in Europe, e.g. Sweden or Greenland.

Estimates show that recycling and the use of alternative technologies have the potential to significantly reduce total demand for the critical raw materials used in electric vehicle batteries and solar PV manufacture primary resources.

References:

Vincent Moreau et al., “Enough Metals ? Resource Constraints to Supply,” 2019, https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010029.

IRENA, “A New World - The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation,” Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, 2019.

EU Commission SINTEF, “Horizon 2020 - Secure European Critical Rare Earth Elements,” 2018, https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/776559.

ERECON (J. Kooroshy et al. [Eds.]), “Strengthening the European Rare Earths Supply-Chain - Challenges and Policy Options,” 2015, https://reinhardbuetikofer.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ERECON_Report_v05.pdf.

Elsa Dominish, Sven Teske, and Nick Florin, “Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy,” 2019, fig. A, https://earthworks.org/cms/assets/uploads/2019/04/MCEC_UTS_Report_lowres-1.pdf.