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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Europe has nothing. Metals without which it does not work. Who gets them?

16.08.2022 9:32 | From networks

A number of different metals, such as cobalt, copper, nickel and others, will be needed to make the energy transition called for by the European Union. Where are these metals mined? This is not Europe, these are the countries of Asia and Africa, as well as China. However, it also depends on who is mining them. And even here, China leans the most. David Navratil, chief economist at Česká spořitelna, warns against the current situation.

A photo: Repro YouTube
Description: Metal processing – demonstration photo

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The main objects of interest today are energy raw materials such as oil, gas or coal, thanks to which it can be heated, mined, burned and ignited. However, other raw materials are also important, from which components for electronics, electrical networks and batteries are made. These are the focus of Česká spořitelna chief economist David Navratil, who notes that it is metals such as copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earths that will be needed for a possible transformation of European energy.

For example, cobalt, which is used in alloys for the aerospace industry as well as in the petrochemical industry, is 70% mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which also has the largest known reserves of the metal. In second place is Russia. As the chief economist at Česká spořitelna notes, it is important who mines the metals, who owns the mines or who owns the mining permit. The largest manufacturers are registered in the UK, Switzerland and China. “The presence of a company in a state does not mean that this state has control over this company. So it is necessary to eradicate the final owners. And this is where it gets interesting. Only 58% of the market can be seeded,” says Navratil.

“Of what can be germinated, China controls 24% of global production. Glencore, the company with the largest share of production, is owned by the Glasenberg family of South Africa. China’s share has dropped to at least 24%,” he says, adding: “Europe is not represented. Eurasian, although registered in the UK, is under the control of the government of Kazakhstan.”


Chile dominates copper production, followed by Peru and China. “However, the largest producers are firms from the United Kingdom, followed by firms registered in Chile, the US and Mexico; China is in fifth place,” Navratil notes. However, the market is not concentrated, China controls “only” 11%.


Lithium production is dominated by remote Australia, where more than half of the world’s production is mined. Then again Chile and China. However, other countries are also trying to find supplies, so these numbers are subject to change. After all, lithium has once interfered with the elections in the Czech Republic. Lithium mining companies are mostly registered in the countries where mining takes place. “China controls 33% of the market. Europe does not control anything. The US only has theoretical influence through shares held by investment funds,” says Navratil.


The largest producer of nickel is Indonesia, where about 40% of this metal is mined. It is followed by the Philippines, located in the same region, and Russia is the third largest producer. “The headquarters of the nickel mining companies are more dispersed, in which case China does not have a significant share in the control of the companies,” Navratil found.

However, with rare earth elements, the situation is different. “Rare earth elements are widely used in high-tech manufacturing, from medical devices to military defense systems. They are indispensable in the transition to clean energy – the global demand for them will grow,” notes the chief economist of Česká spořitelna. China has the largest discovered reserves of these elements, followed by Vietnam and Russia, which together have about the same as China. Like Russia and Vietnam, Brazil also has small reserves, as well as Australia and India.


“Unlike previous raw materials, China has significant control over the production and reserves of rare earths. China also controls most of the rest of the chain. It often acts as a partner in new projects launched in other countries,” the economist warns, adding: “Compared to China, which either has large reserves or controls miners, Europe and the United States do not have a strong position. This is not a very good message.”


“The bottleneck of the transformation will be materials, or rather their price. Therefore, programs to ensure the supply of critical raw materials, strategic trade agreements and the purchase of miners will be of key importance. As well as research and development of new technologies with different/lower material requirements,” he predicts.


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