Bauxite, lithium, tungsten, rare earth … These names, which are still little known by the general public, represent a new industrial and technological race.
These minerals are essential as they are the gold of climate change. They are the key to electric batteries, electronic chips or wind turbines. According to the European Commission, the demand for these critical raw materials will double by 2030. But the market is highly concentrated and has a clear dominance: China.
“Out of the 30 raw materials that are important today, 10 are mostly sourced in China. And China basically controls the global processing industry. About 90% of the rare earths, 90%, and 60% of the lithium is processed in China. We have to avoid the same trap and dependency we fell into with oil and gas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week.
However, the EU is not at the mercy of those few producing countries. The solution is to reduce your dependence on your soil. Exploitation sites have been identified in Sweden, Finland and Portugal. But there are several obstacles to using these enclosures. “Sweden, for example, in the south of the country, has Europe’s largest reserves of rare earth elements. Investors have been trying to extract them for more than a decade, but environmental skepticism and local opposition made the project impossible. has made”, Egmont Institute researcher Tobias Gehrke explained to Euronews.
It will take years to develop this industrial area. Furthermore, having raw products alone is not enough to reduce European dependence. “It doesn’t make sense if we just take it out and ship it to China. So we have to focus on the whole value chain, from mining to processing, separation and development of magnets, for example, or other technical elements.” Gehrke’s detailed description is given.
To strengthen their protection, the European Commission proposes to recover inter-European resources through their extraction and recycling. For example, the European Union recycles barely 1% of the rare earths. The commission is expected to submit a proposal on the critical raw material in the coming months.