Europe too dependent on Chinese raw materials

No ecological transition without raw materials: no more oil and coal, but room for all these components necessary for mass production of batteries and wind turbines… Except that the European Union depends too much on imports in this sector. Regarding rare earths, a group of 17 metals essential for high-tech products, ” China (provides) 98% of Union supply ‘, notes the German MEP Hildegard Bentele, in a report presented Monday, November 22, in the evening, to the European Parliament.

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“The Union currently supplies only 1% of raw materials for wind energy, less than 1% for lithium batteries, less than 1% for fuel cells, only 2% of raw materials useful for robotics… “, she adds. And, with the ecological transition, the needs will be increased tenfold. The risk is “Replace dependence on fossil fuels with dependence on raw materials. “

The return of mines to Europe?

A strategy has therefore been outlined to secure the Union’s supplies which is based on several pillars: diversification of supplier countries, relaunching of mining projects in Europe, recycling or even substitution of the most critical materials. As for mining projects, four are underway in Europe, which “Should cover up to 80% of the European Union’s lithium needs in the battery sector by 2025”.

“The extraction of lithium, an essential element, has the advantage of not depending on conventional mines, explains Philippe Chalmin, economist, author of the Cyclope report, a reference work on raw materials. For example, the French group Eramet wants to extract lithium in Alsace from geothermal brines: it is not a mining project strictly speaking. Because there is a very strong rejection of mining activities on the part of the populations. People say: okay, but not in my garden! “

A question of independence

“We absolutely have to solve the problem of social acceptability, says MP Hildegard Bentele. We can not take the side of betting everything on purchases of materials from outside Europe, especially in a global geopolitical context that is hardening. “

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“If these projects do not take place with us, they will take place elsewhere, she continues. Say “Everywhere, but not at home!” is a moral failure. Today there are good examples of sustainable mining practices. If we do it in Europe, it will be done with a very high level of standards and technologies: it will be much cleaner than in China or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “

Strong progress is to be expected in the field of recycling, which will make it possible to meet part of the needs, without it being possible for the moment to know to what extent. “It is still embryonic on many products,but recycling is one of the solutions, assures Philippe Chalmin. Today, two thirds of the lead in conventional batteries is recycled. For lithium batteries, recycling channels will eventually be set up. »